Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No. I spent more than 20 years as a secondary school science teacher in a reputable girl’s school in Forest gate, near to where I was born. I progressed to leading my own department and became an assistant headteacher at a mixed school in Essex.
But after I lost my first husband at age 38, it made me rethink everything. I was starting to become disillusioned with teaching anyway. I felt I wasn’t effecting enough change. For every school inspection we had, my team would work so hard, but always be marked as ’needs improving’. In my last few years of teaching, I was rated as an ‘outstanding teacher’ yet I still couldn’t drive the standard of the whole school up because there just isn’t enough quality leadership and support. Schools need more funding to attract the best leaders to effect change.
When I met my second (and current!) husband a few years later, who was running Hallmark Care Homes and his family foundation, Hemraj Goyal Foundations, it opened my eyes to the world of philanthropy and the social care sector. I realised that was a more rewarding path. I started organising fund raising events for the charities which the foundation was involved with. I realised I was good at it. I also felt really connected to the causes. One affiliated charity in particular was Lily Against Human Trafficking and some of the stories I heard about very young girls getting sold into brothels just wouldn’t leave me. I knew I wanted to do this full-time. So I left teaching and now I am CEO of the Hemraj Goyal Foundation and I find it so rewarding helping all the charities.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
The biggest challenge for me dealing with the heart break when I visit charity projects. When I went to India to visit a boys shelter home in Jaipur, India and many other projects, I couldn’t help thinking: “Why are the people in the country not doing anything to help?” The same applies in this country. Being confronted by injustice of vulnerable people really challenges me emotionally. The fact that the most disadvantaged get kicked even further.
I deal with it by consoling myself that there are some really great people here in this country, and in India by doing some really great work – tackling problems with the resources they have in innovative ways to help women and children. That gives me comfort.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Receiving my MBE in the Honours list this year. I was really surprised. I missed the email at first and it was sitting in my inbox for two days! I was not expecting any recognition for my work, but was equally pleased that people from my community were championing me. I felt pride – of course – but also gratitude that this could be a platform to further the philanthropic work of our family foundation, and the workshops we run. Both me and my husband are just so passionate about empowering people to live better lives and this award helps me to deliver on that mission even more.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I’m unashamed to say that it’s my husband. In our culture, women are quick to say how bad men are. People joke about how their partners are hopeless at certain things. But I don’t experience that. My husband is my biggest champion. His integrity is exemplary. He is a high achieving entrepreneur and he set up care homes because he genuinely wanted to do something worthwhile. He is a brilliant mentor to his staff and has a keen interest in personal development skills, even hosting his own workshops on leadership. So much of his learnings have influenced me. He has facilitated and pushed me. And now, I always say yes to things because I have the confidence to, thanks to his influence.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring comes in many forms: It might be talks that you listen to, books that you read, attending seminars on personal development or from different people that come into your life that have powerful life messages. Mentors can be people who’ve died and have left a legacy which you abide by. So in that respect I have had many mentors throughout my life.
I have also mentored other people. I do these through a series of workshops and seminars which are supported by the Hemraj Goyal Foundation. I don’t charge money for them because I believe strongly in empowering people to make positive change particularly women and those from ethnic backgrounds. One of the things I encourage the participants to do is to ‘perceive their own role with a high status.’ For example, my husband the chair of a big company with thousands of employees. But instead of thinking of myself as less important, as many wives may do, I view my responsibility to keep the family together seriously. I see myself as top of his support triangle, not the bottom and this is what I mentor many women to believe.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I host workshops for women trying to get ahead in their careers and one common theme being discussed is how Covid-19 has taken some women back to the 1950s. A recent study from University College London on unpaid household work revealed that women spent nearly twice as much time on this as men, on average 20.5 hours per week in April 2020 which increased to 22.5 hours in May whilst for men, the figure was 12 hours per week for each month. While some people love working from home, for many women it is more intense as the household responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning is impacting mental and physical wellbeing and that doesn’t affect men as much. Many say they just can’t wait for schools to open up. The other gap between men and women during the pandemic/lockdown is that mothers were one-and -a -half times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit by May 2020. They were also more likely to have been furloughed, seeing their earnings cut by 20% (according to a large Institute for Fiscal Studies survey from May 2020). I am also aware that in some households, it is more balanced and this is promising.
How we can solve this is complex but one thing we can do is to have men involved in women’s groups, so women get the men’s perspective. Women’s organisations that try to address diversity can often be introspective – they complain but don’t know what to do about it. We need cognitive diversity to bring about change. That means having men, women, young people, old people, from all ethnicities coming up with solutions together.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I have four things to say to my younger self.
- Go to drama school, and learn how to do public speaking from a young age so that like me, you don’t get to your 40s and feel unconfident about speaking. I let opportunities go in my early career because I didn’t have confidence. So, build your confidence when you’re young by doing things out of your comfort zone all the time.
- Don’t get married too young. Wait until you’re at least 30. Explore the world be adventurous and travel. Enrich your life with amazing new learning experiences and focus on learning about who you are and who you want to become.
- Don’t stay in a job too long and instead try diversifying your career and explore working in different sectors as well as starting your own business.
- After graduating, learn to be independent and don’t stay with your parents too long. Make new friends from different backgrounds and from all parts of the world to help elevate your thinking so that you can embrace different perspectives more readily.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Last year, I created an exciting programme for schools, where our foundation is funding personal development workshops to provide young people with tools and life skills. It’s called The Enrichment Experiences in Education and is launching in 10 schools with a wide range of workshop leaders and organisations such as The Outward Bound Trust and Upfront Theatre Company. As schools reopen again, my aim is to get it into 100 schools and to impact 10,000 students over the next three years.
I am also looking forward to publishing my second book which focusses on empowering women through the eyes of twenty-one phenomenal British Asian women with Gujarati heritage. This book highlights the gender inequalities, differing family dynamics, cultural and language barriers and racial discrimination often faced by immigrants from East Africa and India.
I am excited about speaking at more events on topics that are of interest to me around female empowerment, diversity and inclusion and personal development of young people and adults. One day, I would love to host my own television show interviewing even more phenomenal leaders.