Pledge 1%'s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Founder and CEO , Huggnote
What is your current role? Briefly describe in 1-2 sentences.
Two time 'Digital Trailblazer of the Year' and 'Female Entrepreneur of the Year' finalist, Jacqui Meskell is founder and CEO of Huggnote - a messaging app for expressing emotion through music. Huggnote has users in 205 countries.
This year's International Women's Day theme is "Embrace Equity." What does this mean to you? How can we build workplaces that are more equitable and inclusive?
To me 'embracing equity' signals a moving beyond a time when achieving gender parity was something that needed to be 'worked into' a pre-existing model for work - as an afterthought or 'tick box' exercise - to a time when it is inherently woven into the fabric of any company's DNA. Of course this takes time but the best way to ensure workplaces are more equitable and inclusive is to shout very loud about the benefits of doing so. The key driver for business decisions is success - and bottom line is that diversity pays. All the research is clear that it leads to higher cash flows, higher revenue, lower staff turnover... the list goes on.
Do you have any mentors or role models who have helped you on your personal journey?
I grew up in a female-centric household with 3 sisters and a working Mum, all of whom inspire me daily - and a Granny who was as strong as she was kind, the traits of a great leader. My Dad was what we'd now call an incredible 'ally' - always my biggest cheerleader. I have a strong female founder network and that peer support is a game-changer. As regards role models, I'm hugely inspired by those who were underestimated initially but succeeded - and without compromising their sense of self. I've always rejected the message that women should conform to a 'masculine' standard to do well and these women prove that their fierce feminity is in fact a business superpower - Sarah Blakely, Rihanna, Jessica Alba, Bozoma Saint John, Miranda Kerr, the entire Kardashian clan, Melaine Perkins - there are so many. Also founders like Arbia Smiti in France, who after having built and sold her first start-up opted to create a second with a strong social purpose with Fintech-for-good start-up Rosaly. When women win - everyone gains.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
'Win gold and wear it!' My Granny - an amazing woman used to say her parents used to say this to her. And its actually later in life that I understand the wisdom she was trying to impart. It's actually so important - especially for women, who are often conditioned to play small and prize modesty at all costs. But we are not helping ourselves or society at large by dimming our light. My Granny's words remind me to stay true to myself, work hard and own my success. We all need to do better at this. We all have talents. We all need to feel better about using them. That's how we inspire others to the same.
The past few years have brought many new and unprecedented challenges. What keeps you motivated or inspires you to stay optimistic?
Little things that help to shut out the noise because honestly that's how we have to view these challenges. We have to focus on what we can control. Life is what you make it (another saying of my Granny) so I make a conscious effort to enjoy simple moments, meditate, spend time in nature, be present. Anything that gives me perspective. Hanging with my niece and nephew, who are such rays of sunshine in my life - reminds me how important it is that we adults keep it together - so we are able to do what's needed to pass a better world on to them.
Pledge 1% helps companies of all sizes and stages leverage their assets for social good. Why do you think it's important that companies prioritize social impact? Do you have any specific stories or examples from your work or colleagues you can share?
This is such an interesting question because the research shows that women owned businesses tend to have more of a 'social good' foundation. We tend to solve meaningful problems. I've yet to come across a female founder who's trying to find yet another way to deliver pizza - not that there's anything wrong with that - but I do think its yet another stellar reason to empower women to step into the ring. With Huggnote, a friend of mine had a miscarriage and I wanted to be there for her but couldn't - and then a song on the radio brought back so many happy memories of us, I realised that if there was a way to digitally gift-wrap it and send it to her - it would say everything words couldn't. And so my sister and I created a way to do that. It wasn't about 'how can we get rich' or make the next cool thing. We wanted to make a difference in people's lives. Nothing makes us happier than hearing from users how Huggnote meant so much to them it made them cry! Knowing that we're helping people in 205 countries say those words that mean the most like 'I love you' or 'I'm sorry' is the best feeling in the world. We're so proud to have won awards for our 'Social and Sustainable Impact' - every Hugg sent instead of a greeting card for example, saves 140g CO2e, so Huggnote has the potential to make a real difference to the planet too. This matters so much to us. And we're only getting started.
If you could describe yourself in one word what would that be and why?
Multifaceted'. I have an MPhil in International Peace Studies, am a yogi and a have a strong social conscience. But I'm also smart, strategic, ambitious and not afraid to speak up or get things done. This duality is I believe a superpower and why women make such great leaders.
Do you have any unique or useful life hacks to help get through your day?
Music - I use music a lot throughout my day as it's the best way to alter your mood. I also love to work with music - if you hear 'deep house' music from my office you'll know I'm probably working on excel spreadsheets; jazz means I'm being creative 🙂 I'm also adamant that we have to look after ourselves first before we can be there for anyone else - especially taking care of our mental and physical health. I'm a qualified yoga teacher and can't overestimate the difference yoga has made in my life. On busy days I'll just do it from bed so it's done before my day even starts. On really busy days I'll do Zach Bush's '4 Minute Workout' (if it's good enough for Elle McPherson!).
Do you have any go-to apps or tools use love to use?
Honestly, Huggnote - I use it almost every day because its fast but makes such an emotional impact. I send my niece and nephew morning Huggs they can play when they wake up to start their day with some positivity - or to just cheer up a friend, or say Happy Birthday. Also Shazam - it's always on my phone so I can identify a piece of music in seconds. Work-wise definitely Canva, Trello, Zoom and of course my trusted Google calendar!
What are you looking forward to this year? Are there any goals (personal or professional), activities, or experiences you are excited about?
I feel like I've been in a protracted period of sewing seeds and now I see everything come to fruition, which is really exciting. As the founder of an early-stage company my personal and professional life are very interlinked and so one goal is to do better with having some boundaries around that. Professionally - we have big plans for the company this year, which I can't say much about but we're so ready for the challenge.