International Women's Day Interview With Annabel Karmel, Author & Entrepreneur

With over 20 bestselling cookbooks as well as regular television and radio interviews, Annabel Karmel has proven herself as a successful businesswoman and authority on children's nutritional issues. In 2006, Annabel was awarded an MBE for her contribution and work in this field. In 2010, Annabel worked closely with Disney and created a healthy range of snacks that can be found at major UK supermarkets.

Here Annabel talks about the importance of International Women's Day; her advice to young female entrepreneurs; and why she hates the expression "have it all".

Can you give a brief summary of your employment history, and how you got to where you are?

From the minute I left school I pursued a career as a professional musician playing the harp.  I spent an amazing few years travelling all over the world playing, but when I started a family I took a break from this as you have to have incredible determination to be a musician and need to practice all the time.

Tragically, my first child Natasha died at a very young age and my second child, Nicholas, was an extremely fussy eater.  I felt very vulnerable and desperately tried to get him to eat.  There was so little available apart from bland jarred food that I tried all sorts of recipes to try to tempt my son to eat.  At the time, I was in a nursery group and they [the other mums] all used to love my recipes, and persuaded me to put them in a book.  

I spent two years researching child nutrition and writing recipes and wrote the book 'Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner'. Despite being turned down by lots of publishers, I persevered with it and finally found someone to take it on.  After this I continued to write while my children were young, but when they grew up I started to expand my business. 

I was asked by M&S and Boots to create food and equipment ranges for them. These were so popular that I thought, why not do this for myself, and create my own brand that would stand for quality, health and also be tasty?   

Last year I celebrated the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book and it is amazing to see how much my career has changed since I wrote that first book.

Do you think women are fairly represented in business?

No, sadly I don’t think they are.  While there might be a more equal number of men and woman starting at entry or graduate level, the numbers become more uneven as you move up the job ladder.  With the cost of childcare going up and up, often women who want to start a family simply have to stay at home. Quite often, even if they wanted to go back to work, there is very often little choice when it comes to going back to work with flexible hours.

What advice would you give a young female entrepreneur today?

You need to have a real passion in what you want to do as you will need to put a huge amount of energy and time into it.  You also need to find a niche, something that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Can women ‘have it all’ (i.e. career and family)? If so how?

I hate this expression; I think it puts far too much pressure on women.  I personally don’t think you can have a full time career, plus be constantly looking after your children and all the other bits that come with having a family.  I think you need to be realistic about what you can manage and if you can be flexible about your work to fit round your family, all the better. 

What was the best advice you received when starting out?

When you choose what you want to do, choose something that you love and do your research; look for a gap in the market.

What significance do you think International Women’s Day holds?

I think it is very important.  I believe we have achieved a lot in this country when it comes to women’s rights, and woman being able to work and have a family, but there is still much that can be done, here and elsewhere.

To celebrate International Women's Day, Leeds University Business School conducted interviews with several influential women in business. The NextWomen has been given exclusive permission to publish the Annabel Karmel interview. Please click here to read the complete interview series.

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