A quick summary:
In celebration of International Women's Day 2022, we asked Millie Kocal, COO of Heka, six questions about being a strong woman.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
It was between a Blue Peter presenter and a teacher. I definitely didn’t think being a COO was in my future, but I fell in love with start-ups and feel like I've landed my dream job. I find art, drawing and DIY really mindful so I do get a little Blue Peter time in my life.
What advice would you give to 18 year old Millie?
That stepping out of your comfort zone isn't something to be scared of. It's the place which helps you grow, develop and feel accomplished. I grew up in a small town in Somerset, and 4 days into university in London, I called my mum and said that I didn’t think it was right for me and wanted to come home, she said to give it two weeks and then see. I ended up staying in London for 11 years, graduating and working for a successful start-up.
Which women inspire you to be the best version of you?
My mum is hands down my biggest inspiration and role-model. She has always been so successful due to her fiercely independent nature and willingness to succeed. She gives me practical and honest advice (even if it’s not what I want to hear), and taught me that to be successful you have to be passionate about what you do. She’s in her 60s with her own business and loves what she does every day, the older I get, the more in awe of her I am.
Give us your top-three dinner party guests (girls only!)?
My mum - any extra time I can spend with her is a bonus.
Dolly Parton - proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. She’s the embodiment of a feminine ‘bimbo’ stereotype but is such a strong, hard working, kind, successful and independent woman. She grew up in a house with 11 siblings and no running water, had big dreams and through being a great business woman she achieved them. Plus, Steel Magnolias is one of my favourite films with a cast of amazing female actors.
Phoebe Judge, she's the host of my two favourite podcasts. She's a great journalist and I could listen to her tell stories every day.
What do you think is the key to building a workplace where women thrive?
Encouraging honest conversations and allowing women to speak up for themselves. I think it's really important women get the opportunity and feel they are able to give open and honest feedback.
The importance of healthy working habits including flexible working - feeling physically strong gives me mental strength and impacts how I feel and perform at work. Taking longer lunch breaks or having flexible starts/finishes makes it easy to go to the gym, take a spin class or go for a run.
This year’s theme for IWD is ‘#BreakTheBias’ - what does this look like to you?
I think a problem we still face is that companies are more reluctant to hire women because they don't want them to get pregnant and have to pay maternity leave. That is across every kind of company, whether it’s big corporations with high-paid senior roles, to small start-ups where there’s always not a huge pot of cash available.
If we were to promote gender equality and give equal parental leave in workplaces, it would remove the bias and hesitation that companies have over women, allow for their career growth, higher salaries, as well as give men the opportunity to be caregivers too.