As part of our support for International Women’s Day “Choose to Challenge”, we invited women in leadership to discuss their views on gender inequality and related issues. Besides hearing from some of our own female leaders, we also reached out to inspiring women from other businesses. For this #IWD2021 Ringside, we caught up with Jane Hunt, co-founder of JBH.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the co-founder of JBH – The Digital PR Agency based in Manchester that specialises in creative campaigns for link acquisition to build brand visibility in search and credibility within the media.
Over the past 7 years, I’ve built an agency known for the quality of its digital PR campaigns, working with clients across lifestyle sectors, including Gousto, uSwitch and Tails.com.
One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most is launching and hosting our Missing Link webinar series. During the first lockdown, it was set up to provide more honest insight into the world of digital PR, featuring a diverse range of experts across the industry. Not only is it popular, but it also now has a community feel to it, something I’m very proud to be part of.
What inspired you to set up JBH?
In all honesty, I set up JBH with two friends and former colleagues at a time when I was out of work. It was nerve-racking and a considerable leap of faith, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. We had no money and took no external funding as we wanted to build a business that was 100% in our control and not be indebted to anyone.
Since we launched, the agency has been through a few iterations, but we thought it was essential to adapt and, rather than be a ‘jack of all trades’, become real experts in just one discipline – hence becoming a digital PR agency solely.
We also decided to relocate the business from Northampton (where we were living) to Manchester to make the most of the universities’ vast talent pool. Both these changes have accelerated growth and put us on the map for the quality of the campaigns we produce for our clients and, more importantly, the impressive results we deliver.
In my first marketing role, one of our clients was a strong, independent leader and she became a friend and mentor to me. She taught me to stick to my guns and make sure I was heard in difficult situations. Click To Tweet
What’s been the driving force to get you where you are today, and have you benefited from having any personal mentors?
I think I’ve always had a desire to be the best at whatever I did (which gets annoying when you suck at bowling), but I never realised how ambitious I was until I co founded JBH. I’ve also doubted my abilities at times, and I still get things wrong now, but when I see JBH doing so well, I can take confidence from that. I also believe that it’s OK to make mistakes. JBH is our company; we’re all here to learn, develop and grow.
In my first marketing role, one of our clients was a strong, independent leader and she became a friend and mentor to me. She taught me to stick to my guns, make sure I was heard in difficult situations and showed me that a leader must continuously motivate and bring others along on the journey. She made me a much more formidable person in the process; I developed a thicker skin and gave less of a toss about what people thought of me.
If you’re working for a company that doesn’t recognise your talent or reward you for it, then move on and don’t feel bad about it. It can take a while to find where you belong and where will be most beneficial to your career. Click To Tweet
What advice would you pass on to other women to help them progress and overcome issues associated with ‘the glass ceiling’?
I think to overcome the glass ceiling, you have to keep putting yourself out there. I’ve noticed in my career, and through hiring over the years, that men are much more confident at pitching their abilities and negotiating their salaries in the hiring process. Whereas the women I’ve interviewed haven’t been as forceful and tend to not push as hard. It’s not a quality I appreciate in men, but I think it tends to get them further in their career as a result.
I think men are programmed to be more confident in general and I rarely speak to a man that doesn’t think they deserve what they have or what they are going after. Purely based on my experience, I feel women can often be afraid to challenge and push as hard in case they get knocked back. But getting knocked back isn’t a personal failure – even though it can feel that way at the time. When men get knocked back (and they do), I think they often feel more determined to prove someone wrong and to fight harder for what they believe they deserve. And rather than feel defeated, I’d like to see women keep fighting, use that desire to keep going and keep pushing and you will get there. You will get what you rightly deserve.
If you’re working for a company that doesn’t recognise your talent or reward you for it, then move on and don’t feel bad about it. It can take a while to find where you belong and where will be most beneficial to your career. Most importantly, if you get knocked down, get back up and try again. Use your passion to drive you and to prove people wrong.
I’ve been fortunate to cofound JBH with two guys that have always supported me 100% – they’ve never felt threatened by me; I wanted to take control and they’ve encouraged me every step of the way. They’ve witnessed first hand some of the difficult interactions I’ve had in business just because I’m a woman – situations where men have looked to them for reassurance that what I’m saying is correct rather than trusting me.
So I think it’s important to surround yourself with men and women who lift you, encourage you and ACTIVELY help you achieve your goals and progress your career. It’s very easy for people to sit back and watch you struggle, but what can they be doing to help you rather than just paying an issue lip service.
Are there any initiatives you think make a substantive difference in addressing the gender pay gap and open up opportunities for females to progress in their careers?
If any initiatives make a big difference in addressing the gender pay gap, then I’m not aware of them. Before I owned a company, I never reached any significant career milestones or had a senior position, so I can only base most of my experience on the learnings of running a business.
What I have noticed in the SEO and digital PR industry is that most agencies are run by men, but this is changing. I’m seeing more and more women set up their own companies, and I believe this is the way forward for many women. We have more control over our work/life balance and earning potential. I realise this isn’t what everyone wants to hear, but I do think if you keep hitting that ceiling in your industry, then look at alternative options. Also, it’s been proven that brands with women in the c-suite are more profitable than those without.
I do think men feel threatened by strong women but I still don’t understand why that is. Why should strength be a negative? Perhaps there should be a more open conversation about why some men feel this way. Click To Tweet
Why do you think we still have so few female leaders (vs. male as a percentage of total leadership) in the technology sector?
It’s hard for me to comment specifically on the technology sector, and I don’t want to speak out of turn, but it may be because there are fewer women founding companies. After all, the knowledge and experience I’ve gained through starting JBH has given me the confidence to hold my own as a leader in most environments. If more of us can experience running our own companies, hiring our own people, winning our own clients, we will see many more female leaders in the future.
I still think there is a culture of men hiring men because they see it as more comfortable and less threatening in senior roles. As an assertive woman who can hold her own I often feel that even in 2021, I am perceived by some men as being a bitch and that is really sad. I do think men feel threatened by strong women but I still don’t understand why that is. Why should strength be a negative? Perhaps there should be a more open conversation about why some men feel this way and what they can do to change this.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work life balance and responsibilities outside of work? Any words of wisdom you can share on how you’ve managed the past 12 months?
I wouldn’t say that the pandemic has significantly changed my work/life balance because it’s never been that great! However, when you run your own business, it’s standard to get lost running it, working into your evenings and weekends etc. But what has changed is that I mix up my hours more, so I take some time to myself in the day to exercise or just relax, then I’ll make up for it later that day or during the weekend. I really enjoy the flexibility that WFH offers rather than having specific office hours.
What I really benefit from is fresh air. Every day my husband and I find the time between video calls to go for a walk. That fresh air combined with the peace and quiet of living in a small village really de-stresses me and gives me the energy and brain-space to think beyond the challenges of the day.
My aim is to ensure that I give everyone who works for JBH every opportunity to progress and build their confidence so that they are treated as equals irrespective of their gender, race or sexuality. Click To Tweet
Are there any specific topics related to women in the workplace you feel should be given more airtime and conversation?
I’d definitely like to see more initiatives to help women into exec leadership roles and improve representation. I am really bored of having conversations with men who control companies and the outdated and occasionally offensive, sexist attitudes that often accompany that. Based on my personal struggles and experiences, my aim is to ensure that I give everyone who works for JBH every opportunity to progress and build their confidence so that they are treated as equals and have the same earning potential irrespective of their gender, race or sexuality, whether at JBH or elsewhere.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share on International Women’s Day and (as part of this) the topics we’ve discussed today?
With International Women’s Day in mind, I want women to feel empowered and know that we can achieve anything.
Within the SEO industry as a whole, I know there are some really positive initiatives going on with groups like The Female Connective and Women in Tech SEO. They’re doing everything they can to highlight female talent in the industry and address the gender pay gap. There is a fab talk coming up as part of the Women in Tech SEO Conference on how to negotiate your salary, which will be well worth a watch.
The other area that I think needs addressing is the representation of women and racial diversity at conferences in the UK and internationally. When I see a conference advertised, I always check how diverse the speakers are, and most still have a way to go. If the speaker lineup is predominantly men, I won’t sign up for it on principle, even if it’s free, because I know organisers can do better. It’s 2021, and there are PLENTY of women out there who are more knowledgeable than their male counterparts.