The successes and challenges of being a female business owner

Sarah Brewster, director of luxury hotel Stonehouse Court, still amazes people by saying she started the business
Sarah Brewster

The term ‘power’ is an interesting one. For me, the term isn’t defined by being in a position of power, but rather by the ability to influence, educate and make a difference to others.

That said, women in a position of leadership need to own their own power; believe in their abilities, knowledge, convictions and feel confident. Too many young girls and women can lack self-belief and confidence in their abilities, often sabotaging their efforts in fear of failure. My advice to them would be to be bold and courageous; whatever the dream, it’s achievable – getting started is always the biggest step.

Of course, if we want our daughters to grow up independent, confident and resilient, then men themselves need to make a stand too — not accepting the belittling and objectification of women with a sense of superiority and gender bias that, unfortunately, is still prevalent today.

One of the key challenges throughout my career in hospitality has been people assuming that my husband owns the hotel alongside me, and they are often genuinely surprised when I tell them I started the business myself. Of course, it’s less of a challenge now, but more of an irritation, as it shouldn’t be a question of whether a woman can set up a successful business by herself. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have done this without the amazing support of my husband, but he has his own career and I would never take that away from him.

At Stonehouse Court, we have a well-balanced team of strong, independent and inspiring female leaders; including our Head Chef, Kate Adams, Lucy Stirrat and Sophie Tremlin in Food and Beverage, as well as Gemma Phillips and Georgina Hopkins in Sales and Events. Most of these talented women have worked their way up to positions of responsibility whilst at Stonehouse Court.

Furthermore, I believe that there are great opportunities for all genders to progress within hospitality, especially while there is still an outdated perception that the sector does not represent a sustainable career choice, but instead, is often seen as a stop-gap. Hospitality is an extremely rewarding industry to be in with excellent opportunities for training and development, not just at an operational level, but in sales, finance, marketing and at strategic level, too. Our partnership with Bespoke Hotels also offers a wide range of training support throughout an individual’s career with us.

A balance is key though, as it’s important to have a wide range of views and ideas across genders. I believe that you can only achieve this with gender equality throughout the workplace. I cannot comprehend businesses that do not have female representation at the board level — especially when females represent 50% of most target markets in terms of decision-making and spend.

Additionally, it’s imperative that as an industry we do whatever it takes to make people feel comfortable and look to ensure that our sector’s leaders are approachable. No one should ever feel afraid or too proud to ask for help. On top of this, it’s important to not think you need to have all the answers; we can’t be masters of everything and there are plenty of people with expertise to call upon. One of my very early mistakes was not asking for help when I needed it; even from those close to me. Making mistakes is part of the process, and the learning experience is what sets us up to move forward while giving us the courage to plunge head-first into continuous learning and development. Ultimately, building a strong team and support network around you is vital. The sum of all parts is greater than one.

With it being International Women’s Day, I encourage all women working in business and hospitality to believe in their own ability and ride the waves of life’s challenges, knowing that after a storm, there is calm. Be good to yourself, nourish your mind, body and soul and never lose sight of the vision. You may have to change course along the way to achieve it but never lose it. Be patient, determined and resilient; building a business takes a long time and the challenges are constant. Recharge and re-energise often. Never give up!

Sarah Brewster is the Director at Stonehouse Court, a hotel nestled in the heart of Gloucestershire, close to Stroud. It was named The Sunday Times’ best place to live in the UK for 2021

Written by
Sarah Brewster