Yemi Penn was 24 and had just graduated from her dream degree in mechanical engineering when to her own disbelief, she found herself homeless and pregnant.
Until then, she’d lived at home with six siblings in a traditional family, but it soon became clear her parents didn’t approve of the pregnancy. She was told to leave.
“I had to go to the local council and register myself as homeless,” Penn tells Women’s Agenda Extra, during one of our ‘Mini Keynote’ video sessions. “It was an oxymoron because here I was with an engineering degree, I’d managed to do well…and I couldn’t understand how I was homeless.”
She says she’d continually ask herself, how have I managed to screw up so far from what life was?
In the nearly two decades since she graduated from university, Penn has gone on to live a life most only dream about. Based in Sydney, she is a globally successful businesswoman. She describes herself as an engineer by profession and an entrepreneur by passion.
Four years ago, Penn took a leap of faith, leaving her full-time engineering job to launch her own engineering consultancy firm, Penn Consulting. The firm now has branches in Sydney and London.
She’s also the founder of W Squared Coaching, a company that seeks to empower those looking for more in their personal and professional lives. And from the other side of the world, she’s also launched an F45 fitness studio in Brixton, London.
But that’s not all. She’s also developed an app to help connect minorities to services, and is working on developing a new product in the feminine hygiene space.
AND she has also just released her first book, Did You Get the Memo? Because I F**king Didn’t, along with her own podcast series of the same title.
This impressive list of achievements didn’t come easy to Penn, who says she had to change and then invest in her mindset to get to where she is today.
The key thing that helped, she says, is that she didn’t wait for permission to launch into business.
“I think a lot of us are waiting for somebody else to tell us where we should be developing or what our weak point is,” she says. “We have a culture of blaming someone or looking for the villain.”
“Not asking for permission doesn’t need to be a major revolution. It’s just a case of the only person who needs to give us permission is ourselves.”
Penn created her own seat at the table by believing in the work she was doing and pushing forward, creating her own brand.
“I really had to believe I could offer something to the client and that’s how I did it,” she says.”We are our own brands, we just don’t realise it.”
Of course, managing three businesses has its challenges, but Penn says she makes time work for her. Focusing on output, rather than hours spent at a desk is key. And she doesn’t worry about changing the rules.
“I know back in the day and even today, the 9 to 5 at a desk is seen to be the only way. I’d like to challenge that – the world’s changing. I have a virtual assistant who’s in the UK, one in the Phillipines, and one in Sydney. That’s all based on different time zones.”
As Penn has skyrocketed to the heights of engineering and business, she’s seen just how important it is for women and girls to be actively involved in fields like science and engineering.
At university, she was one of 6 women in a class of 100 men. She says at the time, she didn’t realise she was in the minority – she just wanted to be involved. Now, she recognises the urgent need for more women to fill those seats.
“I’ve been in the industry for just under 20 years now, there is more need for women in engineering than ever.” she says. “Because when we look at technology and artificial intelligence… the less women we have in there, the less we are represented in any new outcomes, technologies or products.”
“The world would be significantly imbalanced and if we haven’t already, we’ll start to feel the pain of that.”
And tips she’d offer women looking to take a leap in their career? Back yourself and be kind to yourself, Penn says.
“I have to tell myself that everyday. I’m always setting myself a task and if I don’t achieve it, I get upset….when we are in the right state, that’s where we create wonders.”
You can purchase Yemi Penn’s book on Amazon.
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