Sonya Barlow is a highly accomplished entrepreneur who is the founder of @LMFNetwork, the author of “Unprepared to Entrepreneur,” and the host of “The EveryDay Hustle” on the BBC Asian Network. Additionally, she is an expert on inclusion, a TEDx speaker, and a content creator.
She is based in London and identifies as Pakistani – British with neurodiversity and a hidden disability.
LMF Network is an inclusion consultancy and careers platform bridging the skills gap. Our mission is to build the confidence, capabilities, and careers of 25,000 people by 2025 by redefining work, culture, and community.
LMF helps companies recruit more women into male-dominated industries by mentoring them for success, building their confidence, and leveling their careers.
We specialize in services that harness community building, inclusive structures and long-term learning programmes. Some of our successes include delivering over 50,000 hours of ED&I initiatives, launching the largest mentoring programme in the UK, and upskilling 20,000 people globally.
We are proud that our team is diverse and inclusive, bringing together those from different backgrounds, including culture, sexuality, location, disabilities, socioeconomic background, and neurodiversity.
What’s the change you are passionate about
I am passionate about enabling people into their version of success through education and empowerment. This is to change the narrative of inclusion and encourage females and people from ethnic minorities to strive for more. Be this in the workplace, at home, or through business. I do this through speaking, writing, and advisory.
What is your purpose, how did you discover it, and how has it emerged
My purpose is to enable inclusive cultures, build strong communities and remind people that they have the best version of themselves inside of them.
I discovered my purpose early in life but didn’t know what it was other than wanting to treat people fairly and make everyone feel included. It wasn’t until I suffered workplace bullying and toxic cultures that I realized it was more than making people feel included but ensuring the systems were set up to include from the foundation up. The business idea emerged as a brunch club before transitioning into a business that hosts two services, a consultancy, and a careers platform.
I always knew I had a voice; how do I use that voice as a superpower to help others?
What’s your unique perspective in your area of work, what’s the contribution that you bring
What I am trying to do through LMF Network is to reduce inequalities by providing women and people from underrepresented groups with an accessible mentoring programme, life skills workshops, a support community, and access to expertise for everyone. It’s making a difference by placing people at the center of our work, bringing them into conversations, and empowering them to have their own voices heard. We are a community first, female-centric, and focused on uplifting gender equality by providing the tools and resources required so that these same motivated individuals will do for both themselves and others. We have upskilled over 20,000 through various channels since being founded and I only strive to make that number higher; to encourage economic growth, innovation, and freedom.
What are you most angry about/ most curious about/ what breaks your heart…. and how did this shape your life and work choices, and/ or how does this show up in your change-making
It makes me angry and determined when I hear stories of people not achieving their potential based on barriers, either through unconscious bias or a lack of company understanding. There are many reasons why talented ethnic minority individuals leave the technology or business industry or can’t move up. It’s a shame that we don’t actively invest in women or ethnic women who can generate 33% more profits for businesses or teach girls their power from an educational age. For me, more than this, it’s the lack of communication and confidence we instil in our people and expect them to deal with situations without setting themselves up for success.
This has shaped all my work from an LMF community perspective, consulting businesses, and as a thought leader. My mission has been to provide a stepping stone for women and marginalized communities to upskill, gain confidence and enter the tech, digital and entrepreneurship sectors. I have realized that since a young age, women are often told not to be
Truly, it shaped my life choices in a weird way. As a young child, I was fairly confident and fearless. Around the age of 18, I would say I started fearing something and that hindered my effort and even my choice of degree. This constant battle between being my fearless self and conforming to society went on until the age of 25 or at least until I was let go from work, at which point I realized to depend on myself, do what I want and empower others to take control of their careers. I am naturally a curious person and, since young, have always asked – why – yet recently, I have felt that why naturally disappeared, maybe with the overload of information or overwhelming impacts the last few years have had on our mental well-being. Whatever the case, I want to find my why and curiosity again whilst building a strong circle around me so we can find our sense of freedom together.
Why Should Every First-Time Entrepreneur Have a Mentor?
A good mentor will provide business advice and a supportive relationship in all stages and aspects. Mentoring is a 2-way relationship that’s very important to understand; it shouldn’t be determined by age or seniority but by mutual respect. Mentoring changed my life because it showed me that people are willing to help and enabled me to tap into their stories without the extra fees or finances that many programmes require.
When I started a business, I had very little information or education in entrepreneurship but so much resilience – so it was about figuring out what to do whilst tapping into this network of wealth.
In my years as an entrepreneur, I have found three main benefits of mentoring when building your first business.
First, having a mentor during your entrepreneurial journey is an opportunity to gain access to knowledge and experience from someone who has already established their own business. For this to happen, you must listen, learn and allow your mentor to lead by example. A good example is my mentor showed me how to take expenses and write invoices for clients over a brunch meeting which felt like a full circle, considering LMF Network started as a brunch club.
Second, entrepreneurial beginners will benefit from learning from their mentor’s mistakes and successful strategies. Those lessons will be invaluable and might help you have an easier path. One of the most challenging aspects of entrepreneurship is the discipline required to achieve those objectives. A mentor can support you in setting achievable goals and hold you accountable for your progress. My mentor reminded me to focus on my customer and always bet on myself.
Entrepreneurship can sometimes be lonely, with many setbacks, failures and rejections. That is the third reason for mentoring. You initially don’t know the positive impact you can have on someone; be that through liking their concept online; sharing praise to encourage, or even giving a pep talk. There will be times when, as an entrepreneur, you will need a cheerleader and confidence booster.
Not only mentees benefit from this relationship. I have also reaped the rewards of accompanying other entrepreneurs in their journey. Guiding people through the jungle of building your business has helped me reinforce my particular entrepreneurship knowledge and reconfirm that taking a step towards entrepreneurship was the right decision.
And lastly, mentoring other entrepreneurs has provided me with a deep sense of fulfillment, especially if they come from underprivileged backgrounds, as you can’t be who you can’t be. Representation matters, and I want to encourage diversity in entrepreneurship and mentoring through my story.
This is one reason we at LMF Network started our own mentoring and career programme to ensure that we can give back to our community whilst empowering our community to learn from one another.