After 12 years as a freelance facilitator and entrepreneurship coach, Fiona McInnes-Craig founded Thresholds in 2001 to provide career development support for women.
How did you start out in business?
I wanted to create a forum where people could explore big questions like ‘If you could do anything in your working life, what would it be?’ And support each other to do it.
After running two open programmes, I was asked by MOD Abbey Wood to run courses for women all over the country. I soon had to hire additional facilitators and figure out how to run it as a proper business. The programmes were hugely successful and, within five years, we were running them across government and even overseas.
If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?
The UK public sector is seriously committed to gender equality and we’ve been running year-long Crossing Thresholds career mentoring programmes for 18 years. Funding for this has continued despite budget cuts and austerity measures.
In the early days I wasted a lot of time talking to large private sector organisations who wanted to achieve gender equality with a lunch-time masterclass. It’s interesting to see where progress has been made during that time.
What advice would you have given yourself when starting out?
Remember to have a personal life! I worked all hours and never really switched off – that was really hard for my two young daughters and I probably wasn’t a lot of fun when they were growing up.
I see them doing a much better job at balancing demanding roles with their home lives.
If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?
Definitely. I have loved every minute of my career. What I didn’t realise was how hard it would be to retire and find someone to take over. Like so many women, I took my skills and expertise for granted and thought anyone could do it. I kept hiring the wrong people until I finally found someone I could trust.
What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
Everything that exists was once only a figment of someone’s imagination. Hold your vision and don’t be constrained by how others have done things.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?
Ask for help. I was brought up to be extremely self-reliant, and the idea of revealing weakness or vulnerability was anathema. It’s taken me a long time to accept support, let alone ask for it. And people love to give others the benefit of their experience.
What is your business highlight?
Filming graduates a couple of years ago for our new website and discovering what a difference being on our programmes had made to their lives and careers. It was really moving.
What was your business low point?
The civil service has gone through a lot of change which has led to numerous periods of uncertainty with a very real possibility of our work evaporating. Fortunately, we have had some senior champions and now we’re running more courses than ever.
What keeps you awake?
The 2017 Runnymede Report revealed that Bristol is the most racially segregated and unequal core city in the UK. That poses a very real and urgent question to all of us who purport to care about fairness and inclusion and opportunity.
At Thresholds, we decided to give our profits to individuals and organisations that are trying to make a dent in this most intractable of challenges.
What’s changed from when you started out?
Fundamentally not a lot. I still see so many women reluctant to sing their own praises and taking their expertise for granted.
What’s still on your to-do list?
We’ve created a one-day workshop that shows anyone how to nail an interview for their dream job. It seems criminal not to offer it to everyone doing good work. I’d love to expand into the third sector.
What’s next for you in business and personally?
Now that I’m semi-retired I want to offer my skills locally in a voluntary capacity. I’ve been putting out feelers and am open to invitations.
Read more: Levelling the playing field in Bristol