Posted on June 01 2016
This week’s Wednesday Woman is Fiona Tatton, founder of Womanthology, a digital magazine and community on a mission to challenge female stereotypes. In this interview, Fiona talks about her background, why she started Womanthology, and some of the lessons she has learned along the way.
Bardega: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Fiona Tatton: My dad was an engineer so I grew up 'helping' him fix the car and mixing concrete. When he took me to choose my first bike, I rejected the girly pale blue one with birds and flowers on, and instead I opted for the red boys' bike with a police box on the back and a bell with footballers on.
Unlike some people, I didn't have a strong career motivation. I loved building things with Lego so I had a phase of wanting to be an architect. I also wanted to drive a train for a while when I was small. (I'd probably still like to have a go at both of these now!)
In my teens, I discovered a love for business and when I was doing my GCSE's, I set up a business making and selling jewellery to friends and family. I then went on to study business at university and found that my special love was marketing and strategy. This was just as the Internet was just taking off.
After university and a short stint as a merchandiser on a grad scheme in retail, I shifted back to marketing. I embraced the idea of life-long learning and I'd missed the university environment, so I moved into higher education marketing. From here I shifted into professional services and relationship building. I loved managing relationships and growing dynamic networks - this also meant I wasn't confined to an office based role and I could be travelling around meeting people and creating projects from scratch, which was bliss for me.
Bardega: What sparked you to start Womanthology and how have you turned that into a full time career?
Tatton: I discovered a passion for diversity and inclusion in my last job, so I decided that I wanted to learn more about the issues around it. I wanted to shine a light on all the amazing women that I saw around me every day (and also the men who championed them too). There is categorically no shortage of amazing women in every area of life, but we just don’t generally get to hear about them.
Yes, it’s important to showcase female CEOs and raise aspirations, and it’s also important to create relatable role models from all areas of life. We also have different phases of our careers too - I wanted to show that you could pivot in your career and change direction at any age. It is never too late to try something new. We should never be afraid of embracing change, even though change can be hard.
I originally set up Womanthology as a hobby in my spare time. My marketing and communications sensibilities meant that I relished the challenge of building my own brand from scratch. I had next to no budget so I used what I had carefully and looked for the most cost effective options so I could get the look and feel I wanted without any significant resources behind me.
I knew I was on to something special due to the support I received right from the start. In my first edition I featured the BBC, Formula 1 driver Susie Wolff and the Women’s Engineering Society. I was literally teaching myself how to put everything together as I went along. I used social media to share the content and spend endless hours developing the brand in the evenings and at the weekend.
The interest in the site grew exponentially and traffic built steadily month upon month, and by last summer I decided that it was now or never and I wanted to take the plunge and devote all my time to growing Womanthology full time. It was a massive leap of faith but if you don’t take calculated risks you will never move forward.
Bardega: What has been the biggest obstacle / lesson you have learnt since starting Womanthology?
Tatton: Setting up Womanthology has taught me so many things - about other people, and about myself.
When I started out I knew next to nothing about websites. I'd done a very basic night school class in HTML many years ago. Then more recently I'd taught myself about Wordpress (the content management system the site uses). I also learnt how to use Photoshop Elements to edit and optimise images (so they are the right size and they load quickly). There's nothing like persistence when it comes to learning something new.
This also applies to building a readership base. When I started out, sat at my kitchen table, I had no readers or followers. Some people laughed in my face when I told them I was going to set up my own magazine. I knew I had a strong idea as I'd done extensive research - women (and men) told me that they were fed up of reading things that made them feel bad about themselves and they were looking for something different. It struck me that there was a massive opportunity to create something that made people feel good, something about possibilities and persistence. I was also very clear that I wanted a format that didn't pigeonhole women according to their age. So much of what we read lumps women into categories. If a woman is truly amazing, who cares how old she is?
Despite the research I'd done, I didn't have all the answers, so there was a strong element of following my gut instincts. If something didn't feel right, I would leave it out or rework it until it fitted. But I never gave up. Persistence was key.
Bardega: Womanthology has built up a strong community - what advice would you give others who want to start something new and build a community?
Tatton: I think it’s important to think of everything in terms of your brand. What is it all about? What isn’t it about? You will find other people want to promote their own agendas so you have to be clear about boundaries. I was very clear that Womanthology is intended to be about sharing positive ideas. Mother Theresa said, “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” That really resonated with me. Don’t get me wrong, being endlessly positive and optimistic isn’t always easy in the gender equality space, but that’s when I rely on other people’s energy and enthusiasm to remind me what Womanthology is all about.
I was also determined that I wasn’t trying to compete with ‘regular’ women’s magazines. I wanted to create a new genre. As I was starting out from scratch, I wasn’t obligated to anyone else so I could try out new things and take risks.
Over time I came to know a lot more about what was more likely to work in Womanthology, and what wasn’t, but you never know for sure. Some of the most popular and well read stories came about by serendipity. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and experiment. If you get it right you win, if you lose, you learn. It also goes back to my earlier point about persistence. Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy and there will be hard days when nothing goes right and you will want to give up. Don’t. These will pass. “Keep on keeping on” has been my motto in the hard times.
Bardega: Womanthology is all about positive female role models - who have been your biggest female role models and why?
Tatton: I ask contributors this all the time but I rarely think about my own female role models. As the magazine has become more established, I have come to realise that role models can be anyone and everyone. I learn things from speaking to female CEOs and world-renowned experts, but equally I learn as much, if not more, from women who are starting out in their careers. Profound wisdom can be anywhere.
Putting Womanthology together has also taught me a huge amount about people and I like the idea of using the magazine as a leveller, where lesser-known women sit alongside high profile women. Breaking down of barriers of status is where things start to get really fascinating.
It’s interesting too that a surprisingly large proportion of our readership is male. I never expected this. Male champions are also important too and we’re always looking for more.
Bardega:What’s next for Womanthology?
Tatton: The magazine is growing fast. I've worked incredibly hard to build a dynamic network of contributors and develop an independent platform that allows a new narrative for professional women, and men. However, this is only one part of the story.
What I'm really passionate about is driving positive change in the workplace, for women and men, so the next stage of this involves taking this forward by leveraging Womanthology's network of supporters. Progress towards gender equality at work is painfully slow so what if there was a way of accelerating this? What if we could all work together to speed things up? What if we could end gender inequality at work in the foreseeable future, rather than in decades? I'm working on a campaign around this.
I was told I couldn't set up my own magazine, and I did it anyway so I'm determined to apply the same principles to this challenge. As soon as I have more details to share, I'd love to invite you and your readers on board.
Bardega: Finally, what advice would you give a younger Fiona?
Tatton: Wow, where to start here. I think I'd tell myself not to worry so much about what other people think. I love that quote, "I used to walk into a room full of people and wonder if they liked me. Now I look around and wonder if I like them."
I can't really think of better advice than to stop worrying about what other people think. I've spent my life trying to do my best to work hard and be as kind as I can, but ultimately, no matter what you do, people will make their own judgements about you so just get on and do your thing. Put your energy to good use to work towards something positive that you care passionately about.