I find it hard to talk about myself as female with-out falling into gender stereotypes, Mars and Venus type lazy short cuts, that put us all into pigeon holes.
However, I do believe women are generally better at multi-tasking than men, and are more responsive to their own and others emotions. Obviously, there are examples in both sexes that contradict that, but I find it to generally hold true. And so, I think, myself being intuitive sometimes helps both with the way I design and the way I manage people.
As a young woman I would go to large factories in the North of England to oversee big production runs. It was quite a challenge to gain the confidence of older men who ran the machines, and I was not averse to using gentle charm to get my way. However, ultimately that can never replace being professional and actually knowing what you are talking about - it just sometimes takes a while to earn their trust, to get people to see you through a different lens to the one that they initially approached you with. Intuition can be really helpful there – when to push for a solution, when to listen to someone else’s suggestions.
I have such fond memories of those times in the factories, even though they were hard work and long days, often 12 or 14 hours but I learnt so much from the experience of the manufacturers that I met.
One of my greatest challenges was operating at boardroom level in a small PLC when I was only in my mid 30s. I was young, ambitious and talented but also emotionally green, naive in business terms and not used to negotiating tactics. It was a family run business, only men on the board, and a very competitive atmosphere. I’m not embarrassed to say that I didn’t handle it well. I was so passionate about my work, that I couldn’t switch off at the end of the day.
Life at that level, in that sort of male hierarchy really didn’t suit me. I was also just coming out of a painful divorce, which undermined my inner strength, and the end result was that I left the job to maintain my health.
That started a great adventure for me. I went back to University as a mature student and did a BaHons and then a Masters in Fine Art Printmaking. It was a fantastically freeing time being able to creatively pursue things that I was driven by such as colour composition texture form. As a textile designer I love processes, so I suppose it’s not surprising that I chose Printmaking over Painting – 20 years on there is still a particular magic that happens when the artist and the press combine.
After a couple of years though, my love of design came back again, and I found myself regularly freelancing for other design studios, to fund my painting and printmaking. Gradually the designing took more and more of my time, and once again I fell in love with the challenge of having a design idea and finding solutions to see it resolved and go into production.
And so, I find myself having come full circle except this time I’m operating at board level within my own company. It’s so liberating, energising and satisfying. I’ve learnt many lessons along the way, that stand me in good stead. After the large budgets of a PLC, several years making ends meet as an artist have given me excellent experience in trying to keep to tiny budgets within my own fledgling business. I know now when to seek expert advice, and how to accept it, rather than try too hard to prove myself capable. Perhaps that comes with age and experience. It may also come from being a mother.
I had my son late, at 45. I lost count of the times I was called ‘geriatric’ by medical professionals, but no matter as having a child was something I always wanted. You can’t always dictate what happens in life. It’s very demanding, I feel slightly schizophrenic sometimes, but am still very driven about my work and never really stop thinking about it, but I’m also entirely in love with my son. It feels like a healthy battle for my attention – he stops me getting too focussed on work, and he shows me the joy of the simplest things.
And so, I find myself at 52, mother of a 7 year old, married to a very supportive husband and finally running my own business. It took courage to put my own name above the door, but I finally felt able to hold my hand up for what I am doing. I love colour and designing and I want to share that with others. As well as creating a successful business and earning enough to paint my way into the sunset of retirement, I want to make a difference to people’s interiors – give them something they enjoy living with.
Elizabeth Ockford Ltd
Tel: 01342 810357