Department of Engineering / News / Alumni Profile: Griselda Togobo

Department of Engineering

Alumni Profile: Griselda Togobo

Alumni Profile: Griselda Togobo

Alumna Griselda Togobo

Alumna Griselda Togobo is a successful entrepreneur and influential advocate for business diversity and inclusion. Born in Ghana, Griselda is CEO of Forward Ladies, a network dedicated to empowering and supporting women-owned and women-led businesses. In our conversation, Griselda shares her unwavering passion for promoting female leadership and discusses how attending the University of Cambridge gave her the courage to take risks and embrace failure.

Griselda offers her diversity and inclusion expertise to help companies understand the benefits of fostering inclusive workplaces. Her comprehensive approach involves various interventions, such as women’s leadership programmes, inclusive behaviour training and policy changes.

Griselda Togobo graduated from Wolfson College with an MPhil in Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management (ISMM) in 2007.

Her journey from Ghana to Cambridge — and beyond — is a testament to her determination and ambition, shaping her into a successful businesswoman and advocate for diversity and inclusion. Griselda is an exceptional multitasker. Juggling her training and consulting business, personal development products, and women’s networking platform, Forward Ladies, she continues to empower people to achieve their full potential, bridging gaps and creating a more inclusive future for all.

A dream deferred
Growing up in Accra, Ghana, Griselda excelled at secondary school and once received an offer to join a University of Cambridge foundation programme. She wanted to accept, but her family’s financial situation made it impossible for her to do so. However, she never let go of the Cambridge dream, vowing to seize the opportunity if it ever resurfaced: “After missing out on that chance, I kept Cambridge firmly on my goal list and made a commitment to myself to make it happen. I promised myself that if the opportunity ever arose again, I would take it.”

The stars finally aligned when Griselda was offered a chance to go to the UK on a summer exchange programme after completing her Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree at the Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. It was during this time that she decided to reapply to Cambridge. Her determination paid off, and she was accepted into the Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management Master’s programme at IfM: “I chose ISMM because of the mix of practical industry projects and academic modules. I knew I wanted to carry on with my engineering career, and this gave me that depth of international experience, plus exposure to leading management theory.”

It was a challenging time, requiring careful financial planning and hard work to support herself through university: “I needed to work and earn to pay my way through university. So, when others were ready to sign off after a day of lectures, I’d jump on my bike to go to work. I was lucky to have flexible part-time work while at university.”

However, Griselda was determined to overcome any challenge, inspired by her mother’s story of struggle and perseverance. She shares: “I come from a family where I was the first to pursue higher education. As a girl in a society where girls were not encouraged to pursue the sciences, my mother was encouraging and strongly desired us to be well-educated in whatever subjects we excelled at. She wanted us to be in control of our destiny and knew an education would improve our chances of a better life.”

Despite being unable to read or write, Griselda’s mother became a successful entrepreneur. “My mother had an engineering company, and her determination was a great source of inspiration for me,” Griselda explains. “I witnessed the difficulties she faced, especially when compared to my friends’ parents, who had typical corporate jobs. That’s what motivated me to pursue my dreams and to believe that if my mother could be successful without a formal education then I could and should be able to do better with an education.”

Arriving at Cambridge
Arriving at Cambridge, Griselda discovered that she loved both the academic aspects of the course and the chance to gain experience in the real world of manufacturing. She enjoyed visiting European factories, including cosmetics company L’Oréal and UK glass manufacturer Pilkins: “Experiencing different industries was eye-opening and transformed my perspective, making the seemingly unattainable suddenly feel within reach,” she recalls.

Griselda particularly enjoyed the international mix of students: “The cosmopolitan student body of ISMM ensured that no matter where you came from, you’d find your own group, your own place. I loved this aspect of Cambridge.” But perhaps the most significant impact was the friendships she forged. In just 6 months, Griselda made lifelong connections. “Cambridge has a great knack for bringing people together in ways that go beyond the classroom” — a lesson in networking that would hold immense value in her future endeavours.

“The cosmopolitan student body of ISMM ensured that no matter where you came from, you’d find your own group, your own place. I loved this aspect of Cambridge.”

By the time she left Cambridge, Griselda had gained immeasurable confidence and believed that anything was possible, knowing that Cambridge had played a pivotal role: “Cambridge was more than just an academic institution; it was a place that radiated an aura of excellence. Cambridge instilled in me a profound sense of confidence. When surrounded by some of the brightest minds globally, you gain an unwavering self-assurance.”

From industry to entrepreneurship
Griselda didn’t have clear post-graduation plans: “I wasn’t entirely sure about the steps to take next, so I did things a bit late. It was a shock to realise that many of my university peers had already secured job offers, while I was just beginning to explore my options,” she says.

Although she had initially set her sights on a career in engineering, she soon discovered that engineering positions were difficult to secure, and they couldn’t support her visa needs. “I couldn’t secure a role in engineering, and most companies were hesitant to support my visa application,” she recalls. However, a fortuitous job offer from Deloitte during a University recruitment drive provided the direction she needed. “Deloitte not only sponsored an extension on my visa but also extended a student loan. It was a lifeline I hadn’t anticipated.”

Griselda acknowledges that securing employment can be particularly challenging for international students:” It’s important to talk about the visa barriers, because many international students grapple with understanding and navigating the process post-graduation. It’s a significant burden that can’t be underestimated.”

Based in St Albans, Griselda embarked upon her career journey with Deloitte, where she initially served in an audit and advisory role. She also trained to become a chartered accountant, which required an additional 4 years of study.

Remaining with Deloitte for 5 years, she had ambitious career aspirations. However, she found that progression within the firm wasn’t always guaranteed for people who looked like her. After getting married and starting a family, she realised that industry working conditions did not align with her need for flexible working as a parent.

So, she decided to take a bold step and establish her own business, embarking upon her entrepreneurial career with consulting. “I’m black. I’m a woman. I became a mum. I was working in a male-dominated sector. The odds were really stacked against me, and it was my experience that made me decide that if I was going to invest all this time and energy in a profession, in a career, I needed to find something that was worthwhile and worked for me and my family.”

A bold venture: Forward Ladies
As a newcomer to the city of Leeds (where the family had moved for her husband’s job as a medical doctor), Griselda searched for a supportive network to connect with like-minded individuals, which would help her to expand her horizons. With a young baby, it was during this search that she stumbled upon the “Forward Ladies Network”.

“The previous owner had nurtured the network with government funding and dedication but had reached a point where she was contemplating retirement, uncertain about the network’s future. I had never acquired a business before, and my expertise lay in engineering and accounting. This network was an unknown, risky venture, and I had reservations about running it. However, I was made an offer I couldn’t resist, and I decided to accept the challenge. I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’ll buy it and transform it into something remarkable to help more women and drive equality and positive change in the workplace.”

Taking the reins of the Forward Ladies Network was transformative for Griselda. The network had been Yorkshire-centric, with a focus on face-to-face events and a limited corporate presence, primarily catering to SMEs. Griselda was determined to reshape its purpose, aligning it with the needs of women like her, ambitious professionals in their 20s and 30s, juggling myriad responsibilities while fiercely pursuing their careers.

She transformed Forward Ladies into a dynamic, nationwide platform that provided networking opportunities, mentoring and leadership development for women. “We repositioned our focus to cater to a corporate audience, attracting clients from the FTSE 100 companies with a global reach. We specialise in male-dominated sectors such as utilities, engineering, aerospace and tech. We expanded our membership to include events, on-demand content delivery and various programme offerings.”

Griselda speaking at a Forward Ladies networking event

Griselda’s decision to embrace this new challenge had far-reaching consequences. Forward Ladies has since grown into a thriving organisation, leaving an indelible mark on her life and the lives of countless women who have found their professional haven within its ever-expanding community.

A desire to solve problems
As she reflects on her journey, Griselda shares her evolution and growing acceptance of the natural ebb and flow of interests. “I’ve realised that it’s okay to have multiple interests and to get bored from time to time. While engineering was my first love, I’ve learned to find new ways to tackle challenges,” she explains.

Her relentless pursuit of innovation is deeply rooted in her upbringing: she describes herself as her mother’s daughter. When she struggled to find a planning product that helped her stay focused and productive as a working mother, she created one. “Digital planning tools are great, but when you are easily distracted when online and are trying to reduce your screen time and increase mindful moments, the last thing you need is to be tied to a digital project or your phone as your sole planning tool.”

So, she created and took to market a new planning tool, the Goal Achiever Planner, designed to help high achievers plan their years and design their day with a holistic focus on what she calls mindful productivity, wellbeing and mental health, while integrating work and family life effectively.

“Developing a tolerance for risk and failure is essential.”

Over the years, Griselda has learned that failure isn’t the end: it’s a crucial part of any success. “Developing a tolerance for risk and failure is essential,” she points out. “It’s about embracing new challenges and being somewhat open to the prospect of failure because, in the grand scheme of things, those small failures don’t always matter if you use them as a stepping stone. I believe that as long as I have life, I can always try again, even if I fail. I want to live a life with no regrets, a life where I’ve tried different things, and even if they didn’t all succeed commercially, I’d still have won because I did it. It’s a different perspective.”

Helping women to thrive
Griselda, a staunch advocate of gender equality and workplace diversity, firmly believes that while progress has been made in workplace equality in recent years, there is still a significant gap in women holding leadership positions. “Women often find themselves hitting a roadblock when transitioning from individual contributor roles to leadership positions. Typically, at the stage in life when many women want to start families.”

She explains: “This is where the issue becomes more pronounced, as women often find themselves caught in a bind. Companies, in many cases, are not doing enough to encourage men to take equal parental leave and share parenting responsibilities. The result is that women continue to bear the brunt of parenting duties, limiting their career advancement.”

Griselda acknowledges that this issue is not exclusive to one industry, but she sees room for change, especially in sectors that appear resistant to it. She notes: “Even in industries like manufacturing, often viewed as less likely to embrace change, there is potential for transformation. But it’s not about the nature of the work; it’s about a company’s openness to innovation and change and their commitment to creating an environment where women can thrive.”

Griselda offers her diversity and inclusion expertise to help companies understand the benefits of fostering inclusive workplaces. Her comprehensive approach involves various interventions, such as women’s leadership programmes, inclusive behaviour training and policy changes.

“I help companies understand that diversity and inclusion encourage diverse perspectives, which helps drive innovation,” Griselda explains. However, she admits that “traditional leaders don’t always know how to facilitate that”. She sees herself as the bridge between their intentions and actions, providing them with the guidance they need. “So, I work with their leaders and HR teams to come up with a roadmap on how to get them from where they are to a more inclusive place.”

Griselda’s approach is multifaceted and adaptable, tailored to the specific needs of each organisation. “We do that by looking at the data through different lenses,” she says. “So, the interventions that I recommend will focus on different demographics, systems or cultural practices.”

Be brave, be bold
Looking to the future, Griselda has ambitious plans. Her vision is to extend her work to Africa, where she sees immense potential for growth and impact. “I’ve just established a base and company in Ghana; it is still early days. Africa holds vast opportunities, particularly considering its youthful population and adaption of leapfrog technologies.” In her pursuit of expanding her impact, Griselda will not only be breaking new ground but also bridging cultural divides, with a firm belief in empowering women and inspiring leaders while connecting people across borders.

Griselda’s journey has been remarkable, marked by a combination of courage and determination. “It’s important to be brave and bold and to go after what you want,” she says. “Because sometimes we feel we’re not going to get what we want, so we don’t even try for it. Aim high and shoot for the stars, so even if you miss you can still end up somewhere magical.

“If I were to go back to Griselda coming out of university, that’s the advice I’d be giving her,” she muses. “You really need to apply for those jobs that you really want. You need to start earlier. If it’s a business you want to run, you need to start the same as well and go for it. Make time to go out and meet people, because business is all about people — they have the answers to all your problems. I probably didn’t start investing in my network as early as I could have.

Griselda with her husband and two children

“Building a successful career or business requires more than just talent. It requires connections, investment, mentorship and learning from those who have walked the path before. So, if you want to start a business, be around entrepreneurs,” she advises. “If you want to excel in corporate life, be around corporate leaders and learn from their mistakes.”

At the end of our conversation, Griselda emphasises the significance of her time at Cambridge. “Cambridge has an amazing alumni network and events,” she says with gratitude. “You can meet some pretty amazing people through the University.”

Her parting advice? “If you can get into Cambridge, get into Cambridge. The knowledge I gained and the connections I made were life-changing.”

Discover more about the MPhil in Industrial Systems, Manufacture and Management

Learn more about the Forward Ladies network and visit Griselda’s LinkedIn page and website.

The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.