‘When we have more women in positions of power, the world is a better place for everyone’
Susan Dwyer is the founder and CEO of Rise Up, a community of diverse female leadership talent connecting people with employers who prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion.
Already with eight years of experience working in the world of recruitment and talent solutions, Susan was responsible for headhunting senior executives for high growth tech companies. Deciding to leave it all behind and start her own venture, Susan said that she “started to feel like something was missing”, which is ultimately what prompted her to launch her own business.
“I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to. I wasn’t learning or growing at the pace I needed to be and so I knew it was time for a change,” she told me. “In January 2020, I decided to quit my job with nothing lined up. I took my own advice for once and didn’t rush into getting another one straight away. I needed to take some time out before I figured out my next move, so I packed my bags and headed off to South America. This is where I did a lot of self-reflection… then Covid hit, which led to more self-reflection, and then came the creation of Rise Up.”
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Susan shares a little more about her story and what her mission as a female entrepreneur is.
Tell me about Rise Up.
Rise Up is a community of diverse female leadership talent. We connect top talent to employers who prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion. We support and develop our network via mentorship, coaching and networking opportunities, ensuring learning and connection is at the core of everything we do.
What prompted you to start Rise Up?
After 7 years of working in the global recruitment and talent solutions space, and feeling the isolation of working in male-dominated leadership teams, I was ready for a career pivot but I needed help. I started to search for an inclusive external support network where I could connect with other female leaders, get advice, upskill and identify companies where I knew I would belong and could grow my career. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and as it turns out I wasn’t alone, so I created Rise Up.
What is your mission as a woman in this industry?
Our mission at Rise Up is really simple, it’s to advance more women in their careers and to help companies create more diverse teams by hiring the best female leadership talent out there. Because when we have more women in positions of power, the world is a better place for everyone.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
There are lots of things I love about my job but my favourite thing has to be all of the amazing women I get to meet. I feel so lucky to get to make these kinds of connections on a daily basis and I’m always so humbled when women choose to open up to me and tell me their story, whether that be at one of our live events, in a DM on Instagram or in a one-to-one conversation. This is how I learn. We talk about everything from leadership, mindset and money to having children whilst maintaining careers, managing conflict at work, wellbeing, and so much more.
People often ask me what the best thing about setting up my own business is and I always tell them that I have learnt more in the last 18 months than I have over the last 10 years.
You run all kinds of workshops to inspire women, what’s the main thing you want people to take away from these events?
I am a massive believer in the power of storytelling and how one person’s story has the potential to change someone else’s life. I came up with the name ‘Rise Up’ from a famous quote I read by Serena Williams – who I have been obsessed with since I was a little girl and was an avid tennis player! She quotes: “The success of one woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up”. The second I read it, I knew I had to call my company Rise Up because that quote embodies everything that we stand for.
When women come together in a safe and inclusive space and feel comfortable enough to open up in front of a group of peers about their real-life experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – that is powerful! And this is how you form genuine connections, because what I have learnt is that we will all face the same challenges, just at different times, and knowing that you are not alone is everything.
Have you noticed that there’s a trend/one particular reason why women join Rise Up?
There are a couple of reasons why women join the rise up network. One is to find inspiration, lots of women work in more male-dominated environments and so don’t have a lot of female role models available to them. We all need to feel inspired by others, particularly those who we can see ourselves in. As the saying goes you can’t be what you can’t see and we’re here to create a platform for these women to be seen. This is what our events are all about, creating visibility and feeling inspired.
The second reason is to identify career growth opportunities, and this is why we facilitate group coaching workshops led by top executive coaches – to deliver interactive sessions where women can work on their professional and personal development.
The third is to connect to a leading network and to gain access to the other women on our platform. We have a private slack group which makes it really easy for our members to connect and reach out to one another for support or advice.
And the fourth reason is to connect with employers who they know are serious about hiring and developing female talent. The job market is so crazy right now, every company is fighting for top talent which is great, but as a job seeker, it can be really tough to decipher which companies are actually genuine about progressing underrepresented talent and which ones are just putting glossy words on a website with no action or follow through. We partner with companies who are serious about diversity and inclusion, who understand that it’s not just a nice thing to have but that it makes complete business sense too. That’s why they partner with us. To stay accountable, to accelerate their progress across Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and to get access to some of the best talent in the market. It’s a win-win for everyone.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Just start. As in now. It doesn’t need to be perfect, your business will evolve over time, you will learn from your mistakes and you’ll figure the rest out along the way. But the only way to learn is to start. Too many of us sit on ideas and let them die because we don’t feel ready. The truth is you will never feel ready, but that’s a good thing, it means you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and that’s where remarkable things usually happen.
Any big plans in the pipeline?
I’ve never felt more excited by a year than I do about this year! It’s been a whirlwind and we’re only at the beginning of March. I moved over to LA at the end of 2021 with the goal of growing and diversifying our community out here this year. My ambition has always been to build a global network and now that we live in a remote working world, there has never been a better time and opportunity for this. We have big and bold plans for this year. Our next step is to seek investment to help us fuel this growth so that we have the firepower we need to reach as many women as possible while supporting the right companies to build the best diverse teams in the world. This is where I am focusing my energy right now and the US feels like the perfect place for me to be to seek these opportunities.
Finally, who are the women that inspire you personally?
Honestly, I am inspired by too many women to count. I love any woman or person who fights for what they believe in, even if that means taking risks or going against popular opinion. I adore and am inspired daily by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she’s disrupting what it means to a woman in politics and it’s a joy to watch.
You can find out more about Rise Up’s events and how to join over on their website.
This article was originally published in March 2022.