Maggie Chen is a serial hat-wearer: Entrepreneur, Non-Executive, Doctoral Researcher, and Consultant. At the heart of everything, she holds the desire to create a positive impact in a fun and innovative way. She is a strong advocate for female and student entrepreneurship, as well as representation in business and policy. She tries to push these agendas through her role as Chair on the Engagement Board of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP and her non-profit organization, Girls in Charge, where she uses gamification techniques to upskill women globally.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before the venture/ corporate journey?
I moved to the UK from China when I was 8. I didn’t speak English but luckily, I was able to pick it up quickly and fell in love with languages. Fast forward to university, I studied different languages and cultures, and ended up reading a Master’s in French Literature at the University of Oxford.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business/initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”
I fell into entrepreneurship almost by accident. All I wanted was to do more exercise… and I ended up starting a company. I joined the ballroom and Latin dance society during freshers in my undergrad and thought: my commitment to exercise is low… but maybe if I bought the outfit I’d go at least a few times? Turns out dance shoes were very expensive in the UK, so I did some research on Chinese platforms. Found a pair I liked and contacted a seller. We had a good chat and became friends. A month later, we joined forces and started my first business ‘Shut Up & Dance’. It became a catalyst for my exploration and learning in the world of entrepreneurship, and later on, this experience led me to start Girls in Charge.
Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?
I co-founded Girls in Charge back in late 2018. Girls in Charge is a non-profit social enterprise where we envisage a world in which everyone has the entrepreneurial skills to pursue and create career opportunities, regardless of gender and background. Our mission and values are centered around diversity and inclusivity, with the aim of upskilling 1 million women by 2030.
Upon starting my first business as a university fresher and joining a student accelerator programme, I realized I was the only girl in the 40-people cohort. Conversations with my female peers revealed this issue to be widespread, with many experiencing a lack of confidence, skills, support, and community in the world of entrepreneurship. Beyond university, this problem persists – only 1/3 UK entrepreneurs are female, and a gender pay gap of 10% appears 15 months after graduation.
Impact is key to what we do – we aim to reduce the gender pay, start-up, and scale-up gaps. We focus on upskilling women both in the UK and around the globe through gamified workshops that are accessible for all and allow us to build bridges between cultures.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
The journey with Girls in Charge has been incredible. 4 years post-inception, Girls in Charge has been able to upskill 5000+ beneficiaries across 3 continents by working with 30+ partners and training 300 student leaders. We have been invited to the House of Lords several times, featured in international publications such as Tatler, and have received awards for our innovation and social impact from the University of Oxford, Cartier, and Northern Power Women to name a few.
But what I am most proud of is the community we’ve built. It is full of amazing, talented women who support each other. Beneficiaries have said that the Initiative “is a great place for networking and meeting like-minded people” and has taught them skills for life. Many of our team came through our Impact Programme, becoming Student Leaders and Leadership Trainees, and now they are taking ownership to unlock our full potential. They are the real Girls in Charge.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
As we continue to progress (albeit somewhat slowly) towards a more gender-equal society, it is crucial that we address the systemic barriers that have historically prevented women from achieving their full potential in the business world. This includes tackling issues such as unequal pay, limited access to funding, and a lack of representation in leadership positions.
To create a more inclusive and equitable business landscape, we must support and empower young women entrepreneurs by providing them with the tools, resources, and support network they need to succeed. This includes access to mentorship and networking opportunities, funding and investment opportunities, and training and education programmes that address the unique challenges faced by women in business.
By breaking down these systemic barriers and creating a more inclusive and equitable business landscape, we can unlock the full potential of women entrepreneurs and drive innovation and growth for our economy and society as a whole.
So to all the young budding women entrepreneurs out there, I encourage you to dream big, believe in yourself, and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable future for all.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
We’re going in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. There is a huge gender imbalance at the top, in c-suites, in top political positions, in decision making positions in tech, finance etc… As mentioned before, there is a need to break down systemic barriers and we all have our roles to play.
Women’s leadership is underway, but we need to put more Girls in Charge!
What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
My favourite chat-up line turned life philosophy is this: ‘good things don’t come to those who wait, good things come to those who go and get it.’
So whatever it is you’re dreaming of, be it starting a business, changing jobs, going for a promotion… don’t wait. Go and get it.