Anna Letitia Cook is the founder of English Angels, a company that teaches Business English to professionals who work at corporations in Europe. She has lived in many countries and has started several businesses along the way. Her versatility has enabled her to bridge cultures with ease and to change industries and careers as her interests evolved. She’s bringing the Red Shoe Movement to France, a country where women have a tough time achieving parity.
Tell us a bit about yourself (where were you born, where you lived, what degrees you have, where you live now).
I was born and raised in England. I love exploring and embracing new cultures. Before setting up this business I worked for 25 years in industries such as oil/petrochemical, defence, stockbroking, international investments and commercial real estate (including castle/country hotel sales and renovations) in several countries in Europe as well as in the other side of the pond, Canada, USA and particularly Bermuda!
I originally studied Business Management & Marketing (with options Politics, Economics, Translating/Interpreting). Besides English, I speak Spanish, French and some Italian.
When I’m not working, I’m relaxing in a lovely longère in the heart of Brittany with my Breton other half. He is a fanatical marathon-runner which means we regularly get to visit other countries so he can run his legs off while I take photos and sip coffee!
How did you get to the place in your career where you’re now?
English Angels developed from having taught colleagues and clients for years in the various countries where I worked, leading me to a career change to become a TEFL-TESOL teacher, specialising in Business English.
I am also an International Business Skills Coach as well as a ‘Speak Like a Native’, Genuine Language Fluency Coach using and introducing the visionary OPAL Methodology developed by Yves Thevenot.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a professional woman working in corporations in France?
It is much more difficult for a woman to be taken seriously here due to the very different mentality that exists in France and the workplace, as well as some rather traditional attitudes regarding women, careers and equality.
Entrepreneurship is still very much in its infancy compared to USA, UK, Germany and other Anglo-Saxon based cultures. Openly admitting that you are ambitious and career driven is unusual and not necessarily well thought of or respected.
In reality, it is an unfortunate fact that women still tend to earn less than men, have less possibilities for career advancement and in general are considered to be more ‘light weight’.
This is one of the main reasons I am so involved with the Red Shoe Movement and am introducing it to France. I see so many women here who are trying to improve their situation, find opportunities, respond to challenges and achieve closer equality with men. Many of the professional women I know here are very frustrated with their situation but find it difficult to progress when they are more or less isolated and feel that no one encourages them. I think the solidarity that can be found from interaction with other women in the Red Shoe Movement would be a great inspiration and support to professional women here in France.
What do you find the most satisfying part of your work?
- The contact with people, being able to help them gain in confidence so they no longer fear participating in international work environments.
- I particularly love the ‘light-bulb moment’ when I see that a client has understood that other nationalities really do think totally differently. It is very rewarding when they can see that we all have different values and beliefs and work in different ways.
- When the client then realises that, due to this different vision, they need to adapt their way of presenting, introducing, negotiating, etc. to achieve positive interaction and successful relationships, and when they genuinely wish to do so, it is a truly great moment.
What advice do you have for other women who have unusual (or challenging) career goals?
- Go for your dream, follow your vision, plan it out on paper, as with planning the dream becomes a goal and is attainable.
- Do it for yourself and for your own fulfilment and self-respect… If you have negative vibes from your entourage, don’t bother with fighting them, don’t stress, don’t get upset, just keep on moving ahead to your goal – remember that you are doing it for you! Don’t try and talk them around or convince them, they are not you, they don’t have your vision, they don’t understand what makes you fulfilled and alive… 9 times out of 10 any negative vibes stem from envy, lack of self-confidence or fear of change.
- It is never too late, age doesn’t enter into the equation.
On a practical level I would say planning, organization and small regular steps forward are the key… Before you start anything make a detailed plan, with times, dates, objectives, milestones and key phases all laid out… Become your own project manager. Be prepared to adapt and modify as you progress and the real world changes direction… This can really help you keep on track and not get distracted. It keeps you motivated and focused.
Give us an example of how you’re currently helping other women advance professionally or fulfil their career goals?
I have 2 clients who are struggling at the moment. They have had a few difficult moments so alongside my professional relationship with them, I am supporting them with a mixture of mentoring and coaching to help them through their problems, to keep them looking forward and to boost their confidence. I am also giving them steps to follow to keep them focused and advancing to their newly defined objectives. I am also bringing my own network into action to enlarge their audience and potential field of operation.
I am introducing the Red Shoe Movement to all my female clients here in France. They are extremely positive and motivated by it so we now have quite a few businesses where the number of red shoes appearing on a Tuesday is increasing regularly. I am also talking about it to all my male clients – and to my great amazement have had a very positive response from them. Not only have they suggested wearing red socks to show their support, but also several have asked for information that they can give to their female colleagues/friends/family.
Could you mention one or more women who have helped you get to where you are now?
Many years ago an old school-friend helped me to establish my career in Bermuda. Without her I would never have gained the extensive international experience and contacts I acquired from my work in Bermuda.
For motivation and confidence, there are 3 women in particular (two British, Pippa and Sally; one French, Andréa) who have helped me by their constant support, encouragement and total belief in me and my abilities. Their faith in me has been so strong that even when occasionally I have wanted to give up, I have kept going because of them.
Professionally there was one woman, Madeleine, who invited me to work with her to provide the skills she lacked. Working together we expanded successfully enough to enable us both to develop independent but complementary businesses in Spain.