As part of our exploration of women and confidence we’re photographing some of the most confident and inspiring women we know alongside their favourite Sarah Haran handbags. Each of our bags help women organise their lives at work and at play and are designed to help you feel self-assured in any situation.
Rachel McTavish (pictured here with her Michelle Tote), is one of the UK’s most experienced broadcast journalists, having presented the news for the likes of ITV, BBC and GMTV for over 2 decades, as well as being on air and leading ITV News channel’s coverage of the Twin Tower attacks.
Not only does she support other women by award hosting and event chairing for Business Woman Scotland, but she also had the confidence to launch, her own successful brand, McTavish collection, outside of journalism.
We talked to Rachel about female confidence, advice on starting your own ‘side hustle’, and how she dresses for confidence in front of the cameras…
You’ve worked in busy TV newsrooms at the highest level, what has this environment taught you about confidence?
I’ve found my confidence has grown over the years. For a long time at ITN I was one of the younger ones in the newsroom and although I was working as a presenter on the 24-hour news channel, I was surrounded by big names that I’d grown up watching. People such as Julia Somerville, John Suchet and Alastair Stewart - which was daunting to say the least - but they were generous with their time and advice and I learnt so much from them. I think most people experience ‘imposter syndrome’ at some points in their career, now when I have that feeling, I recognise that it’ll pass and just crack on!
Has this type of environment changed for working women over the years?
I’ve been fortunate in that everywhere I’ve worked has had lots of talented women in senior positions. At ITN, my line manager Deborah Turness went on to be the UK’s first female editor of the network news and is now Head of NBC International. Many of the foreign correspondents were women as well so it didn’t cross my mind that there were any barriers in the newsrooms. I’m well aware though that perhaps this is unusual.
What advice would you give to women who might struggle with workplace confidence?
My advice would be to remember why you were hired! There was obviously a reason you were taken on so don’t let the doubts get to you.
From your work with Business Women Scotland, what kind of stories have you heard about the challenges women face in their careers?
Business Women Scotland has been such a fascinating part of my life over the past few years - I’ve interviewed so many women who have reached the pinnacle of their profession and I’ve loved that they’ve all been refreshingly candid about the things that have gone wrong along the way.
It’s so easy to forget that even the most successful ones have had moments they’d rather forget! Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne who started Genius gluten free products from her kitchen table in Edinburgh and has gone on to create a multi-million pound company, recounted the time she decided to alter the recipe of her Genius loaf to make it higher fibre and lower salt. She was inundated overnight with customer’s complaining so she had to change it back again. When you realise that someone like her can make mistakes it’s incredibly reassuring.
There have been so many amazing books and conversations in recent years that put a spotlight on how tough it can be for women to reach leadership roles. Some lines of thought put an emphasis on women holding themselves back through a lack of confidence. Do you think that’s the whole picture or are there other factors at play?
From my work with GenAnalytics, I’ve heard some interesting findings about the issues with women in the workplace.
They were commissioned by the Scottish Government to look at the female workforce and how best to take action on gender inequalities. There were several factors that stood out to me - the main one being that, traditionally, women are far more risk averse than men.
So, if it comes to re-mortgaging the house to finance a business, they are far less likely to do it. Another issue was women as mothers and carers - they found that some women had managed to get their careers back on track after having had children but there was then another hurdle of becoming the predominant carer for an elderly parent or relative - the sandwich generation.
You run your own jewellery brand. How did you get started and what advice would you pass on to anyone starting their own ‘side hustle’?
My family have a strong background in retail and that, combined with my love of jewellery, led me to think about starting a jewellery company.
As a presenter you always have your favourite ‘go-to’ jacket that you seem to wear frequently, and I used to try and change my look by wearing different pieces of costume jewellery to shake it up a bit. I found choice very limited and the prices seemed a bit steep so I thought that might be a good area to start.
I found it incredibly difficult at the beginning to show people the pieces I’d selected to sell. When you think about it, jewellery is such a personal thing and I was terrified that the ladies I approached wouldn’t like my taste. I gradually plucked up the courage to take a stall at a local nursery night and couldn’t believe it when almost all my stock sold out. That gave me more confidence to pick more and widen my choices.
For anyone just contemplating starting a business I’d say just go for it, that might sound a tad gung-ho, but you can spend an age sitting there and thinking about all the whys and wherefores. Nothing beats just starting selling. I would also suggest trying to build your own website. Eleven years ago, when I first started, it wasn’t that easy to build a site and WordPress was one of the few options - but that has become increasingly complicated, especially, if like me, that’s not the way your brain operates.
I have recently built a new website using Shopify which really was incredibly simple to do, and I know Wix is another popular option to use. Good photography is another ‘must’. I’ve had varying degrees of success over the years but have finally found a camera and light box that suit me well.
The world is a very different place now compared to ten years ago. Which issues mean the most to you right now and why?
I think the crisis of child poverty in Scotland is truly alarming. The STV Children’s Appeal is raising money to tackle this directly but no-one can fail to be alarmed by the statistic that one in four of Scotland’s children - that’s 240,000 - are officially recognised as living in poverty.
I’ve also got teenage twin boys, so I think the issues that concern me most at the moment are the ones that I see affecting them. I’m sure I’m like most parents worrying about the impact of social media and how that affects their confidence, but fingers crossed so far we seem to be OK.
Rachel on style…
How has your style changed over the years?
I’m not sure my style has changed hugely over the years; I’ve never been a follower of high fashion. I’ve always preferred a more classic style. The main difference I suppose is that as you get older you tend to spend more on fewer items and just wear at them!
What does ‘dressing for confidence’ mean for you?
I guess that with the presenting jobs I’ve done over the years I’ve always dressed for confidence - there’s no way you can go on air if you don’t feel quite right. I always need to be comfortable; that is my number one rule. I can’t concentrate on the job in hand if I’m worried about shirts gaping open, tops not sitting correctly or things coming untucked! Basic I know - but it’s stood me in good stead.
How do you use your Sarah Haran bags?
I have two Sarah Harlan bags that I adore! The Marie camera bag is perfect for holidays and going sightseeing. I took it as my only bag on my recent trip to Rome and it was just the right size for cards, cash, phone and makeup. The built-in cards section means you don’t need to carry a separate wallet and because it’s got a zip and is worn cross-body you know it’s safe.
My other bag is the Jessica bowling bag in Taupe - I’d been looking for a spacious taupe bag for absolutely ages and hadn’t found anything quite right until now. As with all Sarah’s bags there’s the versatility of having loads of pockets so you can carry ridiculous amounts but still manage to find everything you need quickly. This is also helped by the fact it has a pale lining so it’s not like throwing something into a black hole! The icing on the cake is the detachable lily bag on the front that comes with its own chain so if you’re heading straight out after work you can decant your essentials.
What are your favourite clothing brands for your work wardrobe?
I get quite a few nice timeless pieces from Cos. their designs often have a quirky edge which I quite like. Zara is probably my go-to for everyday workwear, as long as you don’t mind picking up an XL even if you’re a size 12! I manage to go abroad on quite a few city breaks during the year so it’s then that I love trawling round the local shops and getting inexpensive items that no-one else back home has seen. I know a lot of people swear by ASOS but I’ve yet to be converted!
Rachel pictured with the Marie Camera Bag in Black