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Silkarmour Boardroom in Conversation With Miisa Mink

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n all her ventures throughout her colourful career, Miisa Mink has always been one to recognise the value in celebrating achievement. Motivated by the continuous urge to escape her comfort zone and grow as a person from her professional experiences, Mink has built her career, and her most recent venture, Driven Woman, on the foundations of one unshakeable belief; take control of your own destiny.

The formative years of Mink’s career were rooted in design, creative direction and branding. Having built up a bank of experience in her native Finland, she secured a position as a partner at TBWA, one of the largest international advertising agencies in the world. She then founded and led the most successful start-up within the conglomerate before founding jewellery design platform Mink & Stone and joining the Nordic Bakery company as their co-owner and now Chairwoman. But despite her success, something was missing; a sense of purpose, a project whose fundamental principles were rooted in self-development and self-improvement; an idea that soon manifested into a women’s support and personal development platform, Driven Woman.

Driven Woman was launched in 2013, inspired by the magic that is made when women support each other. Mink wanted to create a brand that would not only inspire its members, but would be a catalyst for proactivity by default. Driven Woman members come together once a month to verbally and physically present and record the personal and professional areas of their life that they would like to improve; a neutral and supportive environment in which women can explore their true potential. The beauty of Driven Woman is found in the empathetic connections that are created in the meetings. Comparable to the deeply emotive conversations one has with girlfriends over a glass of wine, as a member of the group you act as a mentor to the other women as well as being a mentee yourself - the group provides feedback and encouragement to each member as a collective whole. Although everyone initially comes together as strangers, the inevitable emotional bonds that are formed by opening up to people in neutral territory creates a wonderfully trusting environment, with everyone keen to pitch in and help everyone else out; the embodiment of women helping other women.

Fittingly, Mink believes that female empowerment is something that a woman has to take responsibility for. Whilst the working environment and the social attitude that dictate it are currently evolving, Mink is an advocate of action; it is a woman’s own responsibility to make a difference through the channels she can control. Only by stepping outside our comfort zone and being willing to create the change we want, can we really make a difference and grow, personally as well as professionally. Or, in Mink’s own inspiring words; “don’t wait for the world to change, change your own world.”

On her early influencers

I grew up in Finland, in a town just outside of Helsinki. I always had a huge desire to put myself outside my comfort zone from an early age, it always seemed to be the best way to learn things. When I moved to Poland for a job I was offered two cars as part of my deal; a Ford Escort or a Polonez, a local Polish engineering model. Naturally I chose the Polonez, the difficult, less familiar option because I felt I could get more out of jumping into the unknown. It’s a way of thinking that I apply to all of my business ventures.

On her career transition

When I moved to London, I was contacted by one of the biggest advertising networks agencies in the industry, TBWA. I was offered a job, but I refused to take it unless they made me a partner; I had spent so long building up my experience in creative direction and design at home so I was completely confident in my capabilities and refused to settle for anything less than my actual worth. 10 months later I was made a partner. It’s a story I tell women all the time; those half an hour moments of negotiation can make a huge difference in how much money you’ll make in the next five years.

On standing up for yourself

Women absolutely have an issue with voicing concerns and negotiating salaries, while men seem to be completely unafraid by comparison. But you only get what you want in life by asking for it; I made it clear I wouldn’t take a job that was a step down from my current position as the only way was up! That attitude enabled me to found and lead the most successful start-up company in the entire business, expanding it to offices in Moscow, Brussels and Istanbul. Instead of being perceived as the difficult woman who yelled to get what she wants, I was known as the enthusiastic and motivating woman who inspired teams and who would send portfolios of our work off to the Paris office every month, forcing everyone to pay attention to the incredible work we were doing. In vying for a promotion, one doesn’t have to be pushy or negative, but simply raise awareness of your efforts and results. Eventually I became the first female board member in Finland and then progressed to Head of Design, because I was good at what I did and I was willing to talk about it.

On the inspiration for Driven Woman

At this point in my career, I was investing a lot of time in the existential aspect of my life; asking myself the really big questions; what was my contribution to the world going to be? Tempting as the comfort of the corporate world was, I had to move on from it as no progress is ever made if you never leave the bubble of familiarity.

"Don’t wait for the world to change, change your own world"

I truly believe that for something to flourish, you have to put a portion of yourself into a project. I paired up with the athlete Jennifer Stout to potentially pursue a project in celebrity branding. After trying out a few different ways of working, we had a ‘zero meeting’ without any expectations. We realised we were both people who were passionate about progress and making things happen, but we also wanted to have a direct link to empowering women.  

On Driven Woman

Driven Woman was manifested from the idea of women helping other women. Our company dynamic is founded on a series of monthly meetings, starting with an introductory meeting, to set goals and aims for personal and professional development. The group dynamic is the core of the identity in the brand; it’s not a person who coaches you in your personal progress, but the whole group. You are a mentor as well as a mentee and it doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 63, everyone has some life experience to contribute and everyone can empathise with everyone else’s goals, not just as a woman, but also as a fellow human being.

"The reason why dreams don’t happen is because people forget to make the small steps"

The mapping process of defining your goals uses the Driven Woman Life Matrix; four boxes that define four key areas of your life that you want to improve. It enables you to visually spell out the areas or topics of improvement within them. The matrix is also a fantastic tool for establishing a balance between personal life and your career; it’s a classic debate but I’m thrilled that influential figures such as Arianna Huffington are investing time and money in discussing the importance of it. Working in a group dynamic is a huge motivator, it’s amazing what a corporate woman can learn from a university student and what an artist can learn from an entrepreneur.

Every meeting finishes with what I think is the most important element; the baby steps. Everyone has to go around the group and carve out five small steps that you’ll take over the next month in order to get closer to your goals. Often when we are planning something, we have our eye on the prize but we don’t focus on the details of how we can actually make progress. The reason why dreams don’t happen is because people forget to make the small steps, but this environment forces you to realise that a step in the wrong direction is better than no steps at all.

On her favourite success story

One of my favourite stories from Driven Woman was one of our first members who completely transformed herself. She came to the first meeting wearing no make-up, her head down and wearing a cardigan. As I got to know her, it turned out she was a really driven and energetic person but she nowhere near where she wanted to be in life. On her life matrix, she wrote “I want to kill the librarian”; the boring, uninspiring woman who she had become but didn’t want to be. Her first baby step is an amazing example of how small changes make a big difference; she was going to apply mascara every day. Something as minor as that can create real change because you are creating a habit to invest time in yourself.

On comparing building a business to having a child

There is no better comparison of building a business than with having a child. For some businesses, the building period can last longer than nine months and it’s inevitable that we develop huge expectations for launch day. But the reality is a newly launched business is just like a new-born baby; it can’t take care of itself. The media does a huge disservice to the reality of building a business as they focus on projects that go viral and accelerated months of progress are very disconnected from the reality of the working world.

"The reality is a newly launched business is just like a new-born baby; it can’t take care of itself"

There was this one evening early on in Driven Woman where nobody showed up; not a soul. It ended up being a great learning curve for me in realising my business was so new, people probably didn’t know about it and taught me not to be harsh on myself. Three years later, I have other women running groups and I’m launching Driven Woman Sydney, Singapore, Auckland and Paris. What was a baby is now a child, that can survive without round-the-clock care.

On empowering women

Empowerment is your own responsibility. The world does have to change and social attitudes have evolved. However, my mantra is ‘while you wait for the world to change, change your own world.’ Take the example of balancing a child with a corporate career; the corporate world does need to change to cater to your needs, but that isn’t happening overnight and you are having a baby now. What you can do is make a difference to your own reality, be it your job, your support system, your friends or your family; don’t be a victim. Take the necessary steps to make a difference with the things you can control, as stepping outside the comfort zone is the only real way to learn who you are and what you are capable of.

On the importance of personal image

Personal image doesn’t discriminate with gender. Making an effort to be the most groomed and well-presented version of yourself is good manners as well as an indicator of self-respect. Use the unspoken corporate code to your advantage to translate your capabilities in a visual context.

"Dress like a woman and dress like who you are because you can only be comfortable in your own skin, when you are in your own skin"

A common mistake women make in dressing for the workplace is dressing like a man. Although we need to try and find our place in male-dominated environments, trying to replicate those who are already there is not the solution. Dress like a woman and dress like who you are because you can only be comfortable in your own skin, when you are in your own skin.

On her personal power pieces

My own wardrobe is split between jeans for downtime and dresses for work. I’ve made sure that my workwear selection consists of pieces that make me feel strong, powerful and confident. Clothing makes a difference in the same way Amy Cuddy’s research on body language and the Wonder Woman pose; it’s a confidence boost. My favourite pieces are Elie Tahari and Diane von Furstenberg dresses, with Jimmy Choo shoes; it’s the perfect silhouette.

Getting Personal

My biggest vice is fries. I eat incredibly healthily but I’ll always order fries as a side. Another indulgence is Art Basel in Miami. I think if an alien came to Earth from Mars and landed in the middle of Art Basel, they would get the completely wrong impression about humanity, but that’s the beauty of it - pure escapism.

The best advice I have ever received is that nothing happens in two years, especially when you start from scratch. Take your time and don’t rush.

If I were Queen for a day, assuming I’d have the right to rule, I would implement the changes currently needed in the corporate world; ensure split maternity and paternity leave costs and I’d make it law for men take a break as well as women.

The best thing you can do at work is to be positive. Don’t be a downer; be a positive presence in the working environment and take control of your feelings and emotions. In contrast, don’t be a victim.

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