Ruth Hall left school with just three GCSEs but she always believed she was going to make it.
She had her first job at the age of 14, and by the time she was 24 was on the board of a finance company.
Ruth, formerly Ruth Badger before she married for the third time, even appeared on The Apprentice in 2005, where she came runner-up.
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Now, she runs two businesses in Manchester with a combined annual turnover of £6million – one in the tech sphere, which is typically viewed as male-dominated.
Speaking ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, the theme of which, ‘Break the Bias’ encourages people to challenge stereotyping, the 43-year-old describes the barriers she’s overcome as a woman in business.
“I excelled quickly in my career, but at every age, there was a gender issue,” Ruth told the Manchester Evening News.
“When I started my career, I was told by two different employers that I couldn’t have the job because I was a girl. One was working for a truck manufacturer when I was 17, doing admin, but they said no, because I needed to lift parts. Another was a Saturday job in the butchers.
“When I was 26-years-old, I had a major shareholder in a Plc tell me that I couldn’t be a sales director because I was a young woman, but what was interesting is that within a year I was the sales director. The board saw past it.
“The reality is you can have two attitudes, you say either say okay, or you think no, I’m going to get to where I want to get to. I left school with few qualifications but had the aspiration to be rich. I didn’t have a plan, I just worked hard.”
As a woman working in sales, Ruth says she was easily misjudged as ‘aggressive’ instead of ‘assertive’, something she also experienced in the portrayal of her in the media during her stint on Lord Sugar’s BBC show.
“That was one of the biggest barriers for me because people that know me well, know me for selling, and that’s not me; I’m not rude, I’m well mannered and a nice woman.
“Just because I push and don’t take the bullsh*t and I tell the truth, I’m probably difficult to go up against in certain situations, but if I was a man, they’d say ‘bloody hell she’s good. ‘ Because I’m a woman they describe me as aggressive.”
She added: “I’ve been called all sorts of names because I wear a trouser suit. I’m gay but it doesn’t mean I hate men, it’s a load of nonsense.”
Ruth, who is from Wolverhampton but calls Manchester home, says she has always operated in a mainly male-dominated environment.
When starting out working in security for Wolves Football Club, she was the only girl on the team, and when she went on to sell mortgages and loans for finance firm Purple Loans, again she was the only woman there.
It was there where her big break came – the company was bought by GE Capital and, within 18 months, she was promoted four times.
While there were no female role models for Ruth to look up to in her place of work, she had a strong influence from her mum, who was once head of equal pay for trade union Unison.
“She was the principal officer before she retired,” Ruth continued. “It’s always been bred into me that you can achieve whatever you want regardless of your gender, but that’s because my mum was my role model.”
Ruth had no interest in technology, but fell into the sector after working for billionaire Lord Sugar for six months, where he placed her into one of his IT businesses.
Now she’s the co-founder and managing director of her own IT company – Everything Tech – which supports SMEs with their IT infrastructure requirements. This year, it’s set to turn over £5million.
She employs 40 people, with 31 per cent of her female workforce, across varying roles, and argues women shouldn’t be employed to solely make up employment statistics.
As a CEO, she thinks it’s her responsibility to make the industry appealing to women, and support them with opportunities once they’re in. Her service delivery manager, a woman, is encouraged to get out into schools to champion women in the tech industry.
“If you’re looking at a board for example and saying there needs to be so many women, that’s prejudice against men. Women are equal to men, end of,” Ruth said.
“It’s about more opportunity for women, what women like me can do for other women, women entering their working life, women coming back from having children, women who are changing their career – that’s the importance of women in business. Am I a role model for other women?
“I empower all the people who work with me, I’m a mum, I’ve got a daughter, I’m an auntie, I’m a best friend, it’s about empowerment and confidence. It’s important for me that I make every opportunity accessible for women, as well as men.
“Women in business have to deal with the history of business and that history is changing. I don’t believe it’s a world of equal opportunity but I started my career in 1994 and now in 2022, it’s talked about differently.
“Is tech sexy? Damn right, it’s changing the world. People think the technology sector doesn’t have any women in it, but it’s not shouted about enough. The CEO of Youtube is a woman, the CEO of M247 in Manchester is a woman.
“It’s not unusual, it can be done if you want it – that’s where we could break that bias.”
For more information on International Women’s Day 2022, head to https://www.internationalwomensday.com/
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.