Case study: Arabian Tents
"In terms of what the future holds for gender equality... people will be considered more in terms of their 'ingredients' and how these contribute to a work dynamic rather than if they're male or female."
Katherine Hudson, The Arabian Tent Company
“I always knew I’d never do anything ‘normal’ for a career. When I was a lot younger I briefly considered careers as a policewoman or air hostess but these ambitions were fleeting and I’m definitely much better dancing to the beat of my own drum. A lot of the decisions I’ve made are hard to justify, they’ve been a lot more instinct driven than considered and it’s what gives me my ‘oomph’, and there have been several epiphany moments in my life when things have slotted into place and just felt right. Arabian Tents was one of those ideas - it felt fun, exciting and I knew I couldn’t be stuck in an office any longer doing something someone else wanted me to do.
I’ve always been inspired by those who work hard. My grandfather was a great testament to this – he was still building homes aged 84!
I feel although the marquee industry is quite male dominated for me this is definitely an advantage and my business - a bit like my USP. People remember me and I’m called ‘the tent lady’ a lot! It does help that I’m physically strong. Clients were always surprised to see me doing the majority of the physical work. It is often remarked that I am ‘strong for a girl’ which I take lightly really, it’s always good to challenge a pre-conceived idea, especially when it comes to strength and you can think yourself stronger too. Sometimes on an off day, I’m much weaker because I don’t really believe I can do it.
If I was going to advise anyone starting a career that defies what is classically a ‘man’ or ‘woman’s’ job I would say to embrace it and use it to your advantage, it definitely will give your business an edge. In my business I have women who drive trucks, are electricians and welders.
In terms of what the future holds for gender equality, I feel we will continue on the positive path for both men and women. We’ll be valued at work more on our personal qualities and the energy we bring to a team or role rather than our gender as men and women both bring different, valuable qualities to a team. For example, studies have shown profitability is increased when there are women on the board of large organisations. So as it makes economic sense to have a better-balanced team (whether it’s commercial or political) and change is and will continue to happen.
Ultimately you should always do what you enjoy - that way you’ll never feel you’ve worked a day in your life! Men and women can definitely do the same jobs but approach it in different ways, which is what makes life so interesting. For example, we have male members in our team who aren’t shy when it comes to delicately draping fabrics or coordinating different scatter cushions and playing with colour schemes. I really encourage the male members of our team to explore their creative and expressive side and I know it allows them to grow in a direction they wouldn’t be able to otherwise which is immensely satisfying and creates loyalty too.
Really, I don’t think there will be a time when gender becomes obsolete – because ultimately we are different, and our human nature is drawn to differences. However, I think there will be a less negative conversation around the topic - people will be considered more in terms of their ‘ingredients’ and how these contribute to a work dynamic rather than if they’re male or female.
I started Arabian Tents 12 years ago, just into my twenties and I was a PA prior to that. Starting a new business was exciting and scary at the same time but I loved the adrenaline rush it gave me. My motto is ‘Carpe Diem’ – when things are thrown at you – deal with them and find the solution to every problem. I often feel like I’m still flying by the seat of my pants even now, but it’s that sort of excitement that keeps me engaged and feeling alive.
For anyone looking to start their own business, my advice would be that any nerves are natural and you just need to have a strong vision and dedication to make it happen. Don’t be shy of 2am finishes followed by 7am starts!
I employ about 45 members of staff but they feel more like family as I’ll only work with people I genuinely care about. It’s always interesting to discover how to manage different quirks within a team but I suppose that’s what makes people so interesting – it would be boring if we were robots with no personalities.
I’d say the best part of owning a business is not having to answer to anybody; if I have a crazy idea I can just do it and don’t have to ask permission. This can, however, make me a bit single-minded and work can feel a bit all-consuming at times. There are so many things I enjoy; it would be great to have some time for hobbies occasionally but then there’s always retirement…"
The Arabian Tent Company 0800 8815 229
What lies ahead for the future of gender equality? Find out more here