International Women’s Day! – An Interview with Louise Dickins
Thursday 8th March marks International Women’s Day, which has been celebrating the achievements of women all over the world for over 100 years. To coincide with the celebrations this week, we’ve sat down to have a chat with our Managing Director Louise Dickins, who has successfully run Dickins Edinburgh for almost 20 years! Louise discusses everything from who has inspired her to get where she is today, as well as the importance of International Women’s Day for her, and what advice she has for women who are thinking of starting their own business.
Also, we’re so pleased and proud to be a part of “Edinburgh International Women’s Day”!
An Interview with Louise Dickins
1. International Women’s Day was first marked in 1911 – over 100 years ago. Why do you think the day is still relevant?
It’s as relevant now as at any time since 1911. Thankfully, women and their place in the world is very much a theme of the moment. International Women’s Day was started by the suffragettes back in 1911 and just last month we celebrated the culmination of all their hard work and sacrifice with the 100 year anniversary of women getting the vote in the UK. Since then, we’ve come so far and yet there’s still a long way to go. Women are the biggest area of economic growth in the world but too often we aren’t treated equally. Recent headline stories have helped to swell a strong global momentum for change. The theme of this year for International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress and that’s a great campaign to get behind. At Dickins, there’s complete gender equality. I think that would be the case in the majority of women led businesses, so let’s encourage more women to start their own companies.
2. Who has inspired you to get you to where you are in your career?
My Mum, Marianne, has probably been my biggest inspiration. She was working when hardly any Mums worked. She never said to me this is how to do it and she definitely enabled and encouraged me to find my entrepreneurial side. For example, when I left university, my boyfriend and I hired a flat from her for the Edinburgh Festival and set up our own bed and breakfast. We also cooked breakfast for Jools Holland and his band every day as well as doing various cleaning jobs. I cleaned for Spike Milligan which felt super exciting but I never met him. We worked so hard, I can’t remember ever feeling so physically tired but we paid off our overdrafts (we were so lucky not to have huge student loans then) and definitely learned a huge amount along the way!
I worked in Hong Kong for five years after I left university, but then came back to Edinburgh and worked alongside my Mum in the property management company she’d set up – Dickins. Perhaps amazingly for a mother and daughter, we worked well together with almost no arguments. We were a good team. My Mum is unique. She has a big character and great people skills and I’ve learned a lot from her. I come from a long line of strong women on both my mother and my father’s sides and I’m the eldest of four daughters so women have been very important in my life. Now I have two sons so I need to make sure I teach them that women are just as good as men – in fact often better!! I also feel proud to employ great women – Nicky, Colette and Louisa.
3. What advice do you have for women starting their own business?
Just do it. If you’re passionate and have real energy about your idea and you’ve talked it through with people who they think it will work too, then don’t let anyone hold you back. I started working for myself in Hong Kong when I was 23. I’ve been in art, in property and I’m launching a new tour company this summer. I’ve started all my businesses organically and they’ve all worked. Try as far as you can to get things right from the start. It’s much better to build a business from solid foundations but also accept that you’ll make mistakes. I’ve learned all my important lessons along the way when I’ve made mistakes.
4. If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
For the first time in my life I have a mentor, Sarah Buchanan Smith of Soul Ambrosia and it’s been an absolutely brilliant experience for me. A Women’s Mentoring programme was set up by The Scottish Chambers of Commerce in 2017 as a new initiative to encourage growth in women led businesses. I couldn’t have hoped for a better match than Sarah. We really get on and as well as finding a wonderful like-minded soul mate, it’s definitely got me into action. The fact I’m launching my new tour company, Unlock Tours, this summer is in no small part due to this mentoring and the fact that I want to go to our meetings having done the things I said I would!
I’d encourage anyone in business to get involved in being mentored or mentoring. I’ll need to give back and do some mentoring next, but in saying that, I hope that Sarah and I both get a lot out of our meetings.
5. Which other Edinburgh women-led businesses do you admire?
There are lots of women led businesses in Edinburgh I admire. I enjoy getting together with Jo Morris from Ion magazine to chat through ideas and have a good laugh. Sam Lawrie of Foster Bloom and Rachel Meddowes both have great style and are in the know. All the best art galleries on Dundas Street are run by women – Christina Jansen at The Scottish Gallery, Emily Walsh at The Fine Art Society, Bella at Arusha and Jilly at Open Eye Gallery. Women play a big part in our festivals – Sharon Burgess who runs Assembly Theatre and Karen Koren at The Gilded Balloon. Many of our most delicious food outlets are women led – Mary’s Milk Bar, Lovecrumbs and Pinnies Poppies. Creatively Helen C Stark and Emily Hogarth always inspire. Many of our best Instagrammers are women too Shawna @exploringedinburgh, Rachel @travelswithmyphone, Olli @myedinburgh, Pippa @pippaperriam, Liz @liznylon, Taryn @write.my.address.in.pencil, and Lisa @yeahokbye. I’m sure I’ll have forgotten lots of important people but these women are some of my favourites.