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Women of Impact: authentic entrepreneurism with Saskia Piqué

Entrepreneurship & InnovationImpact

Prioritising honesty, authenticity and fairness in business allows Saskia Piqué to make social purpose a priority in every endeavour.

As the march towards gender equality strides on, there are more exceptional women than ever redefining today’s society. This month, in honour of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we’re asking high-achieving, purpose-driven women from our community to discuss their challenges in business and life to better understand what it takes to create real representation.

The first in the hotseat for our #WomenOfImpact series is talent agency founder, social-change entrepreneur and university lecturer, Saskia Piqué. An integral part of our community as an ambassador at The Social Hub Rotterdam, we sit down for an intimate chat on growth through discomfort, staying true to yourself and what it takes to live authentically as a female entrepreneur.

Meet Saskia Piqué

You may have already spotted Saskia on our socials, but you’ll also recognise her as the managing director of Metropolis Festival Rotterdam, a music festival focused on cultivating young, diverse talent, founder of The Hip Hop Honeys, a casting agency prioritising diversity and inclusion, and lecturer and coach at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. 
She’s also creative director at Studio Saskia Piqué, a content creator and solo traveller; and has just begun a part-time course in Counselling Science. Unsurprisingly, when we sit down to talk, she’s fresh off a busy call about grant applications. Naturally, we kick-off a big conversation with a big question.

What does the term ‘thinking outside the box’ mean to you?

There is no box, everything is possible!” exclaims Saskia, smiling. “This is something I teach my students. Many organisations are bound to requirements and conditions, so when you bring an idea to them that’s totally fresh and exciting – that forgets what the box even looks like – you can make a real impact. 

It was this line of thinking that led Saskia to start The Hip Hop Honeys, a casting agency focused on diversity and inclusion with a mission to get more colour in the media. Originally called ‘Hip Honeys’, Saskia got early feedback that the name was an industry term for the perfect models you see in music videos.

I never intended to have ‘perfect’ models; I wanted representative ones. I could have changed the name but decided to redefine it with The Hip Hop Honeys. I knew I’d have to work harder, but I like a challenge.” 

Are you ever afraid to break barriers or challenge the status quo in this way?

Saskia flashes a knowing look before telling us that challenging gender and race conventions, and breaking long-standing barriers, is not only a part of The Hip Hop Honeys mission but is a mindset she brings to all her projects. It’s as much part of her university teaching as it is her role as managing director at Metropolis Festival Rotterdam. 

Metropolis is pretty much a white-oriented festival. They always say, ‘we’re diverse, we stand for inclusion,’ but on an operational level it is not fully visible yet. In my current role, I try to give everyone a stage and a platform, bringing with me the values of The Hip Hop Honeys. Even in my teaching at Inholland I try to make an impact through inclusivity, by treating everyone as equals. 

As a female entrepreneur, how do you feel more broadly about equality in business? 

Obviously it depends on what industry you’re in. If I look at my current position, as part of the cultural directorate, I had a moment when I looked around and thought, ‘I’m the only woman on the team; the only dark-skinned woman on the whole team’ .

Encouragingly, as Saskia meets more directors of Rotterdam venues, festivals and organisations, she’s optimistic. There’s room for change, she says, especially when you’re in a top position like hers. One of the biggest pitfalls, however, is viewing the diversity and inclusion work of women as little more than a hot topic. 

I was at a talk the other day about successful women of colour, and I was introduced as a trend. Well, trends blow over, I thought. I’m not a trend. I had this moment of reflection on stage, and I was wondering how to deal with it – there was no way I was going to say nothing,” she laughs. 

In these moments, I try to be graceful and tackle tough topics head-on with a lot of positivity. I explained that I don’t think we should see women of colour in top positions as a trend. It shouldn’t be temporary; it should be normal. That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s why we’re talking about it.”

You spin a lot of plates; how do you manage so many responsibilities? 

Well, I definitely have a full schedule,” nods Saskia. “I think it all comes down to planning. I notice now, in some periods, certain activities need extra attention. It’s not always convenient, but I make a conscious choice with everything I do. Talking to you is something I really wanted, so it’s a good example of prioritising tasks that give you energy.” 
Saskia explains that the art of prioritisation is something she mastered through a long, often challenging career working in music video and commercial production. More recently this type of work has taken a back seat, though, as she leans further into her role as Managing Director of Metropolis Festival, personal development coach and Creative Business lecturer at Inholland, helping the next generation develop their talent and tap into their potential. 

Why is tutoring and teaching so important to you today?

I really enjoy working with young people and seeing how they can positively impact one another. Generally, I find personal development very important. We all have little voices in our heads, and we’re all concerned with peoples’ perceptions of us… but I’ve learned that the most important thing is to do what you like, even if that means doing something you don’t like first.”

This is a core part of Saskia’s life philosophy: discomfort as a catalyst for growth. It’s a mindset that requires constant challenge and stimulation, both personally and professionally, to gain a deep understanding of how one can best shift focus. In her view, the more you do things you don’t like, the better you know what you do like.

What’s your experience of growing through discomfort?

Over the years, I’ve learned that you need to stay true to yourself. When I haven’t, when I’ve worked with clients where I feel no connection or shared purpose, I’ve suffered. Not just in my work, but also in my mental wellbeing. To be in your power and to empower others, you need safety, trust and connection.” 

Along the way, I’ve lost a lot of people by being totally myself. But I’ve also found a lot of people. I’ve lost work; but I’ve also found great, new work. For everything I’ve lost, I’ve found something even more valuable and important. I’ve learned that if I stay true to myself, I’ll get all the beautiful things coming my way.”

Would you say this forms part of your personal mission?

Definitely. I strive to live in a safe, honest and authentic world where every person can exist within their own values and function within their own abilities. I try to apply these values in both my private and professional life. It’s part of who I am to always consider authenticity, diversity, inclusiveness, sustainability and innovation. It touches everything I do, helps me stay true and allows me to get the best out of myself.”

Where does this drive for authenticity come from?

Saskia pauses for a moment, quipping: “that’s a very big question.” She explains that throughout elementary school she was bullied, leading to feelings of rejection, nonacceptance and exclusion, something she still feels to this day.  
I don’t think that ever goes away,” resolves Saskia. “The bullying had a big impact on how I behave. In certain situations, I still find it hard to believe that there’s no racist intent. It’s rooted in me because of those childhood experiences, so I’m very aware of it in everyday life. 

But from those tough experiences and feelings I made an agreement with myself: I will always strive to live my best, most authentic life. My work, my friends, relationships, family, everything would be my own. Unlike my bullies, I would always live with good intentions, because then you get good intentions back.”

Is it challenging to always live with good intentions? 

It’s not always easy to stay positive and intentional. To be honest, I’ve been in many situations that have felt unfair, not just for me, but also for those around me. In those moments, I consciously remind myself that if someone is unkind or unduly angry with me, that feeling is on them. I try to leave it with the other person and never feel vengeful. Time is too valuable, and I don’t have time for that.”

Like any other discipline, living with intention is something that takes practice. Saskia explains that she draws inspiration from the likes of award-winning podcaster Jay Shetty and one-woman powerhouse Oprah Winfrey, using their words to fuel her ambition and personal development. In this sense, taking time for herself is one of her greatest investments.

Speaking of time, do you have any advice on how valuable it can be?

I don’t think this just applies to time, but there’s a huge advantage to saying no. In my early twenties, I couldn’t do that. I was always subservient, adapting to other people at work, privately, even with girlfriends. If you don’t want to do something or simply need time for yourself, embrace it as part of who you are. That’s the basis on which I act these days.” 

As an entrepreneur this can be a challenge. I’ve turned down big contracts because I didn’t feel a connection with the client. It’s hard to do at times, but to stay true to yourself and act with integrity, you need to say no. These boundaries are important and help build loyalty and respect from a place of honesty.

Speaking from this place of honesty, Saskia tells us that only taking on entrepreneurial endeavours that match her beliefs has been essential to her success. But it has often meant throwing convention to the wind and approaching projects from a completely unique, outside-the-box angle.

Looking back from where you stand today, what advice would you give young women starting out?

Sometimes you’ll need to do things you don’t like to figure out what you really love,” contemplates Saskia. “This means a lot of doing. Stay active, work hard and make sacrifices. You might fall, but then you’ll get an entirely new perspective. Maybe a hand will reach out that you never expected. Dare to change and develop and determine for yourself what works for you. When you’re in your power, everything is possible – and anything goes.

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