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010 Ness Knight on overcoming the fear of failure

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
010 Ness Knight on overcoming the fear of failure

Five years ago Ness Knight quit her 9-5 job in marketing and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, forging a career as an explorer, endurance athlete, presenter, and speaker.

  • She is the first female to stand up paddleboard 1000 miles down the Missouri River
  • She has cycled solo + unsupported 2000 miles across the USA
  • She is the first female in history to swim the length of the Thames River
  • She has run 400 miles – 15 marathons back-to-back, from London to Land’s End
  • She has cycled solo across the Namib Desert and next year, she will make another World Record attempt – to be the first female to row the Pacific Ocean solo and non-stop.

Ness’ greatest passion lies in exploring her mental and physical limits in some of the world’s most unique locations and terrains. She knows that when we challenge ourselves, and step outside our comfort zone, we grow.

In this episode of the Inspiring Women Interviews, Ness and I talk about:

  • The importance of resilience in any of your endeavours
  • The nature of fear, courage and constantly expanding your comfort zone
  • How to overcome a deeply instilled fear of failure
  • How to use Linked In to build your career and much, much more!

Ness reveals things in this interview that she’s never revealed in public before:  You’ll hear her talk about the deep-rooted fear of failure that was instilled in her as a child, how she struggled with depression and how she overcame it.

This interview is intensely personal and Ness is definitely a REAL model as well as a role model.  I know you’re going to be truly inspired when you listen to this episode!

Podcast Transcript

Amanda: Hello, Ness.
Ness: Hi. How are you?
Amanda: I’m good. I am so excited about interviewing you today. Thank you very, very much for being here.
Ness: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Amanda: Ness, I’m going to start at the beginning. How on earth do you get started as an explorer? It’s not something you can go and look up where the job ad, first, in the paper, “wanted explorer,” is it?
Ness: No. Actually, that’s one of my jokes and all these online forms. There’s no drop-down for explorer. Officially, my job title is other. It’s quite an unusual one, I guess. Yeah, I guess best job description as well is that I, basically, specialise in hauling everything I need to survive around with me, around those remote parts of the world, which is a bit of an unusual one. A fair question, how do you get started in that. In my case, it was definitely by accident. I stumbled into this career. That happened, probably, about five years ago now, five-and-a-half years ago. I use to actually work in Digital in London. I just had a bog standard 9:00 to 5:00 as a marketing manager.
I was actually working, at the time, for a company called, “School for Startups.” It was actually a social enterprise. Quite a few people might have heard of them. It was phenomenal. We basically taught entrepreneurship. I was responsible for the digital arm of that. I just realised after quite a few years of doing this that I spent all of my time teaching the people how to go about living their dreams and making their passion into a business. I really wasn’t taking my own advice. I didn’t know, at the time, what I really wanted to do. I knew lots of things in my life that I was passionate about, but I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go. I just took a year off and I quit my job. I headed out to America and stand up paddle boarded 1,000 miles down the river because no woman have ever done that. Actually, no person had gone that far, so why not, basically.
I got to the end of that and swapped my stand up paddle board for a bicycle. I just felt that the journey wasn’t finished. I hadn’t figured out what direction I wanted to go in yet. I was going to carry on thinking about this on the road until I figured it out. Because of my background in digital marketing, I knew how to tell a story. I was really passionate about storytelling. Along the way, along my journey, cycling west across America along Route 66, I just shared my story online through a blog and through my social media. Before I knew it, I suddenly have this following. It was completely unexpected. I thought it was great if one or two people stumble across it, but all of a sudden, I have this audience.
As I carried on paddling across and I was thinking, “Okay. Well, what can I do about this?” Because I really have fallen in love with adventure and wilderness. This is, really, truly where my heart is. “How can I use this audience and this new found niche to make a business because it was a niche?” There were very, very few people making a business out of this and a career out of this and let alone, women. There’s lots of women doing sorts of thing, but they weren’t in the limelight. I just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting that limelight and able to monetize on it and make a proper business out of it. I thought, “Well, I’ve got the experience in teaching entrepreneurship. I found the thing that I’m passionate about. I’m just going to take another step into the unknown and turn this into a career.”
Yeah, it was a little accidentally, but yeah, I guess when you open yourself up to opportunities and spontaneity, we tend to stumble across some great interesting things, which is what I did.
Amanda: You said that you took a year off and then you paddled 1,000 miles down the river. As you do during the year off like “Okay. I’m just going to paddle 1,000 miles down this river here,” how did you [crosstalk 04:25] and then paddled down the river?
Ness: Yeah. I guess, it’s quite a bizarre one to do. The seed for that idea, I suppose, was when I was working my 9:00 to 5:00 in an office that was, pretty much, windowless office in the centre and I’d gone in one of my lunch breaks. It’s one of those shops that sell post cards. I bought a post card that said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I just thought, “Oh, that’s really sweet.” I really like that and I bought it. I didn’t really think very much of it. I hanged it on the bottom line of my computer because it sounded like a really nice quote that was really inspirational. Three months later, I sat back one morning. I thought “I really don’t want to be here.” I sat behind the computer, two massive computer screens in front of me, greying my hunchback and thought, “This is not right. I was just not feeling this at all.”
For the first time, I looked at that post card and really read it. I thought, “Okay. Well, right now, in this moment, what would I do if I knew I could not fail?” because that has been a big thing throughout my life. It’s that fear of failure. I just thought, “You know what, I would go out into the wilderness and I would get space.” Time to breathe and to do something that’s physical because I love the gym. I love working out, something that’s mental so that psychological challenge of going on an expedition and into the unknown and you’ve never done anything like that in your life before and that huge challenge. I guess, that’s where it came from. Yeah, I just stand up paddling down the river. It was just, yeah, quite a bizarre stuff, I suppose.
Amanda: That’s really interesting that you say that fear of failure had always been a thing for you throughout your life. Tell us more.
Ness: Here’s a story I haven’t told anyone yet, actually. I guess it started, really, when I was quite young. I suppose, going really back to the very start when I was about six or seven. I was growing up in South Africa and it was quite an outdoors country. I spent half my time building tree houses and sitting in the mud. My mom screaming at me to get inside and try and get me in the bath, which was forever a chore and probably still is to this day. I really believed as a six or seven-year-old kid that anything was possible. I had a vivid imagination. I use to spend my time in my mind imagining these amazing world and universe as I was travelling through. It wasn’t one of adversity. It was just this incredible and magical world. I believe that anything was possible.
Then I went to school and that’s when things started to change for me because all of a sudden, I was introduced to schooling where you were taught to fear failure because you better not get lower than a C. If you get a D or let alone in that, a complete fail, then there’s something wrong with you. That’s where that started. The story that I’ve never told anyone is that, I guess, I stumbled in my early years in primary school because I was labelled. The reason I was labelled is that we were put through, at a very early age and I don’t think this is right, a IQ test. The whole school at primary school is put through this IQ test. A handful of us were sent off, shipped off to a place called, “Johannesburg School for the Gifted.” They said to us, “Well, you’re too smart and you need extracurricular activities off to school.” At first, my parents said, “That was wonderful.” My friends were like, “Wow. This is new and unusual and interesting.” The teachers started treating me differently because I was now the special kid that had been labelled as smart.
Really and truly, I really disliked going to that school for the gifted. It just wasn’t my scene. I didn’t enjoy any of it. It became very not pleasant place for me, but more so because when I came back to school the kids saw the teachers treating me differently. I got labelled and outcast from that. I was this kid that was special. No one wanted anything to do with me because the teachers liked me. I rebelled because I didn’t want to be excluded. I think a huge part of us as humans is getting connected to people around us and I did not feel connected at all anymore. I rebelled and my marks plummeted. The teachers and my parents and everyone around me thought, “God, what is going on with this child.” I was told I was smart and I had even failed at that. My confidence was utterly shattered. I was quite shy, introvert kid. I really, really, truly stumbled my way through school and didn’t do very well. I don’t think that anyone really truly, apart from my parents, expected me to come to anything much.
For me to be doing what I’m doing today is quite a long journey to get to where I am, but yeah, definitely, that fear of failure in school was instilled there. I just think it’s such as shame because as real young toddlers, we’re encouraged to fall and get back up. At what point do we change that conversation in that dialogue and start instilling that fear of failure. Because in my mind, personally I see it, any mistakes that you make and any failure is, now, having gone through the journey I’ve gone through and adventure and exploration has taught me this. I see those failures as my situation. They’re the most important part of our journey and the thing that makes us grow and become stronger. I think without them it’s very difficult to be successful. You have to be prepared to fail. That’s quite the journey. Yeah, that’s … Sorry. That was quite a long-winded explanation of why I think that fear of failure had been a big thing in my life and it was a big thing for me to overcome.
Amanda: Gosh. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. You saw this post card and you thought, “Okay. What would I attempt to do if I knew that I could not fail?” You have this whole hunger from childhood and from having your confidence not a fear of failure. How did you bridge that gap between that innate fear that you’d, I suppose, nurtured inside you and doing something so huge? Most people, if they feared failure, would be making baby steps.
Ness: I guess, actually, that that theme of jumping head first since my fear started a few years earlier than that because I’ve gone through those difficulties in childhood. I knew the person inside me wasn’t this nervous, scared, shy person. I was uncomfortable in my own skin because I didn’t have the skills and abilities to communicate and talk properly with people and really, just be who I was and have the confidence in that. When I moved from South Africa to the UK at the age of 15, it was actually an amazing thing because I said to myself, during that move and when I landed this side of the water, “This is a clean slate. This is an opportunity for me to change how things were in South Africa and start a new chapter in my book.” I promised myself that if I do one thing over the next 10 years, I would slowly but surely take on my biggest fears.
The very first one of those was when I was, oh gosh, I think it was about 20. I’ve really felt like I haven’t made too many inroads to doing that. I decided, “Well, I’ve got the summer ahead of me. What’s the thing I’m most scared about?” I can just say, “You know what, bug this. I’m going to go out and do that,” because I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being introvert. I’ve had enough of lacking the confidence. I’ve got all these great, amazing ideas of what I want to do with my life. I will be so disappointed of pointing it down the line, “I haven’t done something to change that and chase them.”
I really was terrified of sales and negotiation and strangers; walking up and talking and making conversation to strangers. I looked online and one of the jobs that really spooked me to overcome all of those was being a face-to-face fundraiser. You know these people on the streets that you’re going to walk around, they’ll ask you to sign up to charities and that encompass everything that “Oh, it’s terrifying to me; sales, negotiation, and strangers.” I did that.
Really, my first day was awful and horrendous. I stood on the street. I didn’t speak to a single person. I was just smacked in the middle of the street shaking all day long. I just thought, “No. Come on. You’ve got more inside of you.” I’d hit my work button that day of disappointment in myself. The next day, I went out and I just went through it all out. I suppose, because sometimes when you hit that rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s like “Okay. Bugger it, I’m just going to go for this.” Yeah, it worked out for me and I realised that it’s never scary in real life as it is in your mind ever, ever. Within a few months, I was team leading and then I was coaching and managing the national campaigns for multiple charities and the face-to-face fundraising. Yeah, it became one of, well at one point, the most successful female fundraiser in the country. That happened quite quickly. I really surprised myself.
Really, it was just that courage to take those first few steps to go completely blindly into the thing that you’re most scared of and surprise yourself. The more I did that, the more I realise that it’s not as scary as I think. Actually, every single time, I’ll surprise myself in a good way more and more and more. I just felt that confidence that way. By the time I got to that little post card and thinking of, “What would I attempt to do if I knew I could not fail?” It was a little bit of a habit, but as we all do at some point in our life, I just got stuck in a rut. I got complaisant and I stopped chasing my dreams. That’s where after a few years, I realised that I was just doing life and ticking off other people’s boxes of get a house, a car, a dog, a cat and new relationship, but really, there was nothing personal and passionate that I was chasing within that. That’s the point where I’ve said, again, “All right. Okay. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?”
I wrote a list, actually. It wasn’t so much of a bucket list. More of booting myself up the ass of the things that I wanted in life like I didn’t want to get old and regret the things that I didn’t have the courage to try. Those things were on my list. Yeah, that’s where that came from.
Amanda: Those things on booting yourself up the ass, was some of those doing the 400-mile run [inaudible 15:47] with respect to that?
Ness: No. They were very vague, actually. I have always been really interested and passionate, probably because I was quite introvert, about the mind and the body, about psychology and that relationship also between mind and body and challenging ourselves. I knew for a fact through experience that we can always go further than we think we can physically. It’s just our mind that kicks into that survival mode that says, “No, no, no. Conserve the energy.” Yeah, we can always get through a little bit more pain and go a little bit faster and further. I wanted to explore that. Also, growing up in South Africa, I really loved wilderness, nature and animals and the outdoors. I suppose, it was only inevitable that I would go out and spend my first year of doing what I want to do, doing something and some adventure and exploration and challenging myself, but yeah, definitely, it was more of an accidental stumbling into this career in terms of really having a list of things like these expeditions that I do now.
Amanda: I’m going to ask you a question now and it might caught you on the spot. You’ll have to provide what I think is your natural modesty of what makes you do. Okay. You’ve said that you’ve had these fears that you’ve said you’ve had to be courageous. You’ve got that curiosity, but what do you think is the quality or the combination of qualities that you have that has actually made you do something about this and create this incredible career and become this record breaking adventurer whereas, 99.9999999% of people who even thought they might want to do that would never do it?
Ness: Interesting question and a really hard one to answer.
Amanda: Well, sorry.
Ness: It needs to observe outwards, but sometimes, yeah, the real difficult stuff to observe inwards is quite tough. Oh gosh. I was certainly not a born explorer or a born entrepreneur. I learned everything along the way. If I really think about it, probably, the one quality that’s got me to where I am right now with hands down have to be just resilience. Because if you can keep getting back up after people say no or things go wrong, again and again and again, you’re absolutely going to find your way to success. That’s really where it’s down to because I’ve been told no. People have closed doors on me more times that I can’t count in my life. I just keep getting up and chasing that and say, “No, that’s not good enough.” It was the same thing with confidence and courage is baby steps really and truly.
Our courage and our mindset is a muscle. Unless you’re working with and doing something about slowly building that up, then it just becomes stagnant and weak. You have less to call on. If you can just bit, by bit, by bit work on that courage and confidence and just hold on to that little bit of resilience.

Perhaps, the other thing is visualisation. I don’t know where I got that from. I guess, as a kid, I always have this vivid imagination and it’s never gone away. I have this ability, I suppose, to really in absolute, thorough detail and depth visualise where it is I want to get to. Even if it’s not a super defined pathway, I know that they’re actually I want to go into. I start imagining all the different ways that I could open doors for myself or try things. If that went wrong, then how would I react to that and pick myself back up.
Before, I wouldn’t just leave things to chance in terms of how I feel and how my internal narrative goes. I would proactively beforehand visualise, “Okay. If somebody said no to me and then the next person, the next person, the next person, I got 30 people down the line saying no to me, how would I be feeling and how could I get back up and what could I do about that?” I’d be prepared for that already. I guess, that’s helped me a lot both in life as well as in expeditions is knowing … You know who talks about this very well, if anyone has heard of Brene Brown. I’m not sure if you have. I’m sure you have.
Amanda: Yeah.
Ness: She is phenomenal. If you look up her TED Talks, she’s incredible. She talks a lot about courage. The one thing that she says, which I really truly lived by and believe in and it’s what has got me to where I am now is this idea that you have to have the courage to step into the arena and you will get bloodied. You will get battered and bruised in that arena, but that’s where the success lies for you. If you’re a spectator on the side, that’s all you’re ever going to be. You have to get into the arena. You’ve got to be ready to fight your way and battle your way to where you want to get to. It’s that expectation that it’s not going to be a breath ahead of you but also, that positivity that no matter what you’ll get through, I suppose. Yeah, resilience and courage and bit by bit growing confidence like a muscle.
Amanda: Fantastic. Oh, yes. You are speaking my language. Actually, that just alluded to something that comes from a quote. I think it’s Abraham Lincoln. It’s “Victory belongs to the man who doesn’t get out but he’s coached to get into the arena and gets down and gets up bloodied and blah, blah, blah.” It’s a really good quote but I can’t-
Ness: Yes. I know that one. I can never remember by heart but it’s brilliant. Yeah. Absolutely.
Amanda: It is great, wasn’t it? Just in the side, my other favourite quote is, “Leap and the net will appear.”
Ness: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. On a similar vein, actually, if I turn around behind me, I’ve got a poster on my wall that says, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky.” You ask, “But what if I fall?” The answer is, “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Ness: It’s a similar thing. You really do just have to have that courage to go for because really, what’s the worse thing that could happen.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, [being placed 22:45] to that, maybe.
Ness: Well, yeah. Fair enough. I can’t argue with that. Yeah. There are certain contested rivers that, maybe, if you leap, you might not … Yeah. Certainly. When I’m in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I won’t be leaping off my boat.
Amanda: Yeah.
Ness: Yeah. Certainly.
Amanda: Yeah. I’m [recording 23:12] that one.
Ness: You get to leap [crosstalk 23:13] when I’m out in expedition.
Amanda: Ness, I’ve got … Oh, my brain is going all over the place because there’s so many things I want to pick up and there’s so much valuable stuff in there, but can I go back to the resilience. You talked about resilience, about keep getting up again and again. Is there a story that comes to mind of a time when, not necessarily in one of your adventures but actually maybe an adventure as well, but perhaps preparing for an adventure, the funding, or trying to get your business off the ground. Something where you almost gave up.
Ness: Oh, yeah. I got plenty of those. Don’t get me wrong. These keep happening. You don’t suddenly and miraculously become this person that never fails and never has to go through that and call on that resilience like that’s ongoing, but you get better at managing it and expecting it. Yeah. Certainly, with my career, it’s the same as running any business. A lot of people only see the expedition side of it and think, “Well, that’s a wonderful career” and off you go and that looks like quite an easy life. In reality, 90% of my time is spent at home doing the admin work behind my computer to make these things happen. In order to do that, I have to run everything like a business and I have to wear multiple hats. I do my marketing, I do my PR, I do my accounts, I do the logistics, and the fundraising. Everything is done myself. I even build my website. I do my social media.
It’s a huge daunting task. Especially, for example, leading up to this Pacific expedition, but yeah, over the years, I’ve had some big expeditions that have required a lot of funding to get off the ground and a lot of planning. I know, about three years ago, I went through a really rough path, actually, where I’ve almost gave up. It was right at the beginning of my career and because of what I do is quite an unusual thing. I have quite a job on my hands although, people were proud of me of what I was doing and achieving. My friends and family, they did find it quite difficult that I was going off around the world and doing these things that they see as incredibly dangerous and that they didn’t know much about and that they really quite honestly fit because they didn’t know whether I would come back alive. It’s easier for me because I’ve been through a few expeditions. I knew that I was safe.
As I said, I take calculated risk, everything or the minute detail that we go drill down into in the planning and organisation of this. It’s massive in the safety element. It’s a huge part of that and mitigating any risk and issue. I knew that it was quite a big job to convince those around me that this was a good idea for me to change after this career in this passionate mind. I struggled a lot with a number of things around that time. One was support. Again, don’t get me wrong, they were so proud but really scared. It was a big unknown for them. If I want to become an accountant, that’s known to everybody. That’s all right. I was like “Yes. Great. We know about that. Wonderful.” Exploring different story. Not having a huge support unit around me was difficult. At that time, I haven’t really made a huge number of friends in the world of exploration. I just didn’t know that many people yet or haven’t been out networking and getting to know people. I didn’t have that call on either.
I was trying to raise funds for expeditions. Obviously, everybody gets multiple times, people say, “No. That’s wonderful. We love the idea of it, but it’s not for us. Sorry.” It was like “No, no, no, no, no.” You’re trying to build a business and a brand and you have to have calling all those creativity to the marketing side of things and keep upbeat and be able to build pictures for that when you’re trying to sell people into your ideas and your expeditions. To try and keep that level of positivity there, to try and move forward and make the funds that you need and get the right partnership onboard and keep all this. That was really hard, really hard.
Actually, I stepped back from adventure for a little while and I slipped into depression. I’d never experienced that before. I’ve never been depressed in my life before. Trying to come back on that was really hard. That’s where I learned that you have to call upon the support of others around you. Without that, I think, it’s really easy for us in this day and age to feel like we need to be this super human people that are just good at everything, naturally, in order to look and appear successful to others and to ourselves that we have to win all the time. We put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves that we have to do it so low. That, to me, is just the worst way that you can go about things. What I’ve really learned in business and life, in general, is just don’t be that little island on your own. I’ve seen in so many ways in business and through my expeditions and also, the tribes and the cultures that I’ve met in some of the most remote parts of the world.
Most recently, in Namibia, the value that they put on collaboration and support of each other is huge. That’s the success of them. They’re incredibly happy people. The best businesses and entrepreneurs that I know are people who understand the power of collaboration. Yeah, I guess, that really was what started to turn things around for me again, but yeah, well, I’ve had to pull on that recently and it’s a lot. Put the ego away too. There’s no room for ego. Just chuck it to the side, leave it on the table, and ask for support around you. I think who you keep around you is very important and the attitude to life that they have. It’s very important to try and build a network of people close to you who have a really great outlook on life who will be a positive influence on you in moving forward.
Amanda: Thank you. Thank you. How long did that period of depression last?
Ness: Oh, about two years. Quite a while. It was a very slow coming out of it. If you look at the expeditions that I did, I’m trying to go back through the dates. I did my attempt swim in 2013. I did a 400-mile run from London to Lands End straight off the back of that, and then it went quiet for a period of time. A couple of years later, I headed out to Bolivia and things started getting moving again. I struggled during that period of time to pick myself up. It was extended and I learned a lot. Yeah, it was tough. It was definitely really tough.
Amanda: What were the most valuable things that you learned apart from what you’ve talked about with reaching out for support and not being in an island?
Ness: From going through that tough time?
Amanda: Yeah.
Ness: This goes for everything again. During that time, I learned very strongly that things can seem very overwhelming. There were days where I was lying in bed in my pyjamas at 11:00 in the morning and I was so depressed. I didn’t even have the energy to lift my arm to get my cup of tea next to me. I really just had nothing. There’s absolutely nothing there. I learned that sometimes some things feel so overwhelming. The most important thing you can do is reel things back in and go back down. Sometimes, the very smallest possible next step and just do that thing. Once you get there and you’ve done that thing, then find the next smallest possible next step and do that. Slowly but surely, you build momentum. I think that’s really important. It’s to try and get momentum going. It’s the same with expeditions. There’s so many times I’ve been out there.
In Namibia, recently, last year, I was heading towards 50 degrees Celsius and I was dehydrated, exhausted, sleep deprived, and plus any kind of motivations got bored and I would literally look ahead and see a rock about 10 metres ahead of me and say, “Okay. Well, I’m just going to cycle to the rock and put my foot on that rock, and then I’ll take it from there. I’m not going to think about anything else.” I get to the rock and then you think, “Okay. Well, next one, I’ll do 20 metres for the next one and then you get to the next drop, the next drop.” I’ll just go to that corner and then I’ll go that ridge line. Really, yeah, bit by bit, small steps as long as you are taking any step no matter how small. It’s what you can call it. That’s really important.
Amanda: Oh, yeah, sister. I agree with you. Absolutely. Related to that just looking at that rock in front of you that, first, not even the obstacle but just taking those baby steps, do you practise mindfulness?
Ness: I think I just recently started looking into this. Some people have said to me, “Well, naturally, through your expeditions and how you describe things, you seem to practise bits of mindfulness.” I think it’s a really interesting thing that I would love to learn more about. Apparently, I do a little bit and I would like to introduce that into what I do a lot more. I think many aspects of my expeditions and the building of my business and the balance and happiness that I have in my life are probably really growing and benefit from that. I would definitely want to look into it more.
Amanda: Oh my goodness. Goodness knows what you’re going to achieve with mindfulness.
Ness: I know. I think I need to get onto this one pretty soon.
Amanda: I think that for about four years now, it’s made a real difference for me. Actually, I use get some head space and they have different packs. At present, I am going through a pack called, mindfulness. It’s for sport and for training. The introduction is all about how we have to get over ourselves when we have a goal. Especially, a goal with and adventurous goal or a physical sports goal and how we have to push ourselves. It’s like getting out of bed and not the whole thing about putting into perspective and mindfulness and being in the present and enjoying that presence. Yeah, it’s very useful, but I bet you probably do practise it without knowing what it was called.
Ness: Yeah. One of the things that someone said to me recently that I do, which is mindfulness is, when I get up in the morning, for most of my life, I just left. I didn’t think about, literally, those best 15, 20 minutes of when I wake up and what I do in the narrative that’s in my head. Through adventure and expeditions and that extreme endurance that I’ve been testing myself at and pushing myself to the limit, I now set my day and my mindset and my attitude and my feelings to the day, literally, when I first wake up. I don’t leave it to chance. I wake up and I think, “Right. This is the day ahead. This is the stuff I want to achieve. This is the attitude I’m going to go and to work with. I give myself a little pep talk.” That set me off on the right footing and I find that I don’t do that. I just leave it to chance from the day that I’m least productive. I definitely believe in all that stuff.
Amanda: That’s a great top tip. Can I ask you, what did you set as your mindset and attitude for today?
Ness: This morning, it was all about creativity. I’ve got a big talk coming up in couple of days. I’m also doing a pitch for a lot of my fundraising. I just need to be in a very, very positive mental space. In order to get creative, I get that creative presence that block if I am not feeling in the right atmosphere and the right place. I’m going to go get the best out of myself. I actually spend time with my dogs, the very first thing in the morning because I lift my spirits up. I would think through the rest of the day and what my plan is in getting into that creative mindset. Yeah, that was today.
Amanda: Wonderful. Do you train first thing in the morning? What’s your training regime like?
Ness: At the moment, to be honest with you, it’s all over the place just because of my schedule. It’s all over the place. Yeah, I’m struggling a little bit with that because I do like to have some general skeleton idea of what my week is going to look like. Yeah, my training sometimes is early in the morning, sometimes it’s mid-day, sometimes in the evening. I do find though that that the times that I train first thing in the morning and get up 6:00 am session and by eight clock, I’m ready for the day and having my coffee. Those were the best days and most products days for me. I did struggle a lot if I leave my training to the end of the day. I’m really tired and mentally exhausted. Yeah, it’s not really how I wanted it in my day. I do prefer training early morning. It’s energising. Obviously, we don’t know that doing exercise releases those happy endorphins. Yes, it’s definitely in morning when I can get in early.
Amanda: Are you a crossfitter?
Ness: I am now. I might have been following these on Instagram. I’m going to suffer for this. I have to admit. I’ve been watching them. For two years, I’ve been going through my Instagram looking at all these motivational fit people and they do competition to fitness centre. It’s phenomenal what they can achieve. About two months ago, I signed up to my local crossfit. I am doing it now. It is hard. They make it look so easy. I guess it’s the same thing with gymnastics and those kind of sports. It looks effortless, really effortless and then you try it and you just can’t even lift your leg up. It’s awful.
Yeah, from my Pacific Ocean road that I’m heading out on next year, There’s three, really, important things for me and that is flexibility, core strength and muscle mass. As I go, I’m going to be spending six to nine months and see. Once I’ve depleted my fat stores, which I do need to actually up before I go, I need to put on weight before I head out. Once the fat stores go, my body will start using my muscle mass as fuel. I’ll start losing that very quickly. Also, the powerful rowing is in your legs. I really need to build that up. I’ve got these little skinny legs. That’s what I need to work on. Obviously, your core strength to prevent injury and flexibility. I incorporate at my crossfit. They do a lot of Ashtanga yoga and something called, [Animal Claw 38:40].
I’m the least flexible person. It’s horrendous and quite embarrassing. There’s a long journey ahead of me. It’s not a pretty one, but yeah, I’m giving it a go bit by bit. I’m starting to see the results come through now. Yeah.
Amanda: Tell us about your next challenge, your record attempt across Pacific Ocean.
Ness: Yeah. This is one that’s being in my mind for about seven years now. Before I even began to think about adventure and exploration, as a career, I was following a lady called, Roz Savage. She, at the time, was in the, I think, her early 30s, heading towards her mid 30s. She had been a management consultant for many, many years and in a similar way to what I was doing. It was just ticking boxes and going through life and just doing life. She just needed more. She ended up heading out and rowing. She became first female to row all around the world. She did it in stages year by year. She rowed the Pacific in three different stages and then she’s in India and she’s in the Atlantic. I just looked at the story and it just really, really spoke to me and spot something in my imagination.
I just thought from that very first day, that was to see those, but until I was going to, at some point, row an ocean. The most unknown, crazy thing that I could ever imagine doing. Regardless of doing this for a career, I still would’ve done the row. For seven years, I thought about it. When I started the adventure career, somebody who I trusted, close to me said to me right in the early stages when I got really excited, “Okay. I was going to be an adventurer. I’ll go to the Pacific road.” They said to me, “Well, what’s your reason for doing it?” At the time, I had so many different reasons why I wanted to do it. I didn’t explain it very well and I stumbled over. “Well, I just really want to feel what it feels like to row halfway across the world on your own steam, using your own body.”
I just thought it was the most fantastic thing. They said to me, “Well, that’s not a good enough reason. You can’t do that. That’s just not good enough.” I listened to them, unfortunately, for a good few years. I never embarked on it because they basically said, “Well, that’s not a good enough reason so you’re not allowed to. You’ll look like a fool.” Yeah. I guess, as my career, post depression, actually, and as I’ve got back into this career and built things up, I’m really in a good place that I thought. The time is right now. I’m so ready to do this. I said, “Right. Let’s start planning it.” Yeah, it’s been a long time coming.
Amanda: When you started planning it, what was the first thing that you do? The first thing that you do is, you try to secure sponsorship funding or something else?
Ness: The first thing you do is buy a giant map and put it up on the wall. My office, the entire … It’s a slanted roof and the whole thing is a map of the world, an enormous map. Yeah, I bought that and then plotted out the root for that. I stare at it all day. From that point, I set it up a bit like you had set up a major project for your business. I wrote a skeleton structure of a business plan for it. I got those giant rolls of paper and I stuck them to my wall and started plotting out all the different elements from the marketing side, the fundraising side, the partnerships, the equipment, the team, everything. Everything involved. I put a timeline together of how long I feel it would take, and then all the contingency around that.
From there, I started really going into each one of those and then exploiting those out and writing a much more detailed plan for each one of those different sections. Then I got the marketing side of it together enough that … I didn’t have a perfect plan, to be honest, but it was enough to get my marketing together, get a sponsorship proposal put together because of my digital marketing background that I could luckily do that all myself. There was no cost behind that and both to pitch and just started going out. I’m working on my LinkedIn connections. I literally connected with thousands of people on LinkedIn that I thought would be fantastic for building relationship in the future in terms of my expeditions and partnerships and sponsorship and things like that. I just started contacting people and cold calling. Also, getting in touch with my network that was existing and asking them if they knew anyone who might be interested in getting all the warm contacts because that’s so much easier than cold calling.
Their response was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. Yeah, it’s been good planning from there. Obviously, you want those fun stuff trickling through then you can start working on getting the equipment and organising the boat build and things like that. Yeah, it’s just literally as you would with any company. It’s putting together a major project.
Amanda: Wow. When you’re telling me this, I’m thinking about how many parallels because essentially, you’re starting a new business each time on you, something parallel. Well, it is a business.
Ness: Absolutely. No, it’s exactly the same structure, exactly the same thing. You have to think about and put together in organising the same way that I would approach it for any other business. Yeah.
Amanda: I also think, Ness, that what you’re sharing with people who’ll be listening here is that there’s going to be people listening who have no interest in doing adventures or no interest in starting a business or growing their business, but who have a career and there’s so many lessons that you can take from your career. For example, how do you use your LinkedIn contact, for example, that somebody might be able to mimic that to their next career move?
Ness: Absolutely. For me, the very first step on LinkedIn was taking a step back, asking people around me what they thought about might existed. A lot of people that weren’t close, just close friends. Business connections that were good enough, close enough that I could ask them for this favour and trying to get people that wouldn’t be emotionally connected to me to tell me honestly with constructive criticism what they thought of my profile. Yeah, leaning on the support of others for that, then taking that and building my LinkedIn profile so that it was that all five star, [inaudible 45:40] singing and dancing. The most important thing, I’ll be honest with you, with my LinkedIn and with all my branding, regardless of whether your business or you’re just looking toward your career, you still have to think about your brand. Who are you? What can you offer? So much of pitching yourself or pitching a project or pitching a company is the ability to story tell.
If you can’t connect with people and really get them to understand both the logic but also, the passion and the vision behind it, then it becomes incredibly difficult to move forward and get them to buy in. If you can learn how to story tell, learn how to get your profiles in the various places like LinkedIn up to scratch, then that’s hugely helpful. I got that up to scratch and then I started connecting with people, literally doing, using and … LinkedIn is incredible because the ability to drill down in the searches is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. You can find exactly the right people and exactly the right places to connect with. I would click “connect” and then write a little personal note for every single one of them. That sounds like a huge amount of hard work and it did. It took me hours and hours and hours, but the pay off now, months and years later, is huge because those people felt that I was genuinely wanting to connect with them, which I was. I had taken the time and effort to write something personal to them.
Yeah, really and truly like you can’t cookie-cutter anything and just blasted out because people just delete it or not even bother reading it. Really, that personal connection with people and customising everything was critical. I feel I’ve got the upgraded premium version of LinkedIn. I’ll save the InMails that I have for key people and then just having the courage. Quite often, I’ll be like “Oh, no. I can’t connect with them. They’ll probably think I’m weird,” but no, you just do it. Just connect with them, find something to connect with them about and make it personal. That’s been great and yeah, it’s been the one thing that’s brought in so much of my sponsorship. It’s been fantastic.
Amanda: When you connect with those people that you are initially reluctant to connect with because you worry they might think you’re weird. I guess you’re upfront to say, “This is why I’m connecting with you and this is what I’m hoping to achieve.”
Ness: Yeah. Absolutely. People appreciate honesty. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to connect with you. It’s so obvious when someone is trying to give you a little … Trying to sales pitch you but make it sound like it’s not a sales pitch but really … Just be honest. There’s nothing that beats that. Just be honest. Because frankly, if you go through those efforts to try and pretend like there’s some other reason why you’re wanting to connect, down the line, you’re going to ask them for that thing and they’re just going to say no. Well, they get to know upfront then waste your time and get down the line. People either open to it or they not.
For the most part, most people have been pretty fantastic with connecting and most of the time, if I’m not honest with them, they’ll turn around and say, “Well, this is not … a lot of things at the right time, right place.” They might be interested in you but just not at that point in time because the business is not looking for that at that point in time, but you’re still going to be at the forefront of their mind because you connected with them when the time is right for them. A lot of what I’ve learned around business and connecting with people is [inaudible 49:33] awareness. Once I’ve connected with them, what I do is make sure that I put up the occasional updates and post that thoughtful and relevance so that they’ll hopefully see those in their stream. I’ll keep coping up. It’s just honesty. I’m not a fan of trying to pretend that there are plenty other reason than what you are.
Amanda: I like that. It’s really fascinating to hear you talking as an explorer and an adventurer about your LinkedIn process thing.
Ness: Well, yeah. I think it’s all good.
Amanda: Not what I was expecting.
Ness: If you think about it as an explorer, there are so many people that I’m going to want to connect with. Not just for fundraising, but also, there’s people that could be great partnerships. Service is partnerships with me, not financial fundraising. There’s also people who are directors and producers and the creators out there. There’s people that work within publishing industries. All of this stuff is relevant to me. There’s coaches out there who are fantastic storytellers that actually me going in having a coffee with them somewhere down the line would probably be incredibly useful for me. Some of the best connections and the biggest doors are being opened for me. The most amounts of money that have come my way are from the least expected people. The guys that I thought, “Well, I connect with them, but I’m really not sure what can come out of that.” You just don’t know who they know. Don’t just count people.
Amanda: Yes. Absolutely. I run a monthly business breakfast for women in business as part of an organisation called, Forward Ladies. When I’m speaking to people about networking and about the way we do things at Forward Ladies, it’s very informal networking. I say to people who might have been too more traditional networking events, “Don’t come here expecting to give your business card to someone and they’re going to be on the phone next week ordering your thing or your service. That’s not how it works.” It’s so less century. It’s unbelievable. It’s about connecting, being interested in people, and you just never know where it’s going to land. It’s, as you say, always from the most unexpected places. You can’t control the people.
Ness: Yeah. An example of this is, he is going and I started out on my speaking career, I would go out and basically, for free, do talks to companies locally in the area for that reason. To be honest, anywhere that I possibly could for two reasons. One, because I needed to practise and the more you do something, the better you get quicker. I didn’t want to do one talk a month and then have to drag out this process of getting better at it. I’d rather do one talk every two or three days and fast track that process. The other reason was because I knew by giving something away for free and going and inspiring people and not asking for anything in return, those people have those events. They run their own company, they work for other companies.
An example of this is a lady who … To be honest with you, I couldn’t even remember her because I never really met her at the event, but I did a free talk. Two years later, I get a phone call because she’s now working for a huge corporate and wants me to come in. There you go, there’s five grand worth of one talk. It pays off. I think it’s being able to see every single relationship and events as the ability to invest in a possible open door down the line in the future. I see it this way that I’ve always said to people, “You know there were so many things in life. The more cons you go through it’s more aces you find. Don’t hold back. Try and do as much as you can whenever you can. If that’s doing free talk, just connecting with as many people as possible and just being very open with people and very genuine and authentic with people.” It really does pay off because like we said, it comes from the most unexpected places down the line. It’s really truly worth it.
Amanda: Yeah. I absolutely agree. I have an analogy. It’s throwing spaghetti at the walls. You just never know which of it is going to stick.
Ness: Brilliant. I love that. It reminds me when I was a little kid about where I use to get the toilet roll and get tonnes of it and dump and throw it. Oftentimes, I use to throw it and my mom did her [inaudible 54:17]. It was all over the house and stuck to every corner of the house. No. Absolutely. It’s a story that remind me.
Amanda: I hope it wasn’t [crosstalk 54:24].
Ness: Yeah. Definitely. I wasn’t that naughty as a kid.
Amanda: The rebellious streak of it for.
Ness: Yeah. Rebellious but not quite there. Yeah.
Amanda: Listen, I am going to have to ask my last question. I would like to keep you talking for the next three hours.
Ness: Oh, awesome. I love chatting.
Amanda: Oh, good. It’s been absolutely wonderful. There’s so many other cases we could explore. By the way, remind me, when we finish the interview, I’ve got a great contact for you.
Ness: Oh.
Amanda: You see.
Ness: You see.
Ness: Thank you.
Amanda: I could probably give you more if you wanted that. You say that your mission is helping others, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. For all the women and some men who might be listening to this podcast, what would your message to them be about feeling ordinary and what they should do to achieve what their heart’s dreams of but they don’t actually go for?
Ness: Okay. Do you have a few hours that I can explain? There’s so many things, but I’ll try and get down to, I suppose, the most important things that I found for me have really worked. Really, genuinely, doing a very physical proactive thing like sitting down and really asking a question, “If I knew I could not fail, what would I do with my life? If you’ll remove all of those insecurities, what would you do with your life if you knew that you were going to succeed at it?” Write all those things down and really, start making the changes to do that because it’s so worthwhile. I think there’s nothing left in getting 20 years down the line, genuinely. We know this. People are speaking about this for decades and centuries. The thing we regret the most are the things that we didn’t have the courage to do in our life. We don’t regret the things that we did and we finally made mistakes. That’s part of life. Those are things that we didn’t have courage to do in the first place that we would regret.
Do them. Sit down and write a list and start making the changes. It really does seem quite daunting at first because a lot of us have commitments that we’ve already invested in and we’re scared that those things are going to fall away, but you don’t have to do this overnight and instantly. You can work towards that on the side. I think I was reading something the other day. I can’t remember the exact number but after a year, the amounts of days that we have off including weekends and holidays and things like that is back up to about 120.
Amanda: Wow.
Ness: We can find a little bit of time within that each year on the side, grow whatever it is and then make that transition period. Really, I’m a very ordinary person. Really I truly am. I’m not sporty. I’m not born for this. I’m very uncoordinated. I’m very clumsy. I walk into door frames all the time. I have no spacial awareness. I should not be doing what I do. I’m a very ordinary person. It’s that whole idea that just got to keep reminding yourself that every single one of us who have mastered something was a beginner at some point. We’ve all been there. None of us are different to each from that perspective. We were all ordinary people. We’ve just grown experience. If you can just have the courage and the resilience to keep plodding through and taking the next smallest possible next step, you’ll absolutely succeed. I think that’s it. We’re not supposed to be extraordinary super human. We are all ordinary. Just the things that we end up achieving are the extraordinary things.
Amanda: Thank you.
Ness: Also a plea, really, one of the things I’m most passionate about in life is that if you succeed and if you start finding yourself on the way up, please pull people up with you.
Amanda: Of course.
Ness: That’s really important. That whole ripple effect of positivity that just to keep really think about it. If you just help one person up, that person is going to have the similar effect on those around them because they will help. It goes on indefinitely. That’s an amazing thing to do. Yeah, just pull people up around you. It’s just the best thing.
Amanda: Yes. Absolutely. It works so much more energetically and that’s what changing the world is one person at a time.
Ness: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
Amanda: That-
Ness: I know it sounds corny and cheesy but it really is. That’s my everything.
Amanda: Yeah, it really is. That, really, is the ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.
Ness: Yeah. Absolutely.
Amanda: Ness, thank you very much. I will put a LinkedIn show notes to your website and your Twitter feed. Probably, also, your LinkedIn feed.
Ness: Better make sure it’s in order then. Yes, really. Please do. Anyone can feel free to connect with me.
Amanda: I’m definitely going to go and put a microscope to your LinkedIn profile. You might be getting an email from me saying, “Ness, please give me some constructive criticism on my LinkedIn.”
Ness: I’m more than happy to help. Absolutely.
Amanda: Thank you so much, Ness. It’s been an absolute joy.
Ness: Likewise. Thank you so much. I’ve had a blast, absolutely a blast. Thank you.
Amanda: Bye-bye.
Ness: Take care.

You can find Ness at her website, Instagram, on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook.

009 Sue Lawton on Non-linear Career Progression

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
009 Sue Lawton on Non-linear Career Progression

Amanda: Hello and welcome to episode 8 of the Inspiring Women Interviews podcast. Today I am interviewing Sue [Lawton 00:00:14] MB. Sue is a global expert on women and enterprise. She creates business opportunities for women entrepreneurs and she’s a founder of Reconnect Europe, establishing the WEConnect International Program around the world. WEConnect is a global charity and it connects women business owners with corporation contract opportunities, something that traditionally women have found difficult to do.

Sue has also worked extensively with underrepresented communities around the world including the US, Canada, Australia, Turkey and Belize and she continues as an advisor to WEConnect International and also to WIPP International whose mission is to build powerful, collaborative networks among leading women lead organizations. She does that to help them leverage their joint power to negotiate policy and economic solutions to help women to achieve economic independence and participate fully in their countries economic growth.

Sue is also currently working with the Secretary at the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and I will be asking Sue about this during the interview.

She holds an MA and is a special advisor to the APPG for Women in Enterprise. She’s a fellow of the RSA and a trustee at the Commonwealth Girl’s Education Fund and she’s been awarded a MBE for services promoting women’s business and leadership worldwide so an absolutely wonderful podcast guest and really, really privileged to be interviewing you. Thank you for being here today Sue.

Sue: It’s my pleasure.

Amanda: Sue, I was just asking you before about … I said, “Are you a mom?” You said, “Yes. I have 2 boys aged 36 and 38.” They have obviously flown the nest now, but I just wanted to really start at the beginning and how you started your career?

Sue: I started my career as a social worker so I’ve always had a social conscience. I came from an area of Lancashire that was not very affluent and I did not pass my 11-plus so I went to a secondary modern school which took me a long time to then catch up academically, but I was in school with lots of deprived children and it made me realize that there was much social work to be done so social worker.

Amanda: I remember the secondary model system and the perception was it’s either grammar school or secondary modern and if you get into secondary modern then your life is over. You’re doomed.

Sue: That’s absolutely correct. It took me until I was 16 and a lot of determination to finely be able to transfer from a secondary modern to a grammar school, but it was funny, once I got into the grammar school I then went to an all girls’ Catholic convent grammar school and it was completely different so instead I applied to do a year as a foreign exchange student in America and instead of doing upper 6, I went and did 12th grade in an American high school which was a very interesting experience as my mom in the dad in UK didn’t even own a telephone so we didn’t speak for a year.

When I see young people going off on their gap years now being extremely exciting and brave with their mobile phones and using Skype, I keep thinking back about my own mom who didn’t get to talk to me for 12 months.

Amanda: You must of been thinking, you don’t know your born with your Skype and your computer and your instant messaging?

Sue: Absolutely and I mean I don’t take anything away from them. They’re traveling further probably than I did, but it still was a pretty brave thing to do I thought at the time.

Amanda: Very brave and I’m just interested in so what happened? You went to secondary modern so you got that big red X against your name for going to secondary modern.

Sue: Oh yeah.

Amanda: But somehow between the age of 11 until the age of 16, something quite significant must have happened for you to have had that determination to say, “I’m not doing this,” and to have moved schools and really pulled yourself up. What happened there?

Sue: Well, I think I’m just a born opportunist. I failed my 11-plus. It took my years. It took me until I was 60 to get over that one which is why I’m such a great believer in the comprehensive school system, but I never lost the belief that actually I should of passed my 11-plus. Why didn’t I do that and how dare they not choose me to go to grammar school.

Amanda: Good for you, but I guess you were unusual in that?

Sue: Yeah. Most of the children that I went to school with in fact left at the age of 15. There were just a few solitary souls left by the time we got to be 16 and very few went on to college and further education. In fact, I was the only one who then carried on to the girls’ grammar school.

Amanda: Sue, have you seen a video that has been 1 of those viral videos and I came across it just the other day and I’m not quite sure who it is, but it’s set in a court room and he’s making a argument for the education system to really pull itself up and to start being far more innovative saying the education system is failing children and look at all the changes that are going on in the world yet the education system is staying the same and it starts off as a fantastic image. It starts off with a gold fish in a bowl saying that essentially what an education system does now pretty much throughout the world apart from places like Finland is to say to a gold fish, “Right, you will get graded on whether you can climb this tree.” Have you seen that?

Sue: No, but I think I should.

Amanda: I’ll have to send you a link to it and I’ll put a link in the show notes to it because I think it’s very relevant to how the education system fails people at a young age by putting them in boxes and judging them by norms that certainly … well, most probably shouldn’t be norms any more.

Sue: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think the difficulties it takes some people a little bit longer to learn how to operate within the education system so I did end up finally years later getting 2 masters degrees, but it took me a bit longer than it would of taken most people, but it did mean that I truly appreciated the opportunity to get my masters degrees and I’m hugely proud of them.

Amanda: Your masters degrees, you have 1 in social enterprise. Is that right?

Sue: Yep and the first one was in human resource management and the second one is in social enterprise management and development. In fact, returning back to my social work origins in wanting to do social business to help community growth.

Amanda: When did you do that social enterprise MA?

Sue: That one would of been in about 2003.

Amanda: Okay. Where you still a social worker at that point?

Sue: No, no, no. I stopped being a social worker after the first 4 years of my working career. At that time when you had a baby you left work and so I left social work with the thought that I may return at some point, but in fact life took many other turns and many other opportunities and although I still maintain my interest in community growth, I never returned to the specific role as a professional social worker.

Amanda: Okay so what happened then? You left work because that’s what you had to do and that was your first son and then 2 years later your second son came along. Were you still not working?

Sue: Yeah, 20 months later. I still wasn’t working, but very shortly after that I met somebody who was working for the publishing house, Osborne Publishing which I loved their books. I was a convert to their wonderful books even before I had anything to do with them and they were wanting to set up a direct sales arm because they felt that women who had children could not get into bookshops because that size with prams was difficult or the children’s bookshop section was probably upstairs and they wanted a way whereby the mothers particularly could really look at the books and decide if they were the relevant books for their children rather than just buy something random quickly and have made a wrong choice. I was asked if I would help in the trial to set up a direct sales arm and I did and that grew into a full time career which because Osborne Books At Home.

Amanda: Gosh, which we all know and love today. Osborne Books is still going as At Home aren’t they?

Sue: Still going strong, yeah, and Osborne Books At Home is still going strong, but when I started there were just 3 of us. When I left 15 years later there were 3,000, majority of women, a few men, direct selling Osborne Books, but the joy of that was that it was my introduction to working with women owned businesses because what we were essentially doing was offering those women an opportunity to build their own business around the product of an Osborne book and so it was 50 years of learning how to work with women, how to get them to grow their confidence, to be professional, to grow their business to the size that they wanted it. Some remained very, very part time. Others made very successful full time jobs about being Osborne organizers with a full team underneath them. A very interesting experience and also a great learning opportunity for me to work with women entrepreneurs.

Amanda: Of course direct selling is absolutely huge today isn’t it?

Sue: It is. It is. I like to think that Osborne maintained a culture of not direct pressure selling, but offering the customer the opportunity to see a hugely, high quality product and making a reasoned choice if this is the product for them to buy, but with it also being … we talked about before about the 11-plus and going to the grammar school. Whilst I was working with Osborne, Peter Osborne always said, “If you don’t know it, learn it. We’re not going to bring in outside experts. Go away and learn it.” A lot of the training and development fell to me so I put myself through my IPD, Institute of Personal Development, to do the official qualifications and then built on that to get my masters in human resource management and in fact the dissertation was on women returners and how do they go back into the workplace, but built really around that experience of working with Osborne so thank you to Osborne for the opportunity.

Amanda: Wow. 2 things I want to ask you. Where shall I go first? I wanted to ask you, you said that led into your introduction into women in entrepreneurship and you also mentioned your MA and having done your MA with a subject of women returners. What were the key … Let’s go to the MA first. What were the key findings of your research for your MAs with helping women return to work?

Sue: Well, it was interesting. Obviously a lot of it was around the fact that women felt that they had lost their skills when returning into the workplace, but 1 of the most interesting things that I found is that I did some in-depth interviews with line managers or business owners who were bringing these women in to work for them and the ones who were the toughest against the women were actual the females because they would say, “Come half past 3, I know that this women is not concentrating on her work because she is worrying if her children are okay.” Whereas the men were very, very open to giving those women opportunities. I like to think that this has changed since then and everybody’s got an equal opportunity because that’s what we’ve been working for, but in the 1990s there was an element of women not being as supportive as they could of been.

Amanda: Do you know what, I’m afraid that it looks as if things haven’t changed as much as we might of hoped. I was reading an article the other day with some research showing that there’s still that perception that women would rather work for another man than for another woman and there was also a study done about how some women will undermine and sabotage other women because they feel that there’s … it was talking about a culture of scarcity rather than abundance. If I’ve made it then I need to keep this to myself.

Sue: Yes, but did they also do the other study that men would prefer to work for a woman or for a man?

Amanda: Ah, that’s interesting.

Sue: If you could ask the question. It would be interesting to know wouldn’t it if it’s actually women wanting to work for women or nobody wanting to work for women or men would actually prefer to work for a woman because the culture is different.

Amanda: Yeah. That study needs to be done.

Sue: I think so. There’s one for you, a challenge for you.

Amanda: Thank you. Thank you. Have you heard the Madeleine Albright quote, “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women.”

Sue: Yeah, but my favorite quote is a Laurel Thatcher Ulrich one that says, “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Amanda: I think my mom’s got something like that with “Women with tidy houses seldom make history” or something similar.

Okay. When leaving Osborne after working for Osborne for 15 years, that was your kind of next step into working with women entrepreneurs. What happened then?

Sue: I chose to leave Osborne because my boys were 15 and 17. [inaudible 00:14:41] was doing a lot of international travel with his job and neither of us were at home and I felt even more importantly when they were very small that 1 of us needed to be there through that GCSC A level trauma and so I decided to take a little time out and think about what else I would want to do so I took 6 months off, but very … I did stay at home with the children, well young men as they were, but the opportunity came to go and work with Women Returners Courses in the [Hoffature 00:15:21] area where I live so running courses for women wanting to come back into the workplace, running some courses for women wanting to return into management position having taken time out, but also to do some adult guidance work in the local communities.

You have young people who can go to the youth programs to look at what do I want to be when I leave school, but these programs were geared up for women and for men who wanted to think about having made the wrong career choices and how could they change where they wanted to be and move into a different direction. A whole mixture of career counseling, women returning, management building, that whole thing, but very much in my introduction to being self-employed and doing what I wanted to do.

Amanda: How long did you do that for?

Sue: I did that for a couple of years and then we moved to America and we moved to California, but I didn’t have a green card so it meant that I couldn’t officially legally work so I took 2 jobs. 1 I worked in the local coffee shop because that way I got to know everybody and they paid me in Blue Matching Coffee and sushi and the other one, my great love, is to go and be a good theater audience. I don’t want to be on the stage. I’m very happy to be in the audience so I took a job as an intern in the local professional theater selling the Shakespeare courses to all the schools and we sold them all out in 2 weeks because I had an English accent. It made selling Shakespeare very easy in California.

Amanda: That’s brilliant. It’s really interesting listening to your career because it’s not a traditional career. You’ve gone from being in a senior position for Osborne Books and setting up a business that has grown hugely to doing work, self-employed with people in career transitions, to working at a coffee shop for coffee and sushi and intern.

Sue: It gets better. When we came back 18 months later I was of course unemployed and I was again thinking what can I do and I thought I need some thinking time. Where was this safe place to go and think so I went and sold frocks in John Lewis for 6 months. It was a wonderful job. It was a great time for me to stand back and think what do I want to do next?

I did that for 6 months and then I took on a job with a local [bureau 00:18:01] council who were doing an outreach program for hard to reach communities, that being women, ethnicity, youth and social enterprise to give them business development advice so that they could start to grow their business and these were the people who would of been red-lined by a bank, who would not go into a business in coffees because it’s such an alien space for them and so to build up that program and that went extremely well. It went so well in fact that we spun it out of the [bureau 00:18:33] council and created a charity called [Incredit 00:18:35] so we offered micro credits for businesses to be able to start-up their business and this was before micro-credit was really becoming the in thing to do.

We would go into women’s prisons and do enterprise training for the women serving the prison sentences because if you’ve been in prison, nobody’s going to give you a job. We’d also go into schools and get the young people to set up social enterprises that made a profit that returned into the school to teach them business skills and also to give them some social responsibility and we worked with ethnic minority groups. Many of the women would not be comfortable to come out of their social environment, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t create a business within their community so we did that as well and that was a very entertaining, challenging and rewarding time of my life.

Amanda: It sounds incredibly rewarding and it sounds like it must have been a real grounding to you moving into the work that you do now, particularly with the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment?

Sue: Absolutely. It gave me a very good insight into the challenges, but I did that for awhile and then I thought there must be something harder. There must be a more difficult way for women leading their lives so I handed the charity on to a very worthy successor and moved to Belize in Central America. I chose Belize. It was the only English speaking country in Central America and I speak no Spanish so I went for 4 months and in voluntary role and mentored the CEO of the Women’s Issues Network of Belize so lived in Belize City in a very interesting house. We had cold water and rats, but that was fine and some highly entertaining experiences, but I learned a lot and I owe a lot to the women of Belize for helping me learn the challenges that they were facing that humbled me and served well in the years since then.

Amanda: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the challenges that you found and what you learned from them?

Sue: Well, I think some of them were … first of all my perceptions of how safe was I going to be in this country that has a reputation for violence. It can be quite violent. Our offices were at the side street and there was a gang house next door and 1 day they tried to burn down the gang house. Not successfully, but when we called the fire brigade it was lunch time and the fire brigade were out at lunch and another day they did a drive by shooting but fortunately we had all just left the office so there are stories like that, but there are also stories … I was on the bus the first day.

There are no bus stops in Belize. You just stick out your arm and hope that the bus will stop and the buses are old American school buses, the yellow ones or with cut seats and big reggae music rocking out and I’m on the bus for the first time and I’m the only white person on the bus and there’s a man next to me with long rasta hair, no shoes on and a big knife and he looked at me and I thought well everybody told me I would be dead in the first week and they are going to be absolutely right and he looked at me and he said, “There’s a seat here. Would you like it?” I thought, “Oh, shame on me. Never judge anybody.” I never did again and got on extremely well with all my friends in Belize, local ones particularly so lots to learn. Never make a first impression judgement. See what’s really the situation.

Amanda: Absolutely. What were the sort of problems that women in Belize had and how did they have any resemblance to the sort of problems that we have as women in the western world?

Sue: Well the problems that I felt were the most difficult ones were for the school girls and in Belize at that time, I can’t speak for the situation now, this is 2006 and AIDS was absolutely rampant and young girls if they wished to stay in school if they came form poor families would take on a sugar daddy. That sugar daddy would pay for their schooling, but in return would expect unprotected sex and then if the girl got AIDS then she would be passed down the food chain as it were. That’s no way to start your school life. You’ve got ambitions for yourself. You want to stay in school, but the only way you can stay in school is to sell your body. It has improved in Belize since then because obviously the economy in Central America has improved.

When I was in Uganda earlier this year looking at women’s economic environment and worked from the slum areas right through to high end business. In the slum areas, the position is no different. It’s the same in many, many countries still where women can not get forward because they have no economic environment. They have no control over their money. Any money given for education is preferably given to a boy if there is a boy and a girl in a family and the girls have no way forward and when they try, there’s many obstacles in their way. It’s still a man’s world I’m afraid in many countries.

Amanda: It is a man’s world. Could you tell us more about what you are doing to try to improve the situation. Particularly if you could tell us about your work with the UN and High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment?

Sue: Well, the High Level Panel was set up by Ban Ki-moon because he felt that as he came towards the end of his time as the Secretary General he had not done enough for women’s economic empowerment although I have to say on his defense, he had done a lot already, but he wanted to leave a legacy of action that would change women’s lives so he created a high level panel made up of experts from all different aspects of women’s lives from all around the world. It’s co-chaired by the President of Costa Rica and by the CEO of IKEA of Switzerland, so very diverse and it’s got representation, Christine Lagarde is on it, Jim Yong Kim from the World Bank, Elizabeth Vazquez from WEConnect International, Mozilla’s represented on it, but then UN women, Oxfam so the whole representation of women’s lives and they’re coming together to put together action plans that will make a difference that could be put into any economic environment to change the economic development for women.

They’ve had the first 12 months and a report has just been published and the first report is really a review of what is going on around the world. What’s the situation for women’s economic environment and that was handed over to Ban Ki-moon in September at the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York, but we’re now going into the more important phase which is what actions are going on around the world that we could share that will make a difference to women anywhere.

An example of a practical thing, in Costa Rica when they are laying all the sewer pipes, they’re all the cables laid for IT connectivity so that women in rural areas can start to connect to the world and hopefully build business and economic opportunity for themselves. It doesn’t lie there yet. It’s growing, but they’ve got the vision to do that. It sounds a very simple thing, but if that were done in all countries around the world because women have far less connectivity to the global internet than men do, then economic growth for women must come from that so very simple solutions that you would think well, that’s a no brainer, but it’s not happening around the world and if you go across women in agriculture, women in finance, women in developed societies, women in emerging economies, there’s lots of good examples that we’ve not put together and used and that’s the challenge for the panel and their second report which will be the action recommendations will come out in June of next year.

Amanda: Connected to that, how important do you think or from your work with the panel is the digital economy to women’s empowerment throughout the world?

Sue: Oh, hugely because if you look at banking in Africa. Let’s use the [impassive 00:28:11] phone as an example, in the UK or in developed economies we use traditional banking methods but in emerging economies they skipped a whole process by going straight on to telephone banking so it’s changed lives whereas many people have got a mobile phone now. As those mobile phones became technically enabled, it opens up the world of business. If you say to a women business owner or any business owner anywhere, “Have you got a global business?” And they say, “No, no. I’ve just got a little local business.” “Have you got a website?” And many of them have. Then what does www. stand for?

Amanda: Exactly.

Sue: The world wide web and that means worldwide opportunities so if we can work with the women to get them to think about business growth, to understand the opportunities that having simple things like a website so that the rest of the world knows that they are there, how they can grow their business. It’s happening in developed economies already, but there’s still so much more to do in the emerging economies and there’s so much opportunity there. If the world needs growth as the economists said, “Forget India, China and the internet. Economic growth will be driven by women.”

Amanda: Yes. Do you have the statistics behind that? Sorry if I’m putting you on the spot, but I find it a really interesting statement.

Sue: They do exist and I suppose if I had half a day I could root them out for you.

Amanda: Yeah. That is it I guess for the nay sayers who say every time International Women’s Day comes about in March they say, “Why do we need Int-” Why do we need International Women’s Day? Actually that’s a good question to ask Sue Lautern MB, global expert on women in enterprise.

Sue: Well, I think it depends where you live. I’m a great believer in equality and I think equality is equal balance. We talk about feminism, but we don’t talk about masculinism, but I do think that the time is right for developed economies to work collaboratively together to make an equal society so that’s 1 thing. In developing economies it’s much, much more of an imbalance and if International Women’s Day is international, we’re not only talking about the women in developed economies who have made the first steps on the journey to equality. Some of the women in the developing economies haven’t even started the journey yet.

Amanda: Yes. There’s so many women in developing economies who have so few rights. As you say, it’s not even the first rung of the ladder is it?

Sue: They have no land rights, they have no banking rights, they have nothing.

Amanda: Are you hopeful for the UN panel to actual make a difference across the world? It seems like such a huge call to action.

Sue: It does seem like a huge call to action, but if you don’t take the first step on the journey, you’re never going to make the journey are you? I am very supportive of what they are doing because this is not just a report, not just another wonderful launch of a document that’s going to sit in a cupboard and gather dust. This is actually a whole set of actions and they’re going to be measurable actions so that’s having been called to the challenge, the countries can be called to account. Have you succeed and if not, why not? And that is the power of the UN.

Amanda: What do you think we should be doing in the UK to support that?

Sue: Well, there’s lots of things going around the High Level Panel. There is a website which I will give you to put up when you put this recording on so that you can see the web link for it, but there’s also lots of things going around Women’s Economic Empowerment within the UK. There are groups that you can join. It depends what floats your boat. Do you want to get involved with local women’s groups or do you want to get involved in the whole global picture for women’s development? It really depends where you are coming from. I think for women’s economic empowerment globally, there are things like UN Women who are very active in the UK. For business development there’s BPW, Business for Professional Women. There’s quite a lot of these groups out there. You just have to look for them or ask me.

Amanda: We will. I will get some resources from you if that’s okay so that would be really good.

1 of the things that is in the call to action from the report is about women and housework. I looked at it here. The failure to recognize reduce and redispute unpaid household work and care. What do you think can be done about that because that’s very much an attitude and very much related to tradition and gender roles isn’t it?

Sue: Well, it also depends again which country you are living in. If you are living in Africa for example and you have to walk 2 hours to get the water everyday, then that’s your responsibility because it’s not the man’s job to go and get the water. If you are spending 4 hours a day just going backwards and forwards, collecting water, then what can be done about that? Bring water to the village and the woman gets 2 hours, 4 hours a day extra in which to develop her business.

I think in developed economies it’s all about the negotiation isn’t it? There’s lots of programs around. In Australia, there’s this thing called Male Champions for Change, which is the male business leaders saying, “We’re supporting women and we think this should be an even balance thing.” There’s He For She, but it’s also down to women to negotiate what is acceptable for them personally and I think traditionally women have had that majority care responsibility and some women prefer it that way.

That’s a very personal choice, but I do think that perhaps as mothers I like to think that I brought my boys up to think that it’s their responsibility just as much as their partners responsibility to care for their home, their children. As their wives go out to work of course it’s an equal split and so should it be so I think it’s about societal attitude and talking about it and having an expectation that if it’s not being fair shared equally that is not acceptable. I assume that’s going to be peer pressure isn’t it. I’m a great believer in getting male champions to help us fight the fight for equality. I’m going back to this thing that it is equality. It’s not necessarily feminism. It’s about an equal balance society and balanced both ways.

Amanda: Yeah. I agree with you Sue and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we need to help men to understand just coming closer to home. Sort of focusing on the UK for a moment, how we need to get men to understand why gender equality will help all of us. I think there’s still a misconception. If you ask the man on the street about gender equality, the answer you would get is, “Oh, it’s all about those bra burning feminist. We’ve got gender equality. It’s my wife who rules the roost at home.”

Sue: Which shows that we still got work to do. We’ve not [inaudible 00:36:29].

Amanda: But it’s true isn’t it?

Sue: It is true. I do know what you’re saying, but it isn’t correct is it? If you speak to the women, that’s not the message that I’m hearing and it is about perhaps about equal choice so that if a women chooses to build a career, that she is supported in that and that society supports the childcare needs, but it’s also the male partner’s responsibility to have childcare support, to take some of those days off when his wife or partner needs to work and it works vice versa. It’s what you do for your best friend isn’t it?

Amanda: Yes and I think we’ve shared parental leave. There is certainly a shift there, but we still need to give men permission to take it.

Sue: Absolutely because if you look … I think it’s Japan, but correct me if I’m wrong, where the parental leave on paper is very generous, but society shames the men who take a paternity leave so on paper it’s great. In practice it doesn’t work.

Amanda: Okay. It’s like, “Yes, you have this many days leave, but nobody in this company takes their full allocation of leave?”

Sue: Absolutely. It’s 1 thing doing the paper exercise, but the cultural exercise may be different.

Amanda: Yeah. Absolutely. Talking about culture, just going again sort of reducing the focus to individual companies, there is so much focus on talent attraction and talent retention and companies are increasingly employing talent directors to support gender equality, equal numbers of men and women on board, etc., etc., however, what I’m noticing is often a lot of talk and very little walk. Has that been your perception as well or have I just been looking at the wrong places?

Sue: Well, your probably in a better position to comment than I am because I tend to look at what happens at the glass door rather than the glass ceiling so I’ve been working in the women entrepreneurs access to procurement contracts and if you look around the world women are 1% of the global supply chain. Now they’re more than 1% of the business so there’s an imbalance going on here, but if you look at the UK and we don’t measure how many women business owners there are. We don’t actually accurately know.

There’s no question on the business tax return that says are you a male owned business or are you a female owned business so when we [inaudible 00:39:39] the data. In the USA they do have that data and as a result of that they measure the number of contacts, of federal contracts and of corporate contracts that go to women owned businesses and try to readdress the balance. It could be that that women owned business is not a big enough business or the best business is male owned, but at least they’ve been given the opportunity to bid. That’s not happening around the rest of the world particularly in the UK which is of my interest so there’s a glass door as well as a glass ceiling.

I think within corporate I do see a lot of diversity discretion and a lot of women’s groups within large corporation and what appear to be very flexible working practices so perhaps you’re better to comment on how successful those are being. What I’m not seeing is the opportunity for women entrepreneurs to be as successful as male owned businesses to bid for those contracts mainly because half the time they don’t know when those contracts are coming up because it’s a closed shop.

Amanda: Well, speaking personally Sue, I certainly wouldn’t know how to bid for a contract and I have been involved in a couple of proposals with other women over the years of my business and I say, “Just a couple.” The experience was so traumatic and the information acquired, it was just beyond the size of our business. The questions on the proposals are like well what’s that about? I don’t have this or whatever it was or various questions that presuppose that you’re already a business of a certain size.

Sue: The insurances, they are totally unnecessary.

Amanda: Yeah. It is and then I guess and I’m sure that you must know about this, we were successful in getting interviews and presentations in both instances and “Wow. Yes, really impressed with you. Great fresh ideas,” and then after all that and after us having spent a significant amount of our non-existent budget on traveling to these meetings, etc., etc. “Oh, we’ve decided to stay with the incumbent.”

Sue: Yes. It’s difficult isn’t it, but this is where organizations like WeConnect International are there to help you because you as 1 business being upset about the processes are not going to be heard, but if you have many voices together then you have the opportunity to make a difference and it’s about bringing those voices together. If you look at the work of WIPP, which is Women Impacting Public Policy in the USA, they really tackle the problems around access to contracts, particularly from the federal procurement perspective and they will do things like on the same day at the same time they will lobby every senator of every state on the same subject. Now that’s powerful.

Amanda: Wow. That is.

Sue: We need to get organized Amanda. Somebody needs to take control of this.

Amanda: Yes.

Sue: I think it’s to where the Women’s Equality Party will come in. Who knows.

Amanda: You know, I was going to ask you about the Women’s Equality Party. Have you joined?

Sue: I’m sort of hanging around the edges because my interest is enterprise and they’re only just forming their enterprise policy so I have spoken to them very recently so I have a lot of hope for the development of their enterprise programs. The thing that impressed me most was that their desire to work collaboratively with other parliamentary parties to make change for women rather than working as a competitor.

Amanda: Yes.

Sue: That’s the bit that I think needs to be put over even more strongly. I didn’t understand that bit until I actually sat down and spoke with them a couple of weeks ago and now I think I’m a convert.

Amanda: They’re a political party who aren’t political.

Sue: Absolutely. They’re an influencing, lobbying and if the other political parties aren’t going to do it, then they’re going to have to do it themselves type of party.

Amanda: It will be interesting to see what influence they do have on women in business moving forward.

Sue: They’ve got their first conference taking place in Manchester at the end of November and I’m hoping that enterprise will be part of the policy discussion so watch [inaudible 00:44:36] really and you were saying, “How can women get involved?” Well, if you are interested in enterprise developments, go and lobby the Women’s Enterprise Party and build up a movement within that already converted, like-minded space.

Amanda: Yes. Absolutely. Yes. Very good idea. Thank you very much. Sue, there was a question I wanted to ask you before and we’re bringing it right back from women’s enterprise and lobbying and politics and it’s a personal question and it’s about the qualities that you have developed or used to create this fascinating career with so many different, unexpected paths.

I’ve noticed that … I mean you talk about determination. We talked about determination at the beginning with the 11-plus and moving away from the secondary modern school, but you’ve told me all these different, exciting, twisty, turney bits to your career and I noticed you said things like, “Oh, and an opportunity came up to do this and then somebody asked me to do this” and I’m kind of putting myself in the shoes of the listeners of a women who might be in middle management. She feels like she’s on this treadmill. She’s not very happy with her current career where she is. People say you stay where you are because you’re on to a nice, easy number because they’ve given you flexible working. Just keep your head down even though you don’t like it. You don’t get on with your boss and she doesn’t have time and she’s thinking how on Earth do opportunities like this come up? What would you say to that woman?

Sue: I would say that she needs to go out there and create them. She needs to go and build her network of who does she know who is working in another organization and when are their jobs coming up? It’s about deciding what you want, but being flexible about that. Say she’s decided she wants change, but she doesn’t know what change looks like so the way to develop that is to go out and meet perhaps with other women and men who are working in other organizations, perhaps in the same sector if that’s what you want to stay within, but building your network of connections and listening and looking and then looking for that opportunity and then voicing the desire to be somewhere else. “Is there a job going at your place? I’m very happy where I am, but if an opportunity came up I would be very interested to talk to you.”

Amanda: Okay. Networking is key there?

Sue: Yeah. Believe in yourself. Sell yourself a little bit and remain flexible at all times.

Amanda: Okay. I like that. Okay. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here because I’ve known so many women who are just completely stuck in a rut and their response to this would be, “I don’t have time to go networking. My boss will not let me out to go networking.” What would you say to them?

Sue: They don’t 24/7. It depends how determined they are to get out there. I mean some of these networks are professional networks that exist outside of the working day. Well, if you’re too tired when you finish business, then you’re not going to do anything are you? Change is as good as a rest. Get out there. Talk to people. Find out what’s going on on the other side of the fence. Who knows, you might decide it’s actually quite nice on your side of the fence when you have a good look, but at least go out there and take a look and ask and talk and listen.

Amanda: Okay. It’s just about you need to get out there. You’ve got to look at what’s important. If it’s really this important then create the time. Get creative about it to start looking for those opportunities.

Sue: Absolutely. Do something about it. Don’t just moan.

Amanda: Yeah. I agree. Actually 1 of the things that I always say, “You don’t necessarily have to start networking your person.” We have such an incredible resource in social media and enabling us to network wherever we are.

Sue: Yeah. A lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t like networking. It’s not what I do.” Then don’t network. Just go and have a chat.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sue: You don’t have to call it networking.

Amanda: I agree.

Sue: Just talk to people. They’re quite nice really.

Amanda: Yeah. Networking is 1 of those words that fills people with dread. I run Forward Ladies meetings once a month in Manchester. I’m the regional director for the northwest and I always say to new people because I see them coming in and think oh gosh, they’ve got that “Oh, do I have to do here?” And I always reassure them, we’re friendly. This is just about connecting. It’s about supporting other women and that’s where the magic happens. You don’t have to come and be able to sell yourself. It’s just about having a chat.

Sue: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be aggressive. It can be a very nice experience.

Amanda: Lovely. Just to finish off Sue, what is the 1 piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

Sue: That’s a difficult one. What piece of advice would I give to my younger self? Have more confidence. If I’d known … everybody always thought I was very confident and it appeared as though I was very confident as a young person doing these many different things, but I think if I’d of had … I’m back to the 11-plus, I blame that for everything, but it takes your self-belief away and if I’d of had that younger, how much more would I have done sooner? Who knows?

Amanda: Well, I think you’ve done quite a bit quite soon.

Sue: I could of done more.

Amanda: How would you coach that young 11 year old girl to have more confidence?

Sue: Well, I think I would of worked with her on understanding that 1 small obstacle doesn’t end your life. That it is just a moment in time, 1 day, 3 hours, a judgement doesn’t end your life and that actually you’ve got lots more to offer.

Amanda: Oh, yes. I love that. We have such a habit as human beings of thinking that our present circumstances isn’t the way it’s always going to be and judging our future by where we are now and things can change at the skip of a heart beat, can’t they?

Sue: Well, it’s funny. When I got my MBE, we trotted off to Buckingham Palace and it was Prince William did the ceremony which I was absolutely delighted about. He’s a charming young man and we were walking through the gates to Buckingham Palace and I had my 6 year old granddaughter with me and I said to my husband, “I think I’ve finally got over failing my 11-plus,” and [inaudible 00:51:36] thank God for that. That’s ridiculous isn’t it? It sounds as though it’s ruined my life. It hasn’t. It hasn’t. It’s just 1 of those things, but it’s interesting. I think it’s at the top of my mind at the moment because of all the publicity in the papers at the moment about bringing grammar schools back in.

Amanda: Yeah, but you know on the flip side Sue, I think it might of made your life because it was that determination to be more than that 11-plus wasn’t it that drove you on.

Sue: That’s an interesting thought. You could well be right.

Amanda: We will leave it at that. Sue Lautern, thank you very much for being here today.

Sue: Thank you for inviting me Amanda. It’s been a pleasure.

008 Jenny Holloway on Dealing with Life’s Curve Balls

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
008 Jenny Holloway on Dealing with Life's Curve Balls

Amanda: Hello. This is Amanda Alexander. You are very welcome to another episode of the Inspiring Women Interviews. Today I am interviewing Jenny Holloway. Jenny is the CEO of Fashion Enter. Fashion Enter is a manufacturing source of excellence and training academy to support particularly unemployed women who’ve had a curve ball thrown at them in their lives and who want a future. I’ll be asking Jenny particularly about this work that she does as a social enterprise within Fashion Enter.

I met Jenny at the Forward Ladies Women in Business Award Finals. Jenny had won the regional award for social enterprise of the year. She then went on to win the overall award at Forward Ladies for social enterprise category. Jenny and I got on like a house on fire and I was absolutely fascinated by her story. She started off as a senior buyer at Arcadia Group. She was a selector at M&S. She was assistant buyer at Littlewoods. For 25 years she worked in industry and had got to very senior positions within fashion. She then gave it all up and she’s going to be telling us the story of how she gave it all up, what happened, and business and the social enterprise that she has grown since. Welcome, Jenny, and thank you very much for being here today.

Jenny: It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

Amanda: Let’s go back to what I just mentioned, that moment when you realised that you weren’t going to work for Marks and Spencer’s anymore.

Jenny: The last job was actually Arcadia and I was a senior buyer and I loved that job. It was a very exciting job. At that time in my life, I was about 28 to about 31 and I was travelling the world, I was going to Milan and New York, and it’s a great life when you’re single and you’re just expanding your horizons with your career.

It is also very stressful job. You used to have that pit in your stomach on a Sunday because you knew the Monday morning figures were going to be coming through and you’re thinking, “I hope I’ve had a good week.” There’s this saying in buying, “You’re only as good as your last week’s sales.” In part it’s true. It’s all about figures and performing.

I think as you get older you sort of start questioning the validity of targets and money and it’s just a lot of pressure. I think I came to a pinch point when I was working with a certain director and I was sort of advised to be buying a jodhpur. I was saying, “Well actually, the jodhpurs don’t work as effective as the trial I’ve had and we’ve just done the ski pants and I’ve made a ski pants really up to the minute. You can take this detachable stirrups off. They’re saying, “No. No. No. Listen to me. I want us to buy this.”

Anyway, I bought it. Then three months later, it was very much, “Well why did you buy that, Jennifer? Why did you not fight for your stirrup more?” I thought, you know what? Life is a little bit too short and a little bit too precious to worry about the difference between a jodhpur and a ski pant. I decided that at that point that I would go and work for myself. I wanted to have more autonomy. I wanted that freedom of choice, really.

Amanda:So what did you do?

Jenny: I spoke to my husband, who actually I met when I was 15. We are very much childhood sweethearts from the same town, which you can probably tell from my accent, is in the west midlands, actually in the black country, in a small town called [Voorhees 00:03:58]. I said, I just had to be my own boss. I just wanted to make my own decisions.

We developed a company called Retro. Retro was a collection, which we wanted to sell to the high street. We were selling it to lots of different companies, including John Lewis, but also Materlan, because actually, a good style is a good style. It depends on what the fabric you use and the components. Obviously, for John Lewis, we would’ve put in pearl buttons, and for Macro and [inaudible 00:04:32], we were putting a polyester plastic button, but the styles were beautiful. We were always very proud about the quality that we would do.

As time went on, the business grew. Before we knew it, we had 10 years of trading behind us. Within that time, I had two children, and I actually was quite heavily pregnant with the third child. It was too much. We were turning over 36,000 a week. This was sort of back in the year 1999 actually.

I said to my husband, I’ve got to do something here. I’m sort of taking my children around with me to the factories to do quality control audits. It just wasn’t a life. I think lots of women get that very guilty feeling, between work life balance. It’s such a hard thing to achieve. Especially when it’s your own business as well.

I decided to contact a competitor, which I’d love to say the gentleman’s name, but I won’t. Actually he’s no gentleman. I contacted this competitor. I said, “Look I’ve got 150 sales force, like [P2D 00:05:41] type operation, where people are selling from home, lovely, lovely women, women who were so talented all around the country. This other company also had the same kind of set up. By now, as I said, I was pregnant with a third child on the way. Over a course of three months, we sort of decided that we’re going to merge our two companies together. I thought it was a match made in heaven. Actually I’m a very honest and genuine person. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. I trusted this man to be the same. You can almost guess what’s going to happen, can’t you?

I was so naïve. I’ve got a business degree. I specialised in law, not that that helps me. I just decided that, okay, I was going to trust this guy. We transferred our collections over, our sales force of 150 people were transferred over. My husband kept on saying, “Oh I feel a bit uncomfortable here. We haven’t got much in writing.” I say, “You know, we’ve got all these emails. We’ve got all these confirmation going through. We sent letters confirming what we’d agreed.”

Anyway, I had a phone call on a Tuesday night. It was half past nine at night. The guy said, “I feel very uncomfortable about this merger.” I said, “How can you feel uncomfortable? We’ve done everything that we said we would. You got all the work force. We’ve transferred all the collections over.” He said, “No, I feel really uncomfortable.” He said, “I’m pulling out.”

In that two minutes of conversation, I felt as though my world just fallen apart. By now, I was eight months pregnant with my youngest son. He’s called Zach. My husband, you can imagine, can’t you, the words of, “I told you so. You trusted this man. I told you he wasn’t honourable.” Our house was tied in to the business. It was just awful.

My parents aren’t alive now. God love them. They were wonderful people but they didn’t have a penny, so there’s no way … We just had no money. I actually can remember going to the DHS and saying to them, “I have no money whatsoever.” I came out with a plastic bag of food. We had a tin of Spam. I haven’t had Spam for years. I used to have Spam when I was a child, with my mom and dad. I’m 54 now, so that sort of tells you what life was like then. They gave me a £20 note. You know, I felt the richest person ever, just the little, little things that make such a difference. We had a [drawer 00:08:25] of coffee. We had some tea bags, and beans and soup.

That’s how bad it was. We went from having a good lifestyle to having nothing at all. I remember looking at council houses with Tim, because we thought we were going to lose our house. Worst still, we went to Bromley, which is where we were. We went to the council there. We explained what had happened. I thought we were going to put into housing, because we had two children with a third on the way, as I said. Actually said, “Oh no. There’s no shared accommodation. You’ll have to go to a women’s hostel with your children.”

Do you know what? It actually makes me catch my breath now. They said that my husband was going to a men’s hostel. I thought that was horrendous. I was actually … I popped my clogs I the council. I said, “How barbaric that you would treat anybody like that, because of a third party.” This is his curve ball. I say often life throws you a curve ball. You don’t know how to handle it, but you have got to flaming well find a way, because actually, life is very, very precious.

Anyway, after having a hissy fit, I was absolutely hysterical, because I thought we were going to be split up. Honestly, Amanda, I cannot get over how much that [inaudible 00:09:57] me talking about it.

We came out and we realised, you couldn’t lose the house, because there’s no way we’re going to be split up. I came up with this idea, I knew somebody that worked at the New of the World at the time. Obviously, that papers disbanded now. I rang him up. I said, “Look. I need you to speak to the bank manager of the certain bank that we were at to say, “I hear you’re going to evict this woman. Isn’t it awful, these poor children.” I said, “You’ve got to make a story out of it, because I can’t lose my home.”” God bless him. He did. He rang up the bank manager and said, “Surely, you can’t do this to this family. They’ve done nothing wrong except trust the wrong person.” They actually gave us this massive repayment plan. We managed to get through that period. We saved the house, but I got to the point. I was going to lock myself in that house. I was not coming out, because I just could not have our family split up. I just thought that was the worst thing in the world.

You know, my heart goes out to people that that happens to. Amanda, it makes you … Sometimes when you have that kind of horrendous adversity in your life, you really have an empathy for other people and what they go through. It’s not a weakness. It’s just that flaming curve ball that gets you sometimes when you just don’t expect it.

That sort of explains what happened with that company. Actually, I then changed quite substantially from becoming this go getter and wanting the big job and the big house and the trappings that go with it. I suddenly realised, actually, money is nothing at the end of the day. Your relationships, your friends, your mental health and well being. I don’t want to be remembered for what I had. I want to be remembered for what I did. It just fundamentally changed me. I was so upset that this man could do that to us as a family.

First of all, I wanted to shoot his knee caps off. I would’ve found anybody to have shot his knee caps off at that time, which is obviously totally irrational. I remember thinking the only way I’m going to get over this in my life is I’m going to stop making people make that mistake that I just did. I’m going to help people to realise that actually there are horrible people out there and we can work in a nicer way, in a better way that’s more ethical and sustainable. I just wanted to do some good. I know that that sounds like a very crass thing to say, but actually, it’s 100% the truth. I just thought it’s about helping people.

Interrupt me. I don’t want to talk too much here.

Amanda:  Oh gosh no. One thing I’m really curious about, you have this amazing idea to call the New of the World and make a story, and that pressurised the bank into giving you a repayment plan. At this point, so you managed to stay in the house. That changed what you wanted to do in life and change the direction of your business.

Jenny: Yeah.

Amanda:  The practica thing was you were almost due to give birth at this point. How did you manage to pay your mortgage?

Jenny:  My husband is an electrician by trade. He’s an electrical engineer. He’d worked with retro with me for those 10 years, which wasn’t easy, a husband and wife relationships not easy when you’re talking 24/7 about the business. He went straight back into employment. That’s how we managed it. I was eight months pregnant then, and eventually giving birth. I couldn’t do anything.

Actually this is probably the first time in my life when I really couldn’t do anything. I was looking after the two boys who were … There’s 17 months between Thomas and Cullum. It was a handful. I think I was at the point of a nervous breakdown as well. I don’t know how we got through that period, but we did. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s for sure.

Amanda: God. God, yeah. Tell me. From having that realisation, from having got over the wanting to knee cap this awful man.

Jenny:                     Yes.

Amanda: How did you actually … What was the transition between having your third boy … Sorry, is that Callum? Your youngest?

Jenny: Zach is my youngest.

Amanda: Sorry, Zach is your youngest, you said. Zach is the youngest. So having Zach, what was the next point that you created another business?

Jenny:  I had Zach. I looked after the boys for a few months. I think I just had time out, a good sort of six months out of working, which to me, was a long time, because I’d worked all my life. I’m quite independent. My husband knows that. As I said before, what you see is what you get. He knew that I wasn’t really going to be a stay at home mom. I loved my children with all my heart, and my husband, but actually, I just can’t stay at home. It isn’t me.

I had that six months of real reflection. My mom was a schizophrenic. It was those days of the 60’s where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was very much an accurate portrayal of how mental health illness was actually reviewed at that time. You were very much labelled as mad. I was always very mindful of mental health issues. I just sort of kept going back to I want to help people.

One day, I started to ring up business support organisations. At that time, it was Business Link for London. I rang up governmental office for London. I just thought I must have a lot to offer the creative industries, generally, you know, new designers. I just didn’t want people to make those mistakes, those horrendous mistakes that I’d made. That’s what I did. I kept ringing up and ringing up and didn’t take no for an answer.

Then eventually, I came across a lady called Olga Astaniosis, who said, “Oh actually, I’ve got a project on at the moment. I could do with a little bit of advice.” She said, “Come and see me. We’ll have a chat.” She set me on that path of helping people and being a consultant. I worked really hard, because I loved this. I loved the thought that I could take 10 new business startups, who were passionate about their design of garments, but actually, they didn’t have any business acumen. I could stop them making those mistakes about filling in order to cheap, and where to get the fabric from, and making sure … There’s something called a ceiling process, when you do a garment with a factory, you know exactly what you’re going to expect. All that was second nature for me, because that’s what I had done professionally. It was just so incredibly rewarding.

I think that my name got banded about a bit with, at the time, the London Development Agency. They started a new project called the London Fashion Forum, which I was a project manager. It was fantastic. I don’t realise how fantastic it was to be paid to do a job that I really loved. That’s three years funding. I worked with a wonderful man called David Jones, who I’m still very friendly with. He was the director. I was the project manager. We had funding for three years. It was so successful, we had funding for another three years, which took us up to 2006. It just made me realise I could never go back into that commercial work again, because as I keep saying, life is so very precious.

The funding finished and it was a bit, well what do I do now? There’s certainly one thing for sure. I feel as though I will be too old to go back into buying anyway. That’s not where I wanted my life to go. I thought, I know. I’m going to carry on. I’m going to social work, this sort of social enterprise work for young designers.

My husband was not happy about this, because he said, “Jennifer, I know what you like. You’ll give it 100%. You’ve got no money to invest into a business,” which is true. Actually I had £8,000 worth of shares. That’s all I had. He said, “I would firstly fair that if you go back to being a consultant as you were with the London Fashion Forum, and find new projects.” I said, “Well, I don’t know that there’s any more money around. I’m not prepared to wait and spend another year trying to write a bid to get more money.” I said, “I wanted to do something.” I said, “I [inaudible 00:19:09] a shop.” There’s a lovely man called David [inaudible 00:19:12], who was at Central [inaudible 00:19:15]. I found this little shop that was tucked away called a [secondary 00:19:21] location, very grey, very dingy. I persuaded this man to let me have the shop for free, basically.

I said, “I’m going to drive foot fall to here. I’m going to open a shop for young designers.” One of the biggest problems for very talented young designers is that they’ve got no way of selling their products. I said, “I would take on 20 of these designers, and we’d sell the garments for them. We’d take a commission. We would start the business that way.”

Jim said, “No, you’re doing it, Jennifer, because I know what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a disaster.” He said, “Right.” He went skiing for a week. When he got back, I had opened the shop, to which, he was hysterical. He was absolutely hysterical.

Amanda:  Not with laughter?!

Jenny:  No. Good god. No. He was apoplectic with rage. Apoplectic. He said, “Why would you do that? Why would you have all that risk. You’re now going really into business.” Even though it was a social enterprise, he said, “It’s still a business. You have no money and you’re going to have to fund this shop yourself.”

You know, it was one of those times when, again, I had the £8,000 shares went into the shop fit, so we had no money, and I bought a bicycle, which actually was ridiculous, because I decided. I live about four miles away from Croydon. I decided I was going to cycle there and back, because actually, we really were down to pennies again. The boys were growing up. We really didn’t have that much money. I felt quite bad, actually, that I’ve gone against my husband’s wishes. It was such a big jump into the unknown.

Anyways, I only cycled there three times, because it was just too far. I’m just too old. I thought I was going to get run over by the trams as well, so that was a bit of a disaster.

It shows you if you really want to do something, if it’s in your heart, and it sort of gets into your soul, and it gets under your skin, I can’t ignore that. What is it? Is it a calling? Is it a desire? I don’t know. All I know is I just think that life’s so precious. Why be miserable or unhappy in what you’re doing, because a whole world’s out there. We shouldn’t be frightened to fail.

Many, many years ago, I read a book. It said, feel the fear and do it anyway. Actually, I live my life like that. Sometimes it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s right, but at least it’s my life, and I’m making those decisions.

The shop was really, really hard work. My husband was right. However, we were there a good four years in total. We traded. We kept doing little projects and little initiatives. Our database grew. Actually, that’s when we also got, which is a government website. They put 2.1 million into that website. There was no real exit plan, which I thought was a [waffle 00:22:34], because I sort of spent six years of my life building up that website. Actually, very kindly, we were allowed to continue with that website, which we have maintained to this day. We have 80,000 database in total on that website. We’re very proud to be able to provide really good quality information to help designers free of charge on how their business should be run and trends, et cetera.

That’s really how the company started and how we developed. Do you want me to continue with the rest of where we are today?

Amanda:  Yes.

Jenny:  One of the re-occurring problems we had with the designers was making of samples. We would recommend a CMT, which means cut, make, and trim unit. We would say go and use so and so. They’ve got a good reputation. I hate letting people down. My dad used to say to me, “If you haven’t got your word in life, Jennifer, you’ve got nothing.” Can I really believe that? I believe your word should be your bond. I tried very, very hard never to lie. People sometimes may find me blunt, but I’m not a liar.

I thought that these poor girls were going out and using these sample units that we had recommended, and they would ring me up in floods of tears saying, “Well you told me they were good. They’ve made such a mess. I spent all my money.” I just felt shockingly awful.

I decided to open a little sampling unit myself, because I can guarantee then that everything would be done as beautifully as it could be. God love a lady called Kasia, who is with us today. I found this lady called Kasia, a Polish lady, who is so tactically supreme. I asked her if she could find just a little unit. She had just three machinists. There was just the five of us. Jenny Sutton, actually, Jenny had been with me as an intern, when we were at Croyden. Jenny was still with us and just like my right hand person and lovely day.

We opened up this sampling unit. It was like this massive release that we would never let anybody down. We didn’t. We just kept growing and growing. We got a good reputation very quickly for being honourable. People came to us and said, “I want 10 of those.” I would actually say, “Don’t do 10, because you don’t know if it’s going to sell, but if you just made 1 and then photographed it, you get the money in. If it sells, we’ll make it towards, rather than you wasting all your money.” Which I know is unheard of in the commercial field, but that’s how we built up the company. I don’t want to take people’s money unless I know that they’re going to make some money too.

We grew. We started growing. Then sort of the machines,we had about 20 machines in total. Then I had this idea. I kept watching ASOS, which at that time was called AsSeenOnScreen. I kept watching them growing. I was thinking, “Oh what a clever idea that is, really.” I contacted the owner of the company, a guy called Nick Robertson. I said, “I’ve got all these wonderful designers. Why don’t you have a page of these designers, because they’re just so exciting.” He said, “What a great idea. I’m happy to support you with that.” Suddenly, they were getting orders of 50 and 100 and 300 if it was being sold out. We were now struggling to keep up with that momentum of making not samples, but production.

I went back to Nick R and I said, “Do you know what? You need a UK factory, because actually, your business model is all about fast track production.” I remember when I was at Marks and Spencer’s. We used to go and see [inaudible 00:26:38] in Barnsley, and Burnham, in Nottingham. These factories were fantastic. They’re not sweat shops. These were middle aged women, who were proud to be a seamstress. Their daughters would come in. It was all succession planning. it was a craftsmanship. I said, “Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we bring back a bit of garment manufacturing back to the UK?” He said, “Actually, I like that idea. What a good idea.”

Listen to this. Isn’t this absolutely amazing. I’m to do presentation to Nick and a guy called Nick Beighton. He’s actually now the CEO of ASOS. I did this presentation about why they needed a factory. Then I had a loan of £230,000 to open up a factory. Isn’t that amazing? I mean how often would that ever happen in your life?

The truth is whilst it was amazing to get the money, actually going from a little sampling unit, where one woman was making one garment. She’s making it beautifully and you can control it, going from that to a factory, where you need a minimum of 30 people. You need cutters. You need finishers, pattern people, graders. It was actually a completely different business model. I was very naïve and very, very foolish to think it was going to be an easy transition.

Probably the first six months, I probably cried most days, because I was so out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know really what I was doing whatsoever. I just thought, this is probably one of the worst situations professionally in my life, because I just hate that letting of people down. They’ve entrusted me with all that money. Oh god. I just felt awful.

Anyway, the one thing I never compromised was quality. I never lied. I told them about the weaknesses of the company, my weaknesses as the CEO, but I didn’t give up. There were many times when I used to walk my dog, which was a collie. I just tried to work things out and go for long walks. Also, my children was still young. It was really a stressful period. You just have to find a way in life. I kept falling over. I would brush myself down, and I’d go back in there with a smile, slightly a grimace, not necessarily a smile. I would go back in there.

Bit by bit, I learned lots about my own weaknesses, and strengths, and surrounded myself by wonderful people, like Kasia. There’s a guy called Chris, who is with me today as well. He’s just my right hand person in the factory. We never submitted a bad quality garment. We could’ve done. We could’ve done so many sharp  things. We could’ve subcontracted that to another factory. We could’ve paid machinists illegally – like cash. I kept on saying, “I cannot look at myself in the mirror if I worked like that.” That, to me, that’s worse, because, as I keep saying, it’s only money at the end of the day. I have a saying about, you have to keep your spirit level, level. If you do things that aren’t right, that bubble starts tilting the wrong way, and it goes out of your box. I just cannot lead my life like that.

Bit by bit by bit, we just got better. It was a long time. I reckon it was a good two years to really set that factory up with really good systems, processes, procedures. We just made gains, I suppose. Today, we are making 7,000 garments a week. We are making it for Marks and Spencer and ASOS and Finery. It was that work where we were just realising, actually, that there was a massive skill shortage, just a massive skill shortage in the industry, which is why we opened up a stitching academy. We wanted succession planning. Actually, even today, 80% of our ladies are East European, who are mortified by Brexit, I have to say. That took a lot of getting them to realise that the world doesn’t actually think that they’re illegal immigrants, taking money away from the NHS, et cetera. It just took a lot of time for them to be stable again.

The stitching academy was therefore born. How sad is it that in the country that there wasn’t a stitching qualification. We actually had to write the qualification for level one and level two, because it didn’t even exist.

It’s been a long, long, long haul, and lots of ups and downs along the way, but actually, the worst time was this time last year. It just so happened that the production wasn’t coming through. We hadn’t done anything wrong. We had no RTMs, return to manufacturers. We had no quality issues. We just weren’t really getting the orders. It started in July. So it’s July, August, September. By October, we just had no work. I was so loyal to the women downstairs. I didn’t want to lay them off. They’d been loyal to me for six years as stitching. I kept trying to find new accounts. I just got myself into more and more debt. Actually, this time now, December, was the worst ever trading period of the company. I actually thought we were going to go.

There must be people that listen to your podcast who will know that your lying in bed at night. The rivers of Babylon are upon you, because you’re wondering how the hell you’re going to pay all the bills this week. I was thinking it’s Christmas. I’ve got children.

All our reserves, because it started in the summer, the drying up of the orders. All the reserves have gone. By January, I was told by the accountant, actually, his words was so poignant. “What don’t you understand about critical, Jennifer?” That’s what he said. It was like such a good slap in the face with a wet fish. He said, “You are absolutely on your knees. What are you going to do?” He said, “You’re going to have to look at closing the business.” This was the meeting just before Christmas. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m some kind of crybaby, but you just can’t help your emotions. I remember holding my chin, because it was wobbling so much in that meeting, that I actually had to leave, because I was going to burst into floods of tears. I actually didn’t know what to do.

It’s not often I have a row with my husband, like a big barney of a row. We got back into the car after the meeting. He said something, probably along the lines of I told you so, which doesn’t help at the time. I just exploded. I just went wild and just said, “How dare you not support me after knowing me for 35 years. You know that I can’t just walk away. I have to find a way out of this complete mess that we’re in.” I was just hysterical.

I just got back home. I walked the woods. I love walking. Green space to me just gives me a clear head. I think I went walking for about two hours. I thought, you know, I really should close the business. I think we should … It was just everything was black. After two hours, I thought well, hey, what have I got to lose? If I throw in the towel now, I’ll regret that for the rest of my life. I owed everybody money. I just thought I’m going to tackle it. I’m going to ring up all my suppliers. I’m going to tell them, “I’m in a dreadful space,” but they knew me and they trusted me. God love them. They all did support me. They said, “As long as you give us a little bit each week, and if you can’t, you tell us.” I gave them my word. Actually, I kept thinking, what have I got that I can sell if I let these people down. To me, that’s worse than anything. That’s my dad’s words again about the word is your bond.

We crawled out of horrendous financial situation to be really honest. We just bit by bit. I had to make some people … Actually only a few. I think I made three people redundant. Some of the management people took salary cuts, which I really appreciated their support at the time. I told everybody that we had to have a new way of business, particularly in the factory. The FTA, the Fashion Technology Academy, that we were building up, I spoke to [inaudible 00:36:46], who were fantastic. They provided us two years earlier with £470,000 to open up the Fashion Technology Academy, which is a whole building of new machines to learn stitching, pressing, quality control, cutting. Again, how could I have walked away and let all those people down that had confidence in us as a company? I just couldn’t do it.

We just clawed our way back from the absolute brink. It was awful. I know that there are people that I know personally that are having that sort of time now, where they just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You know what my advice is, just don’t give up. Just keep finding a way. If you really believe in what you’re doing, if you really believe that it’s right what you’re doing, then don’t give up. If it’s making you ill, obviously that’s a completely different scenario. You’ve got to weigh your pros and cons.

At the moment, are we in a happy place? Yes, we are. As I said, we’re doing this 7,000, sometimes 8,000 garments a week. We’ve got the Fashion Technology Academy, which has got all these learners that we’re working with through job centre plus, so if you’re in North London or East London, then these courses are free. Actually, we’ve just won a programme with JP Morgan. They’re allowing us for six months to allow anybody to do the course for free, which I just think is wonderful.

Amanda: Anyone throughout the country?

Jenny: No, in London. London based unfortunately. If they’re in London, they can do our courses for free. These are proper qualifications. We don’t do any rubbish, Amanda. We are very funny about the standards and always have been.

Amanda: It doesn’t surprise me at all.

Jenny: We’ve got to do the best we can. Yes. We’ve got to be the best we can always. You keep stretching and challenging yourself.

There’s a lady called F. I thought I’m going to say her name. I was talking to her recently. She’s so articulate and so bright. I said, “How come you’re here? How come you’re on this course and you’re unemployed? You’ve got so much about you and so much to give.” In the space of three months in her life, she lost her job. Her house is connected to her job. She lost a boyfriend. She lost a father. Then her grandfather was seriously ill.

That’s that curve ball, isn’t it? That’s that curve ball that comes in your life and it takes you completely off your feel. All the best laid plans in the world will not prepare you for that catastrophic series of events. It’s just … That is the sandwich man, beeping his horn there, Amanda. I think you can hear that. All the machinists are going to go get their sandwiches.

I’m absolutely privileged that we can take this lady and we are giving her stitching skills. She actually said to me, after that first conversation, she said, “I feel as though I was destined to come here, because I’ve always loved design. I’ve always loved fashion. Now I can make my own garments. I’m starting to sell to my friend.” All the money in the world cannot buy me that satisfaction.

Amanda: I understand.

Jenny: Oh I’m quite emotional talking about that now. I just think how wonderful it is that she was in absolute despair and we’ve given her that hope. She has something in which she can go out and change her life. I just think that is so rewarding. I love that. I’m just dabbing my eyes. I’m just dabbing my eyes. I’m okay now.

I’ve got loads of those stories. They are all true. That’s the call that just, in my darkest hour, when things do go wrong, of course they go wrong. It’s not perfection in any way, shape, or form, but that’s what I can hold on to. It gives me that real sense of achievement. All the people that … We now employ about 107 people in total. We have this ethos about we can do some good, and we can change. Every little bit you do that is making things better, we can make a difference. We can all make a difference. You just can’t be scared to do that.

Amanda: I like that.

Jenny: It’s all very profound, isn’t it, Amanda? Very profound.

Amanda:  Oh yes.

Jenny:  It is 100% what I believe in.

Amanda: Very profound. Wow. You need to write a book, Jenny.

Jenny: I don’t know about a book. I just think while I can, I do get up hideously early. I get up at 5:00 each morning. To make matters worse, I know I told you, Amanda, when I saw you, I’ve got a wonderful friend called Jane, who when I was 19, she let me go and live with her. I was sponsored by Rolls Royce to do my degree. I had to move to [inaudible 00:42:26]. I persuaded this poor woman to let me come and live with her for a while. She’s such a lovely lady.

Her partner and Jean, they breed race horses. This time [that I 00:42:41] took to see her, this beautiful mare was in the field. Now I told [inaudible 00:42:50] not to raise this horse’s [day 00:42:53]. It’s going to have to be shot. Perhaps because it is I’m an Aries by nature. I looked at this horse, and I said, “This poor horse is going to be shot and it wasn’t even her fault.” She’s a beautiful mare, but she’s 163. She’s massive. I said, “Don’t worry, Jean, I’ll [inaudible 00:43:12]. Don’t worry.” I mean how utterly, utterly ridiculous. I was 53 at the time. A 53 year old woman, bouncing around on a race horse, like some sack of potatoes. I find it incredible that I’m in this position. It was too late now. I have fallen off her. I have broken two ribs as well, which is so painful. I’m now on that mission. I’m not giving up with this horse. I’m going to carry on.

Actually, I’m very grateful for Jean, because it gives me another perspective of my life, that it’s so easy to … People say about this work life balance, and I look at my wonderful three children. Tom is now in the Royal Marines. He’s just doing his training, which I’m very proud of, but I’m also very scared. I’m very scared about what the future holds for him and all the awful things that are happening in the world, like Syrian. Then I’ve got Cullum and Zach, who are both very good hockey players. They’re at [inaudible 00:44:19]. They’re doing their courses there.

This work life balance, I’ve always believed I have to be really honest with my children. Actually, I’m honest with everybody. I think a mother’s role in this world is sometimes to say the things they don’t want to hear. I’m in a family of all guys, who all love football, who all love sports. Then there’s me trying to hold all these things together, making sure they have good food and I’m a lousy cook. I’m lousy. We’ve lived off slow cooked meals for about 10 years. At least it was healthy food. They used to say, “Oh not another stew, mother. Not another stew.”

I’m so proud of where they are in their lives. They’re healthy, mentally well adjusted boys. I thank my lucky stars for that. I keep telling my husband he still loves me, because he [inaudible 00:45:19]. The more I say it, the more he’ll believe it, so I keep him going. It’s really good from that perspective.

I just think that life is indeed very precious. It’s very important to feel as though you can look at yourself in the mirror each morning. If money comes my way, then great. If it doesn’t, well hey. I’ve had that many times in my life. It certainly isn’t the be all and end all about what makes you happy inside.

Amanda: I guess you’re not afraid anymore of the money not coming, or the money stopping, because you faced it head on, haven’t you?

Jenny: Yes. You’re absolutely right. If I can assure anybody who’s listening to your podcast now, that is having financial difficulties, my god, my heart goes out to you, because it’s almost … It immobilises you. It’s so black and it is so dark. You don’t know which way to turn. It really is crippling as is depression.

My advice is, hour by hour, day by day, you got to get through it. You just got to face it. I think that was the success for me, was ringing up those suppliers and saying, “Look. I haven’t got it. It’s just a really bad time. I’m not going to let you down, which was a gamble in itself, because I was never 100% sure.” Whatever happens in your life, don’t fight the fear. Work with it and go through it. I mean I’ve got wonderful friends. I love my friends, Lois, Carol, who I’ve been to uni with, Jane [inaudible 00:47:11], who I went to primary school with. I am blessed with great friends. Tears, tears will come. Tears will flow, but we’re just human at the end of the day. We all have weaknesses. We all have strengths. We just got to get through those periods.

Amanda: Jenny, I love how you have described all of the bumps in the road and how you’ve got through them. I’m kind of stumped for a question. I guess what I want to know is you’ve talked about not giving up. You’ve talked about facing your fears. What I’ve heard as I’ve been listening to you is, what shone through, is integrity. You’ve always put integrity at the heart of everything you do. That never, ever letting people down, always following through on your word. It’s almost as if even if there might’ve been times when you felt like giving up personally, you wouldn’t, because you don’t want to let other people down, whether it’s the women, your machinists, the women you’re training, your suppliers, anyone. That has kept you going.

Also that creativity. You talked about calling the suppliers and saying, this is the situation you’re in, about getting the free shop. So much creativity. I’m wondering is creativity one of the keys to getting through tough times?

Jenny: I think actually the key is honesty. It was when John, our accountant, said, “What don’t you understand about critical?” It was like a real wet fish in the face. Like [inaudible 00:49:02] your ideas. Get on with it. Tackle the situation. I think it’s so easy to go to denial sometimes. “It’s not that bad. It’s not that bad. We’ll sort that through.” We’ll have a better week next week and it doesn’t get better. It just gets worse and worse.

You’re so right about integrity. I listen to how people … You can imagine what fashion’s like, can’t you? It’s very kissy and darling and all the rest of it. That is so not me. I do look at people and think, why would you say that or pretend that? It’s just the honesty, isn’t it?

I actually think my mom’s illness, when I was four, she went into a mental institution. She never came out. She was so, so poorly, with electrical shock treatments. I think she really had post natal depression, but it just wasn’t diagnosed like that in the 60’s. It’s that honesty again, isn’t it? If mom was honest with how she felt or how she was, or if my father had been more honest. Who knows? It’s such a difficult area, mental illness. All I know is if we can … Be respectful and be mindful. You don’t have to be rude to people. We’ve got to be honest. We’ve got to do what I think is the right course in life, because we’re only on this earth, what? 70, 80, 90 years. It’s insignificant. I’d rather look back and think, you know what? That lady, [inaudible 00:50:40], I’ve just been talking about, and so many other people we’ve managed to help and made their businesses prosper.

We’ve been able to help lots of different people at lots of different levels. That, to me, is what life is about, is keeping that spirit level level, and looking at yourself and thought, yes, I’ve done something good today.

Amanda:  Absolutely wonderful. I’ll remember the spirit level.

Jenny: Yes, it’s a nice thing to remember. I can’t believe, Amanda, that you like touched my own feelings. You’ve made me cry nearly twice. I don’t normally get choked up. I’ve decided to be very honest with you today. I hope my words will help other people out there. We have an open door policy. We’re only in North London, close to Manor House tube. People want to come and see us and say hello, they’re very welcome. Life should be about enjoying ourselves as much as possible all the time.

Amanda: Absolutely wonderful. Jenny, thank you so very much for being here today, for telling your story. I know that there will be people who will listen to this. It will come at just the right time for them.

Jenny:  Oh good.

Amanda: When we go live with it in the new year. There are people who are going through adversities. We all know at any point in time.

Jenny: Yeah.

Amanda:  There will be those who will listen to this and they’ll think, “Okay, I’m not going to give up.

Jenny: Imagine how wonderful is it that you do this as a service. This is something that is free. You’re clearly very empathetic. You’re very switched on. When we were talking together, I was monopolised by you. I mean, I just didn’t want to talk to anybody else. You’re very astute. You picked up on something I’d said three times. I don’t know if you remember that conversation.

Amanda: Yeah.

Jenny:   That’s why I was delighted that you asked me to be part of this today. You can put me down as a big fan, Amanda.

Amanda: We’ll have our mutual fan club then, Jenny.

Jenny: There you go. Exactly.

Amanda: Thank you for such kind words. I shall float off now into the afternoon with that.

Jenny: Okay, well thank you again.

Amanda: Thank you so much.


007 Vicki Cooper on Career Progression for Women in Technology

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
007 Vicki Cooper on Career Progression for Women in Technology

This is an interview from the Inspiring Women Interviews Podcast with Amanda Alexander: Interviews are with female leaders and female role models who advocate helping ALL women to achieve success. Our aim with these interviews is to inspire women and men to “lean in together”, to coin Sheryl Sandberg’s term. Together we can change the World!

Transcript of  the Inspiring Women Interviews Podcast, Episode 007 – Vicki Cooper on Career Progression for Women in Technology

Hi, this is Amanda Alexander, and today I’m interviewing Vicki Cooper, Software Group Acquisition Sales Leader at IBM UK. Vicki is not only the acquisition sales leader at IBM. She’s also founder, member of connecting women in technology across industry support group for women in technology, so we’ll be talking a lot about women in technology today on how we support women, on how we close the gender pay gap, particularly within technology, but we’ll also be talking about balance because Vicki not only is being the sales leader at IBM for acquisitions, is a mom of four children, so Vicki with that in mind, we were talking before we started recording about your Charles De Gaulle moment, so welcome and please can you tell us about that Charles De Gaulle moment and what it meant to you?


Vicki:   Sure, thanks very much Amanda. Well I think it was probably about 10 years into my career, I had had two children of the five at the time and I quite a big role across Europe and I was getting to the point where I was all work and no play. I really got to the stage where my career was really had taken off and it was crazy. It was absolutely crazy and I refer to my Charles De Gaulle moment to the point in which on a Friday evening and it was in November and it was an absolutely dark and horrible night, I was stuck at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris trying to get home Friday night late, and I really look back and I can remember now feeling very very tired and worn out, really worn out. I really resolved from that point onwards to change things.

I’d got to the point where I’d had enough, so I wanted to change things for the better and I wanted to get more balance into my work and my life as a whole really.


Amanda:         How did you do that?


Vicki:   Yeah, it was actually quite a tough thing to do. You can’t really do these things quickly but I made a number of promises to myself and the first one was that I would only take, from that point onwards, UKI roles, U.K. and Island roles. That would mean I would only be away potentially for one night and I’d probably not any night at all from the family. I would particularly be much more likelihood to be always at home at night. That really set me into another set of roles that revolved around much more of a U.K. centric career.


Amanda:         Up until that point you said you’re 10 years into your career and it had been all work and no play but you have two children at that point and both under five, how had you actually managed with two young children under five with that all work and no play?


Vicki:   Well, I think to that point I decided earlier on that I needed help so I did have a nanny and as I had a couple more children that they came through, I did have an au pair as well. I threw resource at the problem and I managed at home in the way that I managed at work. I managed teams, I delegated a lot, I made sure that things were on track, so that was the main way I did it. I’ve always been fortunate, IBM has been very good at providing flexible working and so most weeks I’ve always been able to work at home on a Friday now, and that’s really made a huge difference, huge difference, to what I can get done, how I feel about working, and my ability to be able to manage my home life as well as my work. At any stage if we do have to work late, you can work from home late, which feels a lot more comfortable.


Amanda:         Yeah, and I’m interested that you said working at home on a Friday has made a huge difference to the way you feel. I think that’s really important, isn’t it? About how you feel.

Vicki:   Yeah, absolutely right, it is. Even if, it might not happen every Friday, and I do plenty of meetings on a Friday but it’s almost a principle that you are trying to work to so that you don’t burn out and so that you’ve got that little bit of extra that you can fall back on.

Amanda:         Yes, it doesn’t help, doesn’t it? Being at home, just cutting out the travel and being able to sneak in the little bits that seep into everybody’s life whilst you’re working as well.


Vicki:   Yeah. Exactly. I mean I can not remember though a time where I’ve had to be in the office from 9:00 to 5:00. There’s never been a time in my working life, in the IT industry, where I’ve had to be at a desk for a particular time. We’ve always had that flexibility and it’s been a huge difference.


Amanda:         Before IBM, how did you grow your career in technology?

Vicki:   Well I did a degree in business management initially. I joined ICL and did my graduate training at ICL, always focused on a sales role. I worked for IBM as part of my degree as an intern, and I’d always wanted to come back into IBM but I never really found the opportunity to do so since IBM wasn’t hiring graduates at the time I graduated, so I went to a competition, stayed there for a couple of years, and then I felt very pleased with myself because I managed, I sat down one weekend and in a frenzy almost wrote to the competition and wanted to get another role and I managed to land the role at IBM, really through persistence and tenacity.


Really I was very focused on training to ensure that I got the right role and that I was hired as an experienced sales hire, although I’d only done two years experience. I actually came into IBM and managed then to grow into much more senior roles and grow, firstly starting in the hardware business, then services, and lastly in software which is where I am now.


Amanda:         Okay. I’m going to ask you about persistence and tenacity, but before I do, I’ve got to say I started off my career as an ICL graduate trainee as well.


Vicki:   There you go. It was actually a very good cause, very good cause.


Amanda:         It was a very good cause, yeah. Persistence and tenacity, you say through persistence and tenacity you got into IBM, but in real terms what does that mean? What did you actually do to show them that you were persistent and you had tenacity?


Vicki:   Well it was interesting. They rejected me first time around, IBM rejected me, and I looked at this rejection letter and I could see no reason for rejection. They didn’t give me a reason so I phoned up the HR lady, who’s at the bottom of this letter, and I said, “Can you tell me why you’ve rejected me?” She could not answer me. I said, “Well I’m working for your competition. I could do this, this, and this,” we’ve just launched a Unix hardware box at the top and in fact I said it’s actually where IBM we’re about to launch a system into the open systems market and so I said, “You’d be crazy not to look at my CV.” This lady agreed with me and she put my CV out to a number of line manager and I think it was something like six interviews later I managed to land a role.


Amanda:         Six interviews, wow.


Vicki:   It was ridiculous, it was quite ridiculous, but got there in the end. That’s where the tenacity comes in in this game.

Amanda:         Well that is a great story because how many people would actually call the HR department and say why have you rejected me and I wonder if they did how many would have got a different results as you did?


Vicki:   I don’t know. I think maybe it’s just worth checking these things. It’s worth asking the question. I don’t think, at the time, due diligence had been done on me as a candidate. Now maybe more due diligence is done today, but you don’t ask you don’t get, right?


Amanda:         Has that attitude of not necessarily taking no for answer, has that attitude and that quality of just, “Okay let’s just see what else is here,” has that followed you throughout your career in sales?


Vicki:   It has because it’s normally not the first answer which is the right answer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re … It’s true, it’s true, I mean it doesn’t matter when you’re dealing with a client in a particularly bid situation, or a situation where you’re interviewing for a particular role, you’re trying to encourage a candidate to join your team, or whether you’re going for a promotion. Normally, there’s something else going on so you need to be I think a little bit more persistent and to answer the question of why and what else is there behind this because normally there is other things going on that you probably don’t know about unless you ask those questions. That is actually a theme.


Amanda:         Have you had any other times throughout your career that you can recall, I’m putting you on the spot here, where you have not taken no for an answer? That you’ve followed through and it’s resulted in some sort of success?


Vicki:   Yes. I can remember, I don’t often get emotional, I remember only twice in my career getting emotional and normally I’m in a situation where it desperately, I thought at the time, unfair. I actually was looking for a promotion, I wanted to get through to the next band, and my boss was being quite laid back about it. He was being quite, I guess avoiding the question. I can remember very clearly arguing with him, and putting a very logical argument in place in fact as to why I would be good in the role and why I deserved the promotion. I did get emotional, walked out of the office, slammed the door, had a good cry in the corner, came back in, and actually he listened. He decided that I had a fair point and I’d made a good enough argument because he did realise a number of things that probably I should have told him in advance in a more constructive way but it also just came out with me explaining in vast detail what needed to be spoken about at that time so I think that really has helped me, that sort of approach.


Amanda:         Thank you for that. I wanted to ask you, we’ve talked about your first 10 years into the career and then that Charles De Gaulle moment. I just wanted to rewind back and just ask you about the children. You’ve got four children, Hannah, Alexander, Natasha, and Sebastian, how old are they now?


Vicki:   19 down to 13.


Amanda:         You have four teenagers?


Vicki:   Yes, I do.


Amanda:         Wow.


Vicki:   Yes, they’re great though. They are really self-sufficient which is fantastic because I’d always said that if there was a problem with any of them I would put them first. To me if they had an illness or an issue or problem I would have changed my career, but as it happened I think then I not needed to do that nor needed to make those decisions fortunately enough, but what I have been able to do, and I constantly remind or reiterate this to them, that I wanted to be a role model to them. I think it’s very important to have role models and to be able to see how [inaudible 00:14:26] possible. I was keen to do that and part of that was working and continue to work throughout my career on a full time basis really.


Amanda:         Do they ever talk to you about how you have been a role model to them? Have you seen the impact on your children and in what they’re going, ages 13 to 19, they’ll be thinking about their careers now I guess.


Vicki:   Yeah, no they are. We have this conversation only at the weekends actually because they are starting to think that they can take the responsibility, both the girls and the boys, it’s not just a girl thing, because I have two boys and two girls so they understand that they need to be responsible financially for themselves and they need to understand that its not an optional thing, it’s something that needs to be, is good for you and it’s a positive thing. We are here to do some sort of work and some sort of good in this world, so that’s really where we’re coming from.


Amanda:         They’ve got those values of contribution and putting into the world?


Vicki:   Yeah, I think they’re getting there. They are teenagers remember, so it’s going to take a few more years to get them to actually understand it but yeah I can see the green sheets of that sort of thinking going on so that’s good.


Amanda:         Do you still have a nanny or how does it work now when we’re working and you’re … I’m guessing you’re still not flying around after that Charles De Gaulle moment?


Vicki:   No I’m not flying, fortunately, and haven’t done for many years on a regular basis anyway, but what’s working now is my husband runs his business from home so he does a few kiddie runs in terms of activities and things like that. They are pretty self-sufficient, but there are still a few runs that they need to do. My daughter, age 16, is a national level, she performs national level to [inaudible 00:16:51] so she trains 16 hours a week so there’s still those sorts of activities to get them to. I have a cleaner and I have had au pair’s but they come and go so it depends on how I’m feeling as to whether that works or not but mostly in the last few years, it has been around au pair’s and cleaners that help me out, so I don’t have to do absolutely everything myself, but also the kids have got to do their chores as well. That’s the way it works.


Amanda:         I’m very interested to know how you get the kids to do their chores?


Vicki:   Well it’s a lifelong battle I think but they’re certainly better with it than they used to be and I think as they get older they get a bit more mature. They do start to understand they need to do a few things. Yes, they will help if asked to clean now which is good, rather than ignoring the subject, but yes I don’t think you ever win that battle entirely.


Amanda:         Yeah. I don’t think I’ve met anybody yet who has children who quietly get on with a job regularly without being asked.


Vicki:   No, it doesn’t happen I don’t think. Certainly not with my children anyway. They might exist somewhere but no I haven’t come across. I have a 13-year-old, he’s very good but he needs to be asked and sometimes I get response that’s a little bit like, it sounds like a caveman rather than a human being.


Amanda:         I wanted to ask you about the outsourcing thing because one of the things I think that women come up against is if they haven’t achieved a level of seniority in their role, which evidently you had, or putting it bluntly, they haven’t achieved a level in their career where they can get the help with childcare for example, get the nanny or whatever. We’ve all heard about the issues with the cost of childcare at the low end of the scale, but there’s also I think a very real problem for professional women who possibly starting out in management or mid-level management and their salary is not able to support them with the outsourcing they need and the issue is that they go into a viscous circle of getting completely frazzled, trying to grow their career and also trying to have to do everything at home as well. I’m interested to know what you think about that? What is it that we can do about that because I do see this is a very real issue for women kind of stuck in the middle.


Vicki:   Yeah I do agree with you. I think there is an issue. I have always been quite, I guess really discerning about what help and childcare I choose. I would always be really quite clear about the criteria for a nanny or an au pair or even a cleaner, anyone that comes into the house. I know exactly what I’m looking for and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t work out and if it doesn’t work out, move on, nip in the bud, move on because things won’t change very easily normally. It’s better to make a fast decision and admit that you made a mistake if you have done that, but I think we still tend to be very cautious.


A lot of people I know are very cautious about au pairs, their foreign, they don’t understand my children, they can’t communicate very well, etc. etc. I think we’ve got to be more flexible. I think many au pair’s that I have had have been more than capable. Their English might not be perfect but they are very intelligent, they learn fast if you work with them and help them and build their confidence than they can be fantastic. I’ve had au pair’s that stayed with me for two to three years sometimes, so it just depends on how you work with them, but it also means that you do have to take a bit of a risk so not every [inaudible 00:21:28] is some ultimately qualified. An au pair’s not qualified, a nanny is qualified of course.


It’s that balance between the two and being as flexible as possible around your childcare solutions, which means that ultimately it’s the cheapest possible as well because an au pair is much cheaper. You do have to have a room for them. An au pair is live in so you have to have a room for them in your house or nearby. It can be difficult but I think we do tend to be very bit precious, a little bit black and white about that they must be this and they must be that. I think if we can be more flexible, encourage people to take the responsibility because often if they’ve had brothers and sisters, they’ve looked after brothers and sisters, they’re fairly capable, you know that they’re intelligent because they’re in the middle of a university course or they’ve done a university course, than you’re in pretty good shape there.


You are in pretty good shape and you can spot it if there’s a problem and you can nip it in the bud. That’s the way I worked on the basis of which I’ve done it and that’s been, for me, quite a good way of doing it but you do have to mange them properly.

Amanda:         Mm-hmm (affirmative). Again, it’s another management role basically.


Vicki:   It is. I mean I say it all the time. I manage at home, I manage at work. That’s the way it is. I don’t think you can do this sort of thing unless you’re happy with that really. It’s very difficult.


Amanda:         I remember when I was in IT having, we moved house and Max was six months old and I was coming back from maternity leave and I found a child minder who I thought was very very happy with, very comfortable with, but the problem that we couldn’t figure out was that the child minders hours, which I think were, I can’t remember, probably 8:00 or half past 7:00 until 6:00, did not cover me for my hours plus travel, so there was no way that if I was travelling to my office everyday, which about an hours drive away, down the M56, that I could get back to pick Max up in time. My solution to that was to apply for flexible working and to ask if I could work from home, and the response was, you’ll laugh at this, “There’s no such thing as a part-time project manager,” and, “No you can’t work from home because that would be setting a precedent.”


Vicki:   Hard work, right?


Amanda:         Yeah it is. I think it comes back to what we were saying earlier, before we started recording the interview, you were talking about how important it is to choose your manager.


Vicki:   Yeah, no that is really a very important thing and that’s not always possible of course, I appreciate that, but I do encourage anyone to try and do that if you’ve got an opportunity than choose and choose your manager almost as important as your role.


Amanda:         I agree. You say it’s not always possible but I have seen so many times with people who are miserable in their career and it seems to me, I would say they’re miserable in their career and I’d say about 70% or 80% of the time, they’re miserable in their career because of the manager that they have. I think when it gets to that point, whether it’s to do with your work life balance or whether it’s to do with feeling valued or whether it’s to feel that you’re not, any other reason, if you have a manager who is toxic or who’s not forward thinking or any number of reasons, then it is time to look for a new manager, whether that’s in your organisation or outside the organisation because there’s not really much you can do. You can’t change them, can you?


Vicki:   No you can’t change them but I have been in a situation where I have actually had to put up with it for a few months, for half a year or whatever it is in order to then, another reorganisation comes around the corner and you can start to influence where you report in, what you do, etc, so sometimes you have to bide your time depending on where you are in the year and what’s happening in the organisation but I think it’s definitely, you have to have a plan. You definitely have to have a plan and always have a plan B.


You’re on one line of thinking but at any time, especially in IT, there’s always the opportunities and transformations happen all the time. The business organisers transform every six months in IBM so you really have to make sure that you’ve got a plan B, you know if this plan A, that the job that I’m doing now in the organisation I’m doing now, were to fail for some reason, which is possible, then what would I do? That’s the plan B and that’s the way I’ve worked, certainly, in the last 15 years I would say because it’s been essential to have some other ways of looking at things and another option.


Amanda:         It goes back to the way you feel I guess and if you feel that there’s a way out and you’ve got your cunning plan in the background, as it all goes to hell in a hand cart, then it’s always easier to deal with a difficult situation in the present period of time.


Vicki:   Yes, exactly, but as you know you can press a button any other time because you’ve got options.


Amanda:         Yes. Options are a great thread of creativity I think.


Vicki:   Yes.


Amanda:         Okay. I know you do a lot of work supporting gender diversity initiatives and I wanted to ask you about Connecting Women at IBM that you founded in, was it 2009?


Vicki:   Yup, that’s right. We’ve been going for awhile now. Yup.


Amanda:         Did you have a specific mission when you started Connecting Women?


Vicki:   I think to be fair we knew that we wanted to create a network where women felt safe to vent, to have an environment in which they could talk about work issues and get advice and guidance from mentors in the business who understand the situation they’ve been in, so that was the first thinking. Then, I think it’s developed over time and it’s got a little bit more sophisticated as a well of also providing personal development opportunities and networking, really. Understanding where the next role could be, so that’s really added to the strength of the network over time.


Amanda:         How many members do you have in connecting women now?


Vicki:   Well, on a regular basis we will have, we operate it by office, so effectively by region. Scotland, Manchester, Lee, Warwick, London, etc., so there’s about 12 or so locations which are operated by a location leader. Typically if we have an event all together than we can have anywhere from 300 to 500 people attend. We do a lot of bottom line events. We are able to contact and have as part of the network, of the e-mail, everyone in the U.K., all women in the U.K., which is about 5,000. We e-mail everyone and we end up having, probably I’d say, about 20% of those who are regular attendees and they understand what the networks there for and how it can support them in their careers.


It varies according to subject in terms of how many members we have and who attends and what level and what seniority. It really does depend on the sophistication of the project and the subject area we’re talking about. No, I was just going to say, it is very well supported which is fantastic and to still have the role today, increasingly as the other domestic constituents do with the other networks in the U.K. as well so we link up with them quite a bit now.


Amanda:         Within connecting women and also within your role, I actually forgot to mention, as a member of the U.K. women’s leadership team for gender diversity, within IBM, what do you think, what is the kind of … What am I trying to ask here? Relating that to the gender pack out which has bene in the news a lot recently, a study from Deloitte said it’s going to take 50 years to close it in the U.K. and then the world economic forum said that it’s going to take 171 years globally, which is up from 118 years. Obviously you’re kind of at the centre of supporting gender diversity within technology. What is it that we’re doing, I guess I wanted to ask, what is it we’re not quite getting it right yet?


Vicki:   Well I think there are a couple of areas. Firstly, we are still not making the IT sector attractive to women. I think it’s still seen as geeky and a bit boring and despite the fact that everyone’s got a mobile phone, they still don’t relate it to the fact that this is the world we’re in now. It’s much more of a consumer led world and much more mobility and much more apps driven then it ever has been, even business to business in IT is going much more that way. I think we’re not doing a good enough job in getting across the career opportunities there are to women and the opportunities we’ve got, which are broad and exciting and really developing all the time so they’re becoming very exciting given the pace and the rate of change of technology. I think that’s one thing.


I think we’re also, it’s a lot down to women’s choices and a lot of women I think opt out. They decide not to continue their work if they did have a professional role. Before children do they continue? Some of them don’t and why is that and what happens there? Well, women I’ve spoken to, they genuinely aren’t encouraged to stay and I think there’s a lot about something we can do from an employer point of view to reach out to those women, to keep in touch with those women, to ensure that they understand that there isn’t anything to be scared of here. They’ve got more complications and more difficulties within their lives because they’ve chosen. It is more complex having children and working, but there’s nothing to be scared of. There’s plenty of people who’ve done it and done it very successfully, so you need to have a little bit of, I guess a ballsy attitude towards moving on and getting the place you want in your career. I think if you’ve got that thick skin you can really make some progress but you have to take on the fight. Take on the roles.


Amanda:         You do. It takes courage and what I see a lot is …


Vicki:   Courage, yeah.


Amanda:         Yeah, women get frightened and I think they get frightened that where they are now and the role that they are now is the only one and if they move then they will have undone the good work and there’s a certain loyalty and I’ve seen it a lot with other people saying, “You’re on to a good thing now,” and if they want to expand, if they want to advance their career, it’s that risk, it’s that can I afford to take that risk? What about the mortgage?


Vicki:   Yes. I think it is tough. It’s not easy to make that decision but nine times out of 10 there are enough people around to support you and give you advice. As long as you take advantage of the people around you, and you really do hook in with and find role models, find people to talk to, I think you’ll get the support if you reach out. That’s been my experience.


Amanda:         For those people who are listening and who are perhaps thinking, “Well I don’t have anyone within my organisation to reach out to,” what advice would you give them?


Vicki:   Find someone outside your organisation would be good. It doesn’t matter. There are plenty of networking events around, too many almost, and I think there are plenty of women who are more senior who are willing to help and willing to give their time and give their advice. It’s only really a phone call or an event away. You could start to build a relationship with somebody that could really make the difference and I’d encourage anyone who’s in that situation to do it and outside your organisation sometimes is a really good thing.


Amanda:         I think so too. I tend to say to people, just use LinkedIn, start seeing who you’d like to sound off on LinkedIn because networking now can be done online before it’s actually done in person.


Vicki:   Yup. It works, it definitely does, and people are much more open if you are clear about what you are asking. Even if someone asks me something but I don’t know who they are, as long as they’re asking me in the way that makes a huge amount of sense to me, I know who they work for or what the situation is or I can relate to it and I can help them, then that’s fine. I would give them that support.


Amanda:         What you’re saying, be clear about what you’re asking is be very specific, “I need some help to, I want to change my career, I want to change the industry,” can you help?


Vicki:   Yeah. I mean, I don’t think we need to beat about the bush. It’s really easy these days to have those, you can message anyone you’re LinkedIn with and it’s hugely valuable. I’m not sure it’s really used as much as it should be as a platform, as a way of really moving. I think more men than women use it. I don’t know. I seem to gather a lot more of that sense at the moment but I think we really do need to make sure that we use all the tools at our disposal.


Amanda:         I think one of the things that gets in women’s way is the, “Oh my gosh, what will other people think of me? They’ll think I’m pushy? Who am I, who is little old me, to contact that person who’s a senior director? They’ll never pay attention to me,” so maybe you can reassure anybody listening to this as a senior director how you would handle somebody reaching out for help.


Vicki:   Well I would suggest if someone articulates, and it has to be short and easy to read and respond to, we don’t want huge diatribes of messages going around because I think that really is a bit of a put off but if someone’s clear about what they’re asking for, than I think that’s absolutely fine. I would suggest go for it. What’s the worst could happen? They don’t respond. Probably the worst thing that could happen but if you actually are really targeted with your question, you link in to someone to say, “I see that you’ve got this particular expertise in big data or in the analytics business, I’m trying to solve this particular problem or I’m looking at moving into that area, would you prepare to have a phone call with me,” then I think that’s a good way to progress. It’s a good way to have a conversation.


Amanda:         Yeah, absolutely, thank you for that. Vicki, just before we wrap up, there was something that I wanted to ask you about related to attracting more girls into technology. I came across an article the other day and it was about engineers saying that only 8% engineers in the U.K. are women. The article posed a really interesting solution at the end for attracting more girls into engineer and it was about presenting an engineer career as problem solving to girls because there was a theory there, which I actually agree with, that girls like to focus on that purpose rather than on the how, on the process of it. Apparently one university has even created a degree in humanitarian engineering, so the focus is on designs, for example as an engineer you could design and affordable solution for clean drinking water. You could make a difference, or for medical diagnostic equipment, and that’s shown to, it’s drawn women to the course. What do you think of that?


Vicki:   I think it sounds fabulous. I think we know that if we use the right wording in job adverts or in words that attract women, that we will get more women to apply. Same thing in trying to get women into engineering, it helps to have a female friendly set of words and there have been a lot of studies done on this subject and if it does appeal to that problem solving side, the purpose, strategic input and also supporting humanity and people that are less fortunate than ourselves, I think that’s a huge, huge benefit, and I find that when I do use those sorts of wording or use something that really just appeals and is slightly less, I guess less clinical.


A little bit more female friendly than it makes a big difference. I think there’s a lot to be said about using that sort of strategy for getting women into tech because we really have still got a huge problem and although IBM hires 50/50, men to women, that doesn’t sustain throughout as we know. We need to have those sorts of strategies in place when we’re building, and reaching out to our schools and universities, etc. I think it’s a fantastic idea.


Amanda:         I like the idea about a female friendly set of words.


Vicki:   Yeah. We know. It does work.


Amanda:         Is that kind of avoiding jargon. Again, as you said, focusing on the purpose, on the why, on the how you can help rather than on a whole load of technical jargon and programming language in a job advert, is that what you mean by female friendly set of words?


Vicki:   Yeah, I don’t think I would suggest that we hide the skills that are required to do a particular role because that would be incorrect but I think we do need to make a job advert or an engineering degree or something we’re trying to attract women into something that actually speaks to women. That uses their language. That reaches out to them in the way that touches them. That’s what’s important and the more we know about how to do that, the better. We need to implement those strategies. I think they work, they definitely work.


Amanda:         Do you think we’ll be able to close the gender pay gap in the U.K. in less than 50 years?


Vicki:   Yes, because more men are on board with that than ever before. I think to have men as allies and men supporting that cause is where I’m seeing things change, and engineering is one area.


Amanda:         Oh yeah, I so agree, and I do think there’s a lot of work to do to help men understand what gender equality means and what it means for them and how it will benefit them.


Vicki:   Yes, and I still think we’ve got a long way to go there, just by the fact that we’ve been banging on about it a long time. It always staggers me how many male leaders don’t understand why we’re having the conversation. They don’t understand that more diverse teams are more successful. If you have that diversity, you will get more success, you will increase your bottom line and we know that from all of the McKinsey studies that we’ve done since 2001. It really is a story that needs to be understood and acknowledged by male leaders.


Amanda:         Yes. It surprises me as well, especially when you talk in figures and the cold hard fact that it will increase your bottom line if you get a 50/50 male female split and there’s quite a few companies, especially Nordic companies I believe who have achieved that and have found that their bottom line has increased. When you’re faced with that, is that what you do to try to educate those male leaders who aren’t on board?


Vicki:   Yes. That’s one strategy. The other strategy is to understand when they’ve got daughters, which works quite well as well.


Amanda:         Tell me more. If they do have daughters, what do you do, and if they don’t what do you do?


Vicki:   Yeah, well if they have daughters then typically they will start to be coming across to the fact that it’s not an even playing field, so it’s not as even as they thought it was before they had daughters anyway. You can normally understand and get a conversation and a dialogue going as you start to understand whether they are thinking about writing their daughters about which career to go into, how to actually be successful. That’s another way of having the conversation.


Amanda:         Yes, that’s a good one. When they don’t have daughters?


Vicki:   If they don’t have daughters sometimes you can also have the conversation, I know our some senior leaders have got autistic children, dyslexic children, that’s a very very common situation these days and so if you can get to understand what their personal situation is, sometimes you can have those conversations as well because it doesn’t matter whether they, if there’s any sort of understanding of how teams should be made up and to be successful, then they will think about how they would employ their children or maybe they’ve got nephews and nieces or normally once you’ve had a conversation with some of them more than 10 or 15 minutes you can understand where a hook could possibly be. It tends to be over a cup of coffee or somewhere, at an event or something like that where you’ve got a little bit more of a conversation opportunity.


Amanda:         Finding the hook.


Vicki:   Yeah, exactly.


Amanda:         Vicki, thank you very much. Thanks very much for being my guest today on the inspiring women interviews podcast and thank you for being inspiring. I’m taking so much out of this interview and I will speak to you soon.


Vicki:   Lovely. Thank you very much. Appreciate it, Amanda, bye bye.


Amanda:         Bye.


006 – Leisa Docherty on Confidence for Your Career

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
006 - Leisa Docherty on Confidence for Your Career


Amanda: Hello and welcome to the Inspiring Women Interviews Podcast with me, Amanda Alexander. Today I’m interviewing Leisa Docherty. Leisa is a Global Director for Diversity and Inclusion at Sage. Sage is a Global Company the market leader for integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems. Leisa has been in people roles for over 25 years and has a real passion for diversity and inclusion particularly with regards to women in leadership and women in technology.

Leisa is also a mum of Felix, who is eight years old, so I’ll also be asking Leisa that question that I kind of hesitate to ask, “How do you make it work as a senior woman with an eight-year-old son?” The reason I hesitate to ask that question is there’s been lots of discussions recently as why do we ask women these questions of, “How do you make it work? How do you juggle it all?”, when we don’t ask men those questions. However, putting aside the controversy, I think it’s something that we’re probably all interested in. Leisa, welcome, and thank you very much for being my guest on today’s show.

Leisa: Thank you.

Amanda: What I want to ask you, first of all, is how you started? Did you start off in HR? How did you get into HR? How did you get into this role that you’re now in as Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Sage?

Leisa: Thanks Amanda. I started out as an apprentice when I was 16. I left home at 16. I left school at 16. I was part of a youth training programme. They weren’t quite as glamorous as I think the apprentice schemes are these days. I learned a lot of skills. I went to college. I genuinely learned some things that I use every day today in my job. When I was 19, I fell into a role in HR, and I haven’t really looked back since then. I fell in love with just being able to make a difference through doing things with people.

Throughout my career, I’ve done a huge variety of roles, some of which I was more enthusiastic about going into than others. What I learned from that was sometimes the path you think you’re going to take, you don’t, and it’s a really good thing to be taken out of your comfort zone and do things that perhaps weren’t on your original career path. I’ve never really had a plan. I’ve just taken opportunities as they’ve come along.

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked for some brilliant leaders and learned a lot from them and had some great mentors and just worked incredibly hard at something which I love to progress my career. I’ve been in the diversity and inclusion role for Sage since the beginning of this year, alongside my HR director role for the UK and Ireland. When I was offered the opportunity to get involved in some diversity and inclusion work, I jumped at it because I’m very, very passionate about it. That’s now permanently part of what I do for Sage on a global scale, which is incredibly rewarding.

Amanda: Tell me why you’re so passionate about diversity and inclusion and also why … It’s probably the wrong thing to say a company is passionate about diversity and inclusion, but from what I know about Sage with diversity and inclusion, particularly on the gender agenda, they really seem to be walking their talk.

Leisa: It’s quite simple for me. I genuinely believe that companies with diverse teams of people … By diverse, I mean in the broad sense, people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and from different educations, from different cultures, good balance of men and women. I believe it makes better business sense and it creates better outcomes and creates better dialogue and creates better innovation. That’s what I genuinely believe. I think that companies who recognise the value of differing perspectives are companies who will really get ahead of the game.

Amanda: What is the challenge for you as a global head of diversity and inclusion? What’s the biggest issue you’ve got that you need to overcome in order to get that lovely diverse mix?

Leisa: It’s not a one size fits all. There’s not one golden nugget. There’s not one answer to making all of this happen. It’s lots of different things. I think you have to be conscious that you never get there. It’s continually evolving. The things that you need to do and what appeals to different groups of people, it’s not a one size fits all. When you’re advertising a job, for example, you need to be sure that you’re not going to target that job at one particular group of people or whether it’s your customers that you’re not targeting your advertising to a particular group of customers right through to …

In terms of challenge, to answer your question, I think we really need to make it … When I say we, I mean not just Sage. I mean in general. We have to be more action-orientated in terms of women in leadership roles and women in technology. There’s a lot of talk about it. There is a lot of debate about it, but I think that we need to be much more outcome focused, that we’re going to make a difference and that we need to set ourselves really, really ambitious goals and do whatever we need to do to achieve them.

Amanda: Could you tell me one of the goals that you have within Sage to achieve that outcome?

Leisa: Yeah. We are looking to improve the percentage of women in leadership roles. We’re just defining what we mean by leadership in Sage at the moment. When we’ve done that, we will be publishing what our targets are. I would stress that we will never positively discriminate, but that we will do lots of things particularly around gender to ensure that we get a better balance than the one that we have today.

Amanda: You said you’re defining what you mean by leadership. I’ve just been having a discussion about this. We’ve been talking about emotionally intelligent leadership and talking about many women, even when they are actually ostensibly in a leadership role, don’t see themselves as leaders. I’m interested to know how those discussions about what is a definition of leadership, how they’re going.

Leisa: There’s a couple of angles. For us, there’s one quite practical one, which is who do we define as the leadership team. You could define your executive committee or the top 30 people in the company or the top 100 people in the company or everyone who is a leader. I think it’s important when companies publish where they are, in terms of their gender statistics, that they’re clear about that group. That’s one piece. Who is that group?

I think in terms of what is leadership? There are a zillion books on this, aren’t there? You just have to Google leadership, and there’s so much information comes up there. We are just developing our development programme for leaders and managers at the moment, around what our values are here at Sage and what our behaviours are here at Sage, so that everything flows through the organisation and it all links back to what we’re about, which is our vision, our strategy, our values and our behaviours.

Amanda: You’re getting clear on the values and how they link to the behaviours and putting that within the big pot that is leadership?

Leisa: Yeah, and most importantly, what does it look like if you’re doing that well or not doing that well? How do we develop people so they can be the best that they can be in terms of leadership?

Amanda: Do you have an example of what it looks like when you’re doing it well?

Leisa: My own view in terms of what it looks like. For leadership behaviours, for me, it’s about creating a really compelling vision, everybody feeling that they can play a part in that and understanding what their part is in that. I believe teams that aren’t hierarchical are important. I believe that environments, where people feel that they can put across their point of view without negative consequences, is important.

A very transparent and open culture, I think, drives a culture where people feel that they can give their ideas. Even if their idea isn’t acted upon, that you get lots and lots of ideas because innovation is you get hundreds of ideas. They’re not all going to be the ones that change the world, but one might be. I think that’s very important.

In terms of leadership behaviours, I think it’s very, very important that leaders are role models genuinely and that they’re people who you can look to and genuinely respect and admire and enjoy working with. I think I’ve been very fortunate to be part of teams where it’s actually fun. Yes, you work hard. Yes, you achieve the outcomes that you’re looking to together, but I think leaders who create teams that are genuinely working together as a team, and everybody knows the part that they play and that it’s an enjoyable and good environment to work in, then I think they’re the best teams. They’re the times that you look back and you remember fondly.

Amanda: I agree. You’ve just brought to mind actually something that was said. I was at a Women in Leadership round table the other week in London. One of the panel members said that something he remembered from one of his first bosses, she said to him, “You need to bring your whole self to work, not just your half self.” It was very much related to what we now call authenticity, which is so much [crosstalk 00:09:44] to being a role model, isn’t it?

Leisa: Absolutely. I think that it’s incredibly important. People know if you’re not. People know if you’re not being authentic. I think that a lot of work that we’ve done in the past here around the personal leadership programme is all around that. It’s all around being yourself and being comfortable being yourself.

In my role, I often … I was actually just talking to a woman today, who asked if I would meet with her to talk about her career. One of the things that women, and men as well, will often say to me, “I don’t feel comfortable to say that I didn’t go to university. I don’t feel comfortable … ” I think embracing the background that you’ve got and what it’s brought. All the different experiences that we have teach us valuable lessons. I think it’s important that people feel confident and comfortable to share who they are and share what their life experiences have been.

Amanda: That’s really interesting. I like that. It reflects on the nature of diversity, all the different experiences. Something that’s just come to mind I want to ask you, which is related to someone who might be uncomfortable because they didn’t go to university or whatever reason. Women who might feel uncomfortable because they’ve got a big gap in their CV because they’ve been at home with the children, either on maternity leave or maybe for an extended period, what are your thoughts about that? What advice would you give to a woman who might be listening to this and who might be in that position?

Leisa: Having obviously been on maternity leave myself, I think that there are a number of things that we can do. I think it’s about personal choice. I think that when women are on maternity leave, or men are on paternity leave, at that time some people want to still be engaged with the business and they want to know what’s going on. Some people want to be completely cut off from that. Either is absolutely fine.

I think giving people choices about how they stay in touch if they’re on maternity leave, rather than a career break, of they’ve completely left an organisation for a number of years. I think it’s important to give people choice about what kind of contact they want to have, what kind of stuff they want to know about that’s going on in the business.

I think a network is really important and that’s something that we’re going to be setting up here. When I was on maternity leave, I was fortunate that I had a couple of friends who were having babies at the same time. Particularly if it’s the first baby, then it’s a whole new thing and you want to talk to people about it. You want to ask if certain things are they normal. Are they experiencing the same things as you? You just want to get out the house sometimes and have a coffee with people who are in a similar situation with you. I think that networking piece is really important.

I think when it comes to returning to work, what a lot of women say to me is the confidence piece. I think organisations can do more open evenings or not necessarily in the evening, at a time that’s going to be suitable for people to just drop in in a way that’s very inviting, that’s very informal. We’ve thought about getting women who work for the organisation to bring a friend who has been on maternity leave, had a career break, just come along, have a chat. To do it in a way that’s very nonthreatening and come along and find out about what careers we’ve got here.

Let’s talk about what experience that you’ve had. Let’s talk about any training that you think you might need if you’ve been out of the workplace for a prolonged period of time. I think after that, I don’t see any barriers, certainly from an employer’s point of view. We just want great people. If people have been on maternity leave, then great. If people want flexible working, then great. I do believe that is a barrier and something that organisations need to address is people talk about flexible working, but true flexible working will enable women to be able to come back to work and work in a way that means that they could be a great employee, but also that can suit their personal circumstances as well.

Amanda: Yes, I agree. There is a lot of talk about flexible working, but the reality is still not quite matching up to the headline of, “Yes, we will encourage flexible working.” One thing that I have noticed having worked with many, many women over the years, who are professional women who’ve built up a career, is that they feel very afraid sometimes to change employer or to take a career break. If they’ve achieved some level of flexible working, they feel that they’re lucky to get it. They’re not going to get it again.

Leisa: I can understand that. I have friends who work in very senior roles. On a positive note, I am seeing it more and more, but what I’m also seeing is … I would say I work quite flexibly, but would I be defined as somebody in the company who has flexible working? No. The more progressive organisations are recognising that you can work anywhere now. Technology is a fantastic enabler for that. I could not do with it. It helps me to manage and run my life. I think in this day and age, it’s much more simple to introduce flexible working for women after they’ve been on maternity leave. There are lots of different ways in which you can put that into place. It’s not a one size fits all.

Amanda: Could you tell us what your own picture of flexible working looks like for you personally?

Leisa: My life is pretty chaotic, but that quite suits me. I’m a multitasker. That’s underplaying it to say that I’m a multitasker. I appreciate the way I live my life isn’t for everyone, and I talk to women about this when they ask me how I balance it all. I work all over the place. I’m in Newcastle today, but I’m in London regularly. I work from home sometimes. What I always do is I always ensure that my son Felix comes first. How do I do that? The way that I do that is I’m there for every single important event whether it’s sports day or school play or whatever it is. I prefer it that I do those things, but I work in the evenings.

That suits me. It wouldn’t suit everybody, but I work everywhere. Everywhere I go, I’ve got my laptop or my iPad or my iPhone. It’s very easy for me to stay connected wherever I am, whatever I’m doing. Being on the train is a great way to catch up on work and do phone calls and all that kind of stuff. I’m the sort of person where … I know some people like to switch off. I find it easy to switch off when it’s time to switch off, but it suits me and it suits my family that I can work anywhere and at any time.

Amanda: I like that, but how on earth do you do phone calls from the train?

Leisa: That is a challenge. I must admit that is a challenge, particularly the train to Manchester. That can be quite tough and obviously not when you’re flying somewhere, but I think that the flexibility in general that we all have now with technology means that … I’ll be going to football training tomorrow night, but I’ll be able to respond to emails. I get into trouble if I do it when he scores a goal, I have to say. I sometimes get into trouble for being on my phone, but it just means that you can be anywhere and you can be in touch.

Amanda: I agree. Yes, I’ve done that sitting by the poolside with swimming lessons with my phone, tapping away. You said one of your things is that you always ensure that Felix comes first. I’m going to whack it to you here, Leisa. Let’s say you get … This is a real-life situation, happened to me actually. On Monday, I got a text from school to say, “Please can you come to a Praise Postcard Assembly on Friday at 9:15 a.m.” What happens is it’s a surprise. The kids don’t know. They have one or two children from each class every fortnight who is nominated for a Praise Postcard. They’ve done something in particular.

Obviously, as a mum, I am going to drop everything to do that. There have been times where I have had some, “Oh dear, what are we going to do about this?” What would you do if you had a very important meeting at the other end of the country and you had that text. You know what schools are like, it’s like give you two or three days’ notice.

Leisa: There’s no flexibility on that side of things. That sort of thing has happened to me before. I had one example where I was interviewing for a very senior role with at the time the UK and Ireland CEO. In the middle of the interview, somebody came, put a Post-It note down and said that my son had been very ill at school. I just had to leave the interview. That sort of thing has happened. In my experience, things happen. Things happen, and you have to respond to them. People generally understand, and people generally will be flexible and will work around you.

Our examples that we’re talking about here are about children, but somebody today, I was supposed to have an important call with, and he’s taken poorly. He’s not well. He’s not around. These things, they don’t just happen because of childcare or something that’s happened with a child, where you need to be at an event. Stuff happens to people outside work that means that they can’t attend things. It’s not the norm, and normally you do get a bit of notice, and you can rework things. I can honestly say in all my career, I’ve never had a situation where I haven’t found a way to manage around it. It’s not always easy, but normally you can find a way round it. You’ve got to make the call.

Amanda: I agree. It requires assertiveness and courage sometimes, doesn’t it, and exercising that muscle, assertiveness?

Leisa: Yes. I think the best thing is to be honest.

Amanda: I agree. Again, I’m putting you on the spot here. You work for a progressive organisation. I work for a progressive organisation, me, and I can give myself permission, “That’s okay, Amanda, things happen.” However, I have worked with a lot of women who don’t work for progressive organisations. In fact, I’ve been in one myself. Where, despite you and me having this conversation here, now, I know there’s going to be women listening to this podcast saying, “Well, that’s all very well, Leisa and Amanda, but my boss or the culture I’m working in does not recognise this. I feel like I am constantly having to go faster and to prove I am super human.”

Evidently, the answer there, for me, is, “Right, we need to get you out of this organisation into an organisation with a better culture.” What would your advice be to that woman … Or a man, but given the listenership of this podcast … What would your advice to her to be if she faced that situation of how to change career, how to find an organisation that did support people?

Leisa: I think there’s a couple of things. One point that I think is really important to make is the organisation that I work in is very, very fast paced. There is a huge transformation agenda here, and everybody works incredibly hard. Nobody works less hard than somebody else because they’ve got a family. I think having flexibility doesn’t mean that you don’t put in exactly the same as everybody else does. I think that’s really important because sometimes I think people in less progressive organisations maybe have a perception that flexible working means you do less.

In my experience, the people I know who, for example, work from home sometimes or have a bit of flexibility, they’re actually incredibly productive. I think it’s really important to make that point. I think in terms of if you feel you’re in an organisation that can’t support what it is that you need to be able to balance your life then I think the first thing I would say is can you find someone … Not necessarily the person that you work for directly … Who could be a supporter, somebody who you could talk to, who could help to influence things? That’s always an option.

If you exhaust everything … I think the reality is that if you work in an organisation where you feel that you can’t achieve the balance that you need to, then I think women need to be more honest with their employer and explain what it is that they’re finding a challenge and what they would like to be different. I’m not saying that will work every time.

I do find when I talk to women, and what the research is now showing … I’m sure you’ll have read it. If women feel that their values aren’t aligned to that of the organisation, they will leave. I think the worst thing for an organisation is they lose a really talented woman and they have no idea that that’s what’s driven them to leave the business. If a number of people say that and if a number of people are honest, it could make a difference.

Amanda: You can speak as an HR director, as a diversity director. You can actually tell us how important it is to retain talented women, can’t you?

Leisa: Absolutely. I think we’ve all been focused … Many organisations have been focused on recruiting women and getting more women into leadership roles, for us, technology roles, but the key is to keeping them, to retaining them. Again, many organisations are now using that as a key measure of their successes. It’s one thing getting somebody in the door. It’s another thing keeping them in your organisation.

Amanda: What are you doing at Sage to keep those women?

Leisa: We’re doing a number of things. We’re doing our mentoring programme, which launches next month, which is a programme … I don’t believe in training programmes for women because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the women that they need a specific training intervention. I think it’s very important to listen to your people in your organisation. I know you know this from the work you do, Amanda. A lot of women do find that they have challenges with confidence, so we’ve introduced a mentoring programme.

Our mentors are all internal. Our CEO is a mentor. our chief people officer is a mentor. We’ve got about 50 mentors across the business, and we’re launching it in the UK and Ireland and Spain and Portugal next month. Then we’ll be launching it across the globe. The ultimate purpose of that programme is to give high-potential women an opportunity to be mentored with very clear outcomes. That’s towards our ultimate goal to increase the number of women in leadership and technology roles.

We also offer a number of different initiatives, too many to mention today. For particular points in the year, we profile women. At the minute, we’re profiling two a month. I think this role model point is really, really important, that women can look at other women and say, “Well, they’ve done that. How did they achieve it? What tips can I learn?” Get the opportunity to ask a panel of women or a woman how they’ve done it and take away what they can from that.

We are currently, in fact, tomorrow, starting a specific programme, which is around technology. I think you can run events, as we do, around the benefits of a role in technology. Sometimes, people have a perception of what working in technology means, but there’s a lot of creativity involved. Perhaps there are roles that women might consider if they know more about it, that they don’t, on face value, consider.

There’s our coding for women returners from maternity leave. There are tonnes of things. It’s not a one size fits all. It’s not one thing will solve it, but there are lots of things. I think the main thing to do is listen to feedback because with great intentions you can go about putting something in place that you think will help women, and, actually, it might not.

Amanda: Absolutely. There’s something you said that I’ve been listening about the mentoring programme and emphasising the benefits of a role in technology and emphasising the creative. One thing I wanted to ask you about mentoring is you mentioned the phrase, “Mentoring for identifying your high-potential women,” for those high-potential women. How does a woman who kind of, secretly knows she’s high potential … ? She’s got something to contribute and she has ambition. She wants to make a difference. How does she make sure that she’s noticed by people like you or by those internal mentors as one of those high-potential women?

Leisa: I think it’s all really about how you perform in your job and what you deliver and how well you perform your job. I was just talking to a woman this morning, who was saying … Many women say this … “I’m not the sort of person to shout about my achievements. I’m not particularly confident. How can I get on?” I think there are some practical tips that you can use, everything from interviewing skills … I was talking to this particular lady about that we have a recruitment team, that people need to use the resources around them, which I don’t think people always do, to get tips and practical advice about progressing their career.

I think an incredibly important thing is that people get honest feedback because not everybody is going to be ready for their next role. Not everybody has got the potential to do the role that’s five levels higher than the role they do today. That’s just life, but I think what’s really important is to understand where your strengths are, to understand where you need to develop. Time and time again, I talk to women and they’ll say, “Oh, I spoke to you three years ago. Since then, I’ve been to a number of events and I’ve done a number of things, but I still don’t feel particularly confident.”

The thing is, we can offer as much support and as many programmes as we like. It has to come from you. You have to find a way. We’re all, me included … I am put into situations where I do not feel very confident. Different things work for different people, but it has to come from you. You have to find what’s going to enable you to appear to be more confident.

Amanda: What about those women who feel that no matter what they do, that they are not being valued, that they are being passed over, ignored, maybe for a man or just maybe they’re ignored per se? How do they tackle that?

Leisa: I think I’ve been very fortunate in my career because I’ve never experienced that, but I know that people do experience it. I think if you’re genuinely feeling that you’re ready for your next career move and you’re constantly being passed over, then I think you have to really question why that is. Actually, back to the feedback point, [inaudible 00:32:04], I was speaking at an event a couple of months ago. A lady came to talk to me about exactly this thing. She said, “I know I’m ready. I know I’m ready for the next move, but I’m constantly being passed over.” I said to her, “Have you asked them why?” She said, “Well, no, not really.” I said, “Well, you need to.”

The honesty of feedback is a two-way thing. I think if it’s not forthcoming and someone isn’t saying, “Look, these are the areas that you need to really work on,” then you need to have the courage to say, “I’ve applied for X number of roles. I believe I’m ready. I’m not getting them. Can you tell me the reason specifically why? What is it? Where is it that I’m falling down and what do I need to do differently?”

Amanda: Courage is at the heart of everything we do in our careers, I believe.

Leisa: Yes, I agree.

Amanda: Thank you for that. A completely different question. This has just popped in my head, again, from the conversation I was having earlier before we started speaking. If I asked you, Leisa, “Do you consider yourself to be a high-performing woman?”, what would your response be?

Leisa: High performing?

Amanda: Yeah.

Leisa: Yeah, I think I would say high performing. I wouldn’t say high flying, which is a different thing, which is why I asked you about the word. I think in terms of high performing, I would say yes.

Amanda: Why would you say yes? What is it about that word performing that would make you say, “Yeah, yeah, that’s a fair assessment.”

Leisa: I took it in the work context. In terms of am I someone who believes that they achieve their objectives and am I good leader and do I do things in the right way and have I got passion and commitment for everything that I do? Then I would say yes.

Amanda: You said you wouldn’t have answered yes if I’d asked you do you consider yourself to be a high-flying woman. Why is that?

Leisa: I don’t really like that phrase. I think that if somebody said to me, “Ooh, we’re going to take you along to this meeting. You’re going to meet a high-flying woman,” I don’t know how I would feel about that. I don’t think somebody would call a man high flying. It’s not a phrase I think resonates with me.

Amanda: I understand. Nor me. It’s an interesting one, isn’t it?

Leisa: Yeah.

Amanda: The power of language is incredible. Just staying on you for a moment, apart from the work you do … You’re clearly passionate about what you do and Sage and the values within Sage. What do you love doing so much that it gives you energy?

Leisa: Loads of things. I love spending time with my family, although I attend far too many football matches for my own liking, if I’m honest. Then doing stuff with Felix that he absolutely loves gives me loads of energy. Seeing him happy gives me loads of energy. I love cycling and do a lot of spinning, which I find is a real … It’s just a great outlet. It took me a lot of years to find an exercise that I really loved, but that’s it for me. That’s important. I find it just dejunks my head to do that. I’m a complete muso. I love music. I couldn’t live without music and just spending time with friends, socialising, all of those things, just enjoying life really.

Amanda: I like it. How do you get in your own way?

Leisa: I am a perfectionist, which is not a good thing, I don’t think, overall. I’m my own worst critic. I take on far too much, which, as I said before, I love to do. I love to have a [inaudible 00:36:25]. I complain about it, but I create it. I think if you gave me a day and said, “There’s not really anything going on. It’s just a day of total relaxation,” I’d be busying myself very quickly. I’ve got loads of energy and I just thrive on doing lots of things. It’s quite chaotic. I don’t think the way that I work is always … I’m not always a great role model in terms of how I work because I do literally do 10 things at once. Although that can be quite productive, it’s not always the best way.

Amanda: For women in general … You must have seen and talked to many women, and they’ve talked to you about how their doubt themselves, etc. What are the main kind of things that you’ve seen in the way women do get in their own way or hold themselves back?

Leisa: It’s just confidence all the way, all the way, with very few exceptions. Interestingly, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with some younger women recently who are very confident. I spent some time with some 15-year-olds from a local school recently. They were very confident. They were very clear about what they wanted to do in their careers. They weren’t from privileged backgrounds or privileged areas where they lived or anything like that. I was really impressed with that. It struck a cord with me because it’s not what I’m used to seeing, but it absolutely is the confidence point is the one thing.

Amanda: It is. How does confidence hold women back into moving into leadership positions in a practical sense? What is it that they don’t do when they’re lacking confidence?

Leisa: I think that right from … This is talked about a lot. When looking as to what their next career move will be, and whether to apply for a role, in my experience, women will really analyse that and think, “Could I really do that? Would I be good enough at this? Have I got enough experience in that?” I think that can hold women back from even going for it in the first place.

The concept of having a family and building a career can be quite daunting. I think from the women I speak to, they’ll say to me, “I don’t know how I would make it work from a childcare perspective.” I know it might sound easy for me to say, but you just find a way. In terms of your mindset … I look at this in my holidays every year. I look at nine weeks and think, “How on earth is this going to happen? How on earth am I going to get nine weeks covered?” You just find a way. I think not overthinking things sometimes. I know they’re important considerations, but sometimes just going for it.

I think being bold is what I would say, being more bold. You said courage before, having more courage, throwing yourself in at the deep end. I always think, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Quite often, when you think about things like that, the worst thing that can happen isn’t that bad. I think just having courage and challenging yourself and being courageous.

Amanda: You just said, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” That’s a great question to ask. “What is the worst thing that could happen?” I’m putting you on the spot here. You might not be able to recall something, but can you think of a time when you were bold or courageous in your career or in your life and one of the best things that happened from you being bold?

Leisa: When I applied for the HR director role for the UK and Ireland, I had a small baby then. The role came up when I was on maternity leave, and I didn’t apply for it. That was a mistake. I didn’t apply for it because I thought, “Oh, I can’t really apply for this because I’m on maternity leave, and then I might come back to work and I might not be able to do a job of this seniority because I’ve got a baby,” and all those things. That was a mistake.

Then a couple of years later, it came up again. I did have lots of voices in your head saying, “How are you going to manage all of this? You’ve got a small baby. How is it going to work for you? What are you going to do?” I just put all of that out of my head and just focused on, “This is what I want.” That felt like I was being bold. I got the job, and I made it work. It paid off.

Amanda: It was actually focusing on the opportunities rather than on the obstacles?

Leisa: You can always find a million reasons not to do something.

Amanda: Yeah, you can. Don’t think too much. One of my favourite sayings is leap and the net will appear.

Leisa: Yes. Definitely.

Amanda: Actually, that was a question that I wanted to ask you. Do you have a favourite quote or one that tends to pop up in your life a lot?

Leisa: I really like the concept that you’re … I believe, actually, that you create your own reality, that your thinking is your reality, and that if you really believe that something is possible, then it’s possible. Rather than a quote, I think it’s more … There are lots of quotes around that, but I think it’s more a mindset about just … I guess it’s what you’ve just said about the safety net really. It’s just believing that things will work out and things will be okay.

The thing is we always have a choice. It might not be an easy choice. If you’re driving home in the car and you get stuck in traffic and there’s this horrendous traffic jam, and you’re going to be late, you have a choice. You can be really angry about that and get all cross or you can just turn the radio on and think, “Right, well, I’ve got an hour of relaxation really until I get to go.” I think you always have a choice about how you deal with things. I’m all about focus on the positive and let your thinking create what your reality is.

Amanda: Choose how you respond as well?

Leisa: Exactly.

Amanda: I want to know, Leisa-

Leisa: Choose your mood.

Amanda: If you’re in a traffic jam and you’re late for something and it’s going to make you an hour late, can you just sit back and listen to the music and say, “Hey … “?

Leisa: The thing is, it’s not going to change anything. Being really angry and stressed isn’t going to change anything. Your outcome is still going to be the same, except you’re going to feel much worse about it because you’ve been angry and stressed for an hour.

Amanda: Yes, absolutely. I remember the first-

Leisa: Easier said than done, I accept sometimes.

Amanda: I remember the first time you and I met on that round table discussion and my train was delayed. Then I had a train to get back to the kids. The actual time we had on the lunch was really, really short, but it was fine because we were all laughing about it. It made such a difference. I think back on that with not, “Oh my gosh, wasn’t that awful?”, but actually, “Wasn’t that great? It was such a laugh.” I’m dying to ask you. I’m always curious about people’s morning and evening routines. Do you have a morning routine?

Leisa: No. I don’t have routine, really. I did say earlier on that it’s a bit chaotic, and it is.

Amanda: You did.

Leisa: I think really I find my life is all about trying to make the time for everything, which I know is a challenge for everyone. That’s our biggest challenge is fitting it all in, but I think it’s incredibly important to find time for you. Whether it is going to the gym, whether it is going and having a coffee with a friend, whether it is sitting down and watching your favourite TV … Whatever it is, I think it’s incredibly important to find a way. I know it’s hard for me, but it’s important to find time to do the things that are important to you, that make you feel better.

Amanda: Yes, it is. We hear that so often, but it’s actually a really important part of leadership. I’ve just interviewed a lady called Amanda Davy, who did a master class for my Academy for Talented Women on emotionally intelligent leadership. She talked about the ten competencies of emotional intelligence. One of them was self-actualization, which is about looking after yourself and creating that time for you.

There’s actually the convincing case, if you’re … A lot of us just go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all hear that. Time for me, time for me.” The statistics behind the importance of emotional intelligence for your career are … There’s just no arguing with them. Apparently, someone who is emotional intelligent will earn, on average, 30,000 … This is in dollars … Per year more than someone who isn’t. If self-actualization, ie, finding time for you, is part of that, then if you want to advance your career, you’ve got to find time for you.

Leisa: I think for many reasons, it’s really important to do it. I do do that, I have to say. I do sometimes more than others. I think it makes you happier. If you get to spend some time doing the things that you love, then you just feel better.

Amanda: Yes, absolutely. I agree. Feel better and be a high-performing, not a high-flying, woman.

Leisa: Not a high-flying woman.

Amanda: Leisa, on that note, we’ll come to a close. Thank you very much for being here today. It’s been an absolute pleasure to speak to you again. Thank you.

Leisa: Thank you, Amanda. Thank you.

005 Tina Freed on How Flexible Working Supports Talent Retention

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
005 Tina Freed on How Flexible Working Supports Talent Retention

Tina Freed is the co-founder of E2W, a financial markets Professional Services Company delivering Business Outsource Processing, Consulting and Contracting Services with a twist. The twist is that E2W have built a successful global business based on flexible and agile working by establishing a model that solves the challenges facing a diverse talent pool of women from a financial services background.


Amanda:  Today I am really pleased to be interviewing Tina Freed of E2W. Tina co-founded a company called E2W, which is a financial markets professional services company. She founded E2W about 10 years ago. What E2W does is they deliver business outsource processing and consulting and contracting services, but they deliver those services with a bit of a twist. Here’s the twist that I think you’ll be really interested in for this interview. E2W have built this global business based on flexible and agile working. They’ve established a model that solves the challenges facing a diverse talent pool of women, in particularly from financial services background.


I’m really excited to be interviewing Tina today because I know that she is going to give us a real insight into what you need to do if you are a woman and you, perhaps, have a family, and you’re looking to continue your career, and you’re thinking, “How on Earth do I do this given the level of flexibility that you perceive, that your organization, or your industry might need?” Tina is definitely the woman to be asking these questions. Tina, welcome. Oh, I want to say, also, is Tina is obviously a mum herself. I’m going to ask her about how she started E2W right now. Welcome, Tina!


Tina:   Thank you, hello.


Amanda:         Hi. You started E2W. I believe you started E2W because of your experience of becoming a mum yourself?


Tina:   Yes, absolutely. Briefly, my background has always been within financial services. I worked for over 15 years in the city. Then I had a baby, and that was a huge impactful moment for me. I realized that the choice, then, about 15 years ago, was to either have a child or have a career. I didn’t think that was right. I saw a gap in the market. The opportunity for people like me to continue working in the city and meet my aspirations to be a mother were really nonexistent, so I started my own business, really, to make sure that I could satisfy both my need to be a mother and my need to have a career. I knew I couldn’t be alone in that experience, and I’m obviously not. I knew that there must be a way that we could offer flexible working for women who want to develop their hard-earned careers and still be a mother.


I also knew and sensed that the city-based firms that I’d worked for could benefit from the experience and expertise gained, and potentially it would be a much more cost-effective way of using that talent. From the outset, we sought to tap into that significant resource pool of, typically, women who’d left the city when they were excluded from financial institutions because those firms couldn’t offer that true work-life integration.


Amanda:         You’ve got a pool of women who are saying exactly the same as you, that it just feels like we can’t do this because the demands that the organizations are putting on us, we can’t meet because of our roles as mothers as well. What response did you receive when you started talking to employers about these women and your idea?


Tina:   When we started, we effectively wrapped services around these women and took those ideas back into these institutions. The idea of needing to be visible, or the term presenteeism is used quite regularly at the moment, was and still is a big issue in some areas. You had to be visible, sitting in their offices, to be working. We proved that, actually, it can be differently and this is certainly not the case. We have done a lot to change that attitude. The other lesson that we learned very quickly and that we were able to get over, was the issue about location. We set our offices up where the women lived, as opposed to where they were working. That helped, hugely, with regard to time for commuting and traveling.


It enables them to be more flexible, purely because their workplace is not very far away from their home life.


Amanda:         You actually setup teleworking-type offices. Would you have different working for different organizations within one hub? Is that the kind of thing?


Tina:   Yes. The other thing which we learned very quickly after [inaudible 00:05:32] setup is that also, women, we didn’t want home-based employees. We wanted women working in an office because that’s what they wanted. A lot of the reasons for that is that intellectual stimulation that people get when they meet and they work together. All our team work in our offices, whether that’s in the UK or in the States, or [inaudible 00:05:57] in Asia, recently, they like to go to work. They like to discuss their – both home and work – aspirations with each other. They deliver services from our offices into our various clients.


Amanda:         How many offices do you have now, and where are those offices?


Tina:   We now have four offices, globally. We have an office in Kent, which is [inaudible 00:06:21] 30 miles outside of the cities. We [opened 00:06:27] in the USA. We have an office in Morristown, which is New Jersey. Again, people who deliver into Manhattan, but they live in New Jersey, so the office is there. We opened, about two years ago, in Singapore. Also, recently, in Zurich for all the same reasons.


Amanda:         You do realize, Tina, that after people have listened to this, you’re going to get calls and emails saying, “Please, can you open an office in [Hull 00:06:53], in [Cornwall 00:06:55], and in [Cheshire 00:06:55], in [Liverpool 00:06:57]?”


Tina:   Yes. We’d be delighted to. Obviously, the more we can grow then the more people we can help, and that’s what we’re about. Interestingly, the last couple of years, we have broadened the services that we’re offering to enable people, particularly women, who actually can work within their clients’ sites, but again, in a flexible way. Flexibility does mean different things to different people. That can be they want to work short days, it can be that they want to work too long days, it can be that they … Some people want to work 9-5 because they’re currently working 6-11. There are different ways and different practices that we can put in place to enable women to continue to work.


Amanda:         If you have a woman who comes to you and she says, “This is what I do. I have this expertise.” Will she typically ask you what opportunities there are? Or will she be asking you, “This is the kind of flexibility I’m after?” How does it tend to start?


Tina:   We do a lot of work in building what we’re calling E2W community, which is full of women who actually want to work in a flexible way. We do a lot of work in understanding what “flexible way” means to that person, because I think that’s fundamentally important. Now, sometimes we have client requirements where we need specific expertise, and others we have brilliant resources, women who actually can offer clients certain expertise. We try and match it that way, as well.


Amanda:         Is there an art to it, rather than a science, or is it a bit of both?


Tina:   I think it’s a bit of both. Obviously, what you’ve got to offer has to be in demand. I think what’s in demand is sometimes … If you like, clients don’t necessarily know what’s out there, if I can say that.


Amanda:         Yes, I know what you mean. You have to educate them.


Tina:   Yes, absolutely.


Amanda:         How have attitudes changed since you started E2W? Is it easier now to convince employers to be more flexible?


Tina:   Yes, it is. Over the last ten years, really, there’s been huge amounts of work in addressing the gender diversity issues. Attitudes have changed. Most organizations, now, have put gender diversity on the agenda. They’ve got to have a sustainable policy. We have, however, had to ensure and educate, if you like, that that’s not just a tick box exercise. [inaudible 00:10:06], in that contracting, consultancy markets, it is quite a challenge because it is a male dominated sector, but we’re making sure that they are aware that there’s a credible talent pool of women who can do the job just as well, or even better.


Amanda:         When I was a project manager many years ago, the new right to request flexible working in the UK had just come in. It was the right to request, which I believe it still is. I exercised my right and requested flexible working. The response that I got is, “There’s no such thing as a part time project manager.” Faced with that kind of response, how would you respond?


Tina:   Because I’m being interviewed, I would respond with, “Actually, we’ve proved time and time again there absolutely is such a thing as a very, very good project manager who actually works in a different way.” You can label it part time, you can label it full time, whatever you want to do, but let’s look at what that person can deliver. It’s the outcome of that work that’s important, not how many hours it takes the person to do it. I think that mindset has changed, but it needs to still change. I will say, also, I think it’s incredibly important, and a lot of the innovation now is around what is flexible working. Ten years ago, flexible working was only part time. Some of our employees work 9:30 to 2:30, and they do as much in five hours as they would if they went into the city and worked eight hours.


Amanda:         I think, as time has gone by, you must have amassed a great deal of proof and testimonials from organizations where it’s actually working.


Tina:   Yeah, absolutely. We’ve absolutely proved it has, and it does. It’s focusing on what that role requires, what the outcomes of that role that you’re looking to fill, is much more important than the metrics, if you like, of how many hours that person’s doing. I think if we can start shifting that mindset and stop writing a job description and put how many hours it’s got to be, let’s think about the output, then I think that’s where we’re going to start winning even more.


Amanda:         Yeah, the Google model is trailblazing that, isn’t it? They have no fixed hours. They have no hours contract at all. It’s about putting the employees’ well-being first, but still expecting a lot from them, as I understand.


Tina:   Yeah. That’s a lesson we’ve learned, and also that for people working long hours, their payoff is that they get the flexibility they’re looking for. They work really hard and are very productive in the time that they’re working.


Amanda:         You know what? I don’t know if you know this, but that is based on the principle of reciprocity. As human beings, we have certain drivers, and one of them is reciprocity. You give somebody something, then they feel the need to give back. It’s a fundamental human driver. So simple!


Tina:   Yes, it is simple. I don’t know why, in a work sense, we haven’t really done more about it. It’s there. It’s happening and we’ve proved it.


Amanda:         I’d like to ask you something about flexible working. It’s come from my own experience with my clients. In fact, I was coaching someone just this morning, and she’s a sales director. She was saying that she’s not as happy in her company now as she once was. There’s a few things that aren’t quite doing it for her, as it happens with every career in every company at some point. She has got a blocker. That blocker is the perception, the believe, whatever you want to call it, that if she leaves her company it’ll be much, much more difficult for her to achieve the same salary, the same seniority in a new company because she hasn’t proven herself.

She hasn’t got that relationship. There’s not the loyalty-based, there. I’ve found that, over the years with so many of my clients, that they might have flexibility within their company, but they feel that it’s almost career-limiting, in a way, because they feel like they have to stay where they are because it’s just going to be far, far more difficult to establish the flexibility with a new company.

My approach to that is that, when you’re looking for a job, you have to establish what it is that you want the flexibility, and have the courage to actually present your worth, but to stick to … Obviously, have that discussion, but to have your set in stones in place. What would be your advice to women like that, who feel like they can’t leave the company they’re in because they won’t get the same level of flexibility?

Tina:   Maybe this is a [trait 00:16:14] of women, a little bit is [confidence 00:16:17]. If they thought about what they can offer and how they can help that business and how they can support a new company, surely then that’s attractive in its own right. Again, the pay off of that is actually you will deliver that, but in return, you want to work in a different way. A lot of people listening to this may think that’s easy for me to say, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Again, it’s about saying, “Look, I’m valuable. I have lots to offer. I have lots of experience that you would benefit from. For me to be able to do this, I would like to work in a flexible way. Flexibility to me means … Whatever it is.”


There is no harm in trying. If the company that she, potentially, could go to isn’t open to that, then does she want to work there anyway?


Amanda:         Yes. It’s about having the courage to go for it, and the awareness to look at the company’s culture.


Tina:   Yeah, absolutely.


Amanda:         I guess, to keep the faith that companies are out there, and, as you say, it’s getting better.


Tina:   I think it is getting better. It is keeping the faith. It is saying, “Look, I can really help you. This is how I’m going to do it.” It’s challenging that. It’s challenging the status quo. It’s challenging them to say, “Why wouldn’t you employ me? Because I can do the role.”


Amanda:         Knowing your value.


Tina:   Yes, absolutely.


Amanda:         Thanks, Tina. Maternity leave and the whole game of playing catch-up on your career or dropping out altogether. I guess, one thing that we can do to address this issue is to introduce more flexibility. Do you have anything to add to that, as to what we can do to address the issue of losing women after maternity leave?


Tina:   Where we are, I think it’s accepted now, and I think it’s got to be, that women have babies. End of. Women do have children. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a difficult thing if you have the right [inaudible 00:19:03] in place to support them during that time. There’s some very simple things that I think you could do. From my own experience, nobody spoke to me during my maternity leave or pre or post having children from my organization. I would’ve appreciated just a call occasionally to update me on what’s going on, and also to make me feel still involved. I think that should be done as a matter of course, and I think companies are better at doing that. I also think that you should have a conversation with your employer about what it is you’re looking to do. Now, you’re not necessarily going to be able to say what you’re looking for in two, three years time, but you can certainly explain what you’re looking and what your requirements are now, and try and work a way that that’s going to work for both of you.


Amanda:         Collaboration, essentially?


Tina:   It’s collaboration, not [assumption 00:20:10]. A lot of the antiquated old maternity leave “let’s leave them alone” I think is completely the wrong approach. I think it is collaboration, it’s understanding what your requirements are now, not assumed that they’re potentially not going to come back, or they’re looking for something else. I think it’s a conversation that, absolutely, you’ve [fundamentally 00:20:32] got to have to make sure that your requirements are understood.


Amanda:         Although, certainly British law, actually, doesn’t facilitate that because employers have to be very, very careful that they don’t contact someone on maternity leave if the woman has said she doesn’t want to be contacted. Am I right?


Tina:   Yes, but again, what I’m saying, it’s about choice. You can say, “Look, I don’t want to be contacted for six months.” Or you can say, “Contact me after two months.” It’s that absolute openness in terms of what you’re looking to achieve from this and what you think you’re going to want now, not in three years time. I think a lot of the issues come where there’s assumptions from both sides as to what the maternity actually means.


Amanda:         Yes. I like that. Collaboration, not assumption. Tina, I’d liked to move on. I would like to ask you about a blog post that you recently published on E2W. For anybody listening to this, if you go to and search for the blog post, “Forget supermums. We need real working mothers.” This is the one that I’m going to be asking Tina about. I was really pleased to read this. I found it really refreshing that the anonymous guest post on this blog said, “Forget supermums.” It reminded me of the interview I did with Kristin Pressner, who’s the first interviewee on the podcast. She said she didn’t think it was possible to have two alpha careers, as she called them.


She said that the reason that she was able to grow her career was with the support of her husband, Daniel, who is the … I don’t know if I used the wrong word [inaudible 00:22:35], but the house husband. Daniel holds everything together at home and is there whilst Kristin is growing her career. I’d love to know your thoughts under the whole concept of supermum, because I think it’s one we’re going to be talking about more and more. Has your experience been that there’s a conspiracy of silence amongst a few elite women to make it look as if you can have it all, only if you’re like them?


Tina:   I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. What I think has happened is that the focus has been very much placed [inaudible 00:23:18] publication, it’s investment, if you like, have been in the Top 100 companies which is where you get that supermum. There has been lots of work done, and it’s very good work by the [inaudible 00:23:33] club which targets women on [boards 00:23:36]. All the press coverage has been around these fantastic women who’ve achieved that board level position. A lot of people now are saying, “One, not everybody wants to get to the board level. Two, there are lots of different women, at different levels within their organization who should be recognized, and aren’t.” I think it’s purely been the focus. I think, and we believe, that the gender centric innovation, really, is much more rife in the SME markets, the smaller companies where it’s about encouraging and repeating the innovation that smaller companies have been able to adopt, rather than the larger companies.


We’ve got to shape the way we work and what we’re trying to do, and E2W’s trying to do, is encourage the larger companies to adopt some of these practices and innovation that we’ve put in place which addresses women at all levels. From people who start, to, very importantly, the middle managers, to actually get to the senior managers, or give them the choice to work in the way they want to.


Amanda:         That point about middle managers is very important, I think. We were talking about this before we started the interview. We both believe that the middle managers is where the difficulty lies because the support structure is not quite so easy to put in place. What’s your thoughts on how we can support that vast army of talent, that is middle manager talent?


Tina:   I think, again, there’s lots of ways we should be supporting the middle managers. These women really are the future board members, if you like, from the larger organizations. They’re also the people who will provide the innovation in the future in whatever field they’re in. Just to share an example with you that I came across recently from somebody who was a middle manager who was asked to take a promotion. She said no to that promotion because, at the time, she wanted to finish what she felt was her current role. She enjoyed working with her team and she wanted to finish it really well. She also wasn’t sure that the area where the promotion was in was the right area for her to go into. What happened to her was there was an immediate assumption where she wasn’t ambitious, which meant a year later she was passed over because nobody asked her again because they felt she just didn’t want to do anything else other than be in that role.


I feel like there’s lot of lessons there to be learned. At the time, it wasn’t right for her, and that’s a great thing, but you need to have the framework to enable these women middle managers to [state 00:27:05] that, and also understand that their requirements are different. Maybe, in that situation, a man would’ve said “Yes, please” and [inaudible 00:27:14]. That’s the differences. We need to embrace differences, but we need to understand why people are saying what they are, and the women are saying what they are, because we need to understand what their aspirations are, and the time scales [for 00:27:28] that.


Helping middle management women is fundamentally important. Understand what their comments are is important to have that mix, and to retain them, to allow them to continue to grow and [inaudible 00:27:45] wherever they want to be.


Amanda:         What I’m hearing here is it’s all down to communication, isn’t it?


Tina:   It is communication, yes. Yes, absolutely.


Amanda:         Thanks, Tina. Thank you. I would just like to ask you a few questions, personal questions, really, about how you make it work, how you run this global company and keep your head. What’s your work-life balance? What’s your definition of flexibility, for you?


Tina:   My definition of flexibility for me is allowing me to achieve in my career and achieve in my family life. What I again learned very quickly, and had to be very disciplined at was to set priorities in both areas, and make sure that I’ve met those priorities in both areas. We know what’s important to us. We know what’s important to our family. I think I was lucky, because I do have a great support network, both with my colleagues in work and with my family at home, to enable me to do that.


Amanda:         What are your priorities for your life and how you run this business, how you are outside of business?


Tina:   My priorities are to … It’s simply to achieve in both and to make sure that everybody around me is also benefiting and getting what they want from it. That’s fundamentally important for me. It’s huge satisfaction when we employ different women and suddenly it all clicks. They feel that they’re able to go and watch the school play, they’re able to continue with an MBA, and they’re also able to help and support clients with their knowledge. It’s a great feeling of satisfaction, that is.


Amanda:         Oh, gosh. I can understand that. For you, you said to me, twice, “What’s important is I achieve, I achieve in both.” I was going to ask you what does that mean? Achieving? It sounds like what achieving is, is that you help other women to achieve their goals.


Tina:   No, absolutely. Yes. It is about that. It’s something that I’ve always been very passionate about. Achieving at work means everybody is literally working the way they want to do it, and that’s great. There’s a great environment in the offices because of the framework that we’ve got. Achieving it in family life, as we all know, is sharing our successes with [our 00:30:35] children, but most importantly being there to share their successes because, as we all know, you sometimes get a finite time to listen to that story, or see them cross the line, and I think it’s been lovely to be able to do that.


Amanda:         Your children are grown up. The youngest is 19, is that right?


Tina:   19, yup. 19.


Amanda:         My children are 8 and 13 … Having children from that age to 22, how do you create that family time when two have flown the nest and one is perhaps about to?


Tina:   How do I what? Sorry, I didn’t hear the question.


Amanda:         Create that family time, that time with your family.


Tina:   Again, it’s priorities. It’s when you’re at home, they’re my priority. When at work, my work is my priority. What I’ve been able to do is mix the two. One [couldn’t 00:31:38] exist without the other. All of us at work share our family lives. We’re all very much aware of where each of our children are. It’s funny when the [11+ 00:31:49] results come out, or the [TCS 00:31:51] results come out because we all share in those conversations. At home, all the children are aware of what we do. I think that’s the balance that I want. It’s not one without the other.


Amanda:         I like that. It’s integrated rather than never the twain shall meet. Is there anything in your life that’s consistently challenging? Do you ever feel like you’d like more time? Or less something?


Tina:   The consistent challenge, really, is the constant obstacles that we face around flexible working. I also, to be honest with you, see that as an opportunity, because the more people who raise it as an obstacle, the more people we can say, “Actually, it’s not an obstacle, and we can prove it.” It is a challenge to constantly have to say, “Look at your outcomes, what are you looking for? We can work in a different way.”


Amanda:         I want to ask you about purposeful life. I suspect that you probably already answered that in terms of what is your life purpose? A huge, huge question.


Tina:   I’m going to go back to sharing both my achievements with family and career both at the same time. It’s sharing and being able to engage and succeed in both areas.


Amanda:         Great answer, love it. Thank you. Do you ever doubt yourself? Have you ever doubted yourself with building up this global company?


Tina:   Course I have. I think that’s a personal trait more than anything else. Can I achieve what I want to, is more a question that I would ask myself. Can you really do what you’re setting out to do? I often ask that. It doesn’t stop me trying. I think it’s important to try. Sometimes, whilst you’re trying, you’ll find a different way of doing it.


Amanda:         Whilst you’re trying, and even if you’re having those doubts and fears, etc., is there anything that helps you to keep going, to not give up?


Tina:   Looking at what I’ve achieved, I suppose. [inaudible 00:34:48] Don’t focus on the negative, focus on the positive. That’s very important. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.


Amanda:         Love it. Okay. Yes, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.


Tina:   Yeah, and that’s important with everything you do, I think.


Amanda:         Thank you, Tina. I just want to ask you, just bringing our interview to a close, do you have a mantra or a favorite inspirational quote? Something to leave us with that we can repeat to ourselves?


Tina:   There’s one which resonated with me a long time ago, and that was the Mahatma Gandhi quote, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” That is about self-worth. It’s about trying as much as you can, yourself, to be that person rather than expecting other people to do it for you. Thinking about that also, growing up, both of my parents always said to me, “You can do anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.” I do think that’s very true. I would add, also, to the end of that, “… So what’s stopping you?” Mostly, the only thing that’s stopping you is your belief that you can do what you want to do.


Amanda:         When you get to that old chestnut, that belief or that lack of belief that you can’t do it, what do you do then? What advice would you give then, when that thing stops you?


Tina:   If it’s stopping you, you’ve got to think why it’s stopping you, and then think, “Is there another way of doing it?”


Amanda:         Feel the lack of self belief and do it anyway, a different way.


Tina:   Do it anyway. It can be done. If we want it badly enough, I think it can be done. It’s not going to happen overnight, mostly, but the next step is usually quite small. It’ll give you the confidence to go for the bigger step.


Amanda:         Yes, baby steps. Take the baby steps first and then go for the bigger step.


Tina:   Go for the bigger steps.


Amanda:         Tina, thank you very much. Thank you for sharing so much on this interview.


Thank you for listening to the Inspiring Women Interviews. You can find the episode show notes, episodes, and full transcription of each interview at If you’d like to connect, you can tweet me @AATheCoach or find me on Facebook @AmandaAlexanderCoach.


Show Notes


In 2002, Tina and her husband set up E2W as a solution to the thousands of highly skilled, well-trained professionals who, given the right opportunity, would continue in or return to their financial services careers. In 2016, E2W launched its recruitment, contractor and consultancy businesses, and became the go-to place for banks to collect the gender dividend and for women to manage their financial services careers.

Find E2W on Linked In

Connect with Tina on Twitter

E2W Blog Post: Forget Supermums, We Need Real Working Mothers 


004 Emma McGuigan, Senior Managing Director, Technology – Accenture

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
004 Emma McGuigan, Senior Managing Director, Technology - Accenture

In episode 004 of the Inspiring Women Interviews, Emma McGuigan, Managing Director Technology, Accenture UK and Ireland, talks about encouraging more young women into STEM, letting go of guilt, dealing with mistakes, owning your career, how to get focused each day… and why you should never say “I was never any good at maths” to your children.

And much more!

Transcript of the Interview with Emma

Amanda:    Welcome to the inspiring women interviews with me Amanda Alexander. These interviews are with female leaders who are passionate about helping all women to achieve success. You can find out more about the interviews and about me at amanda. Today I am really delighted to be interviewing Emma McGuigan of Accenture. Just a brief introduction to Emma before we get started.

She’s the UK, Ireland Accenture technology senior managing director, and the global delivery lead for careers at Accenture. She’s been there for 20 years joining the organization after she graduated with a master’s degree in electronics from the University of Edinburgh. She’s spent most of her career in a combination of financial services, government clients, delivering large scale complex programs with ingrained technology architecture background.

Emma has spent many years driving the accent on women, and accent on family programs. She sponsors the girls in IT schools program partnering with Stemettes. She works with e-skills on the Information Economy Council to encourage the growth of the technology pipeline in the UK. She’s also the treasurer for the Orchid Project, a charity campaigning to end female genital cutting. She’s also a member of the IAB for the Open University and a fellow of the British Computer Society.

When she’s not working, she loves skiing, triathlons and spending time with her family including her three children. Although as we were just saying before … Hello welcome Emma, no skiing for you just at the moment, because you’ve broken your leg.

Emma:                    That’s quite right Amanda. I have a new appreciation for people with mobility issues. I might have a new group to campaign for.

Amanda:               Oh gosh, the leg is on demand, but in the mean time we maybe talk about skiing and triathlons a little bit later on talking about them. I’d really love to start off Emma by asking you about, you do a lot of work in coaching young people with technology. You say you have a real deep love of people and technology. One of your things is empowering those young people to embrace technology rather than kind of within an academic background. I’m thinking here, gosh yes I remember that. For me when I was a child, technology all meant … It was about oh my gosh, we’ve got to learn this stuff to go through exams. You are about moving away from that to get them to enjoy it. Could you tell us more about that. What inspired that in just …

Emma:                    I think we don’t do enough if I’m honest to really have our young people see the potential of what they can do with the career and technology. I’ve been really struck as my children got older by how their uses of technology, their friends are all users of technology, but they don’t relate the subjects they learn at school into the devices that they are using at home. It’s such a missed opportunity when I see the growth of talent made that we have for more people in the UK and Ireland and globally to have more skills in technology.

My kind of commitment in this space is that there’s so much opportunity there for people to have really great careers and again a really interesting and exciting career that I want to share that with people. When my daughter was … She would have been about 5 or 6, she was maybe 2 or 3 years into school and my son had just started. I was talking with the teacher who was the maths coordinator who was sharing a story with me about whilst girls do really well in maths and tend to excel and beat the boys during the first few years at school, by as young as 8 or 9, girls are starting to shy away from maths, and think that it’s not for them and losing their confidence.

We had a very long conversation about why that was happening. We started to explore whether we could learn a programme. We tried a programme at my children’s primary school where we took some of the older children and helped them understand. Through a project, we got them to run a project where they would use maths to run a store at the summer fair, and they would start to understand how maths could help them make money. It’s a very simplistic view of the world. We made it competitive so each class had to see if they could make more money than every other class.

Some of the older children were talking about profit and loss and revenue and they understood how it’s calculated. That application of maths just as a very simple example was something that I didn’t see coming through in the way maths is being taught in the same way that we teach young children around what you get from learning English through writing and reading and all of those to communicate. For me maths is as important a fundamental. We need to understand that application, and we need to make it easier for our children to understand that application.

Amanda:               Yes. I have been looking into a new kind of school called studio schools, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them. They are looking at taking students from year 10 and helping them to apply their learning at that age, about age 14, 15 so that it has relevance in a real world context. That has come about in response to employers saying that children are coming out or teenagers coming out of school with, okay they are starting math of science, but they are not able to apply that in a practical way. Is that what you found when you had that long conversation about why girls were not excelling was because the practical element of how does this work in a real life element was missing?

Emma:                    Yeah, I think that’s right. I think, we are practical people, we like to make things, we like to see how something can be tangible. We run a program, an event I should say in Newcastle last year. We took some 300 young women who were aged 11, 12, 13 to a conference for the day. They went through series of workshops where they could build an app. They could go and understand a bit more of forensic science. They could play with a whole lot of technology gadgets, and they all had to present back at the end of the day around the project, the app project that they built.

We asked of course for feedback and one of the items of feedback that’s really stuck with me was from a 14 year old who said, “I always thought I would end up with a career in English even though I’m not very good at English. I’m really good at maths, but I could never understand how I could use maths. Now I can see all the opportunities in science and technology. I’ve got a whole new set of things I’m going to go and look at.” Actually, that’s not a great deal of effort, but that understanding the application, understanding how you can apply it and making young people proud to be good at maths, and not embarrassed about being good at maths is something that I think is really important.

It’s funny you will all know somebody who will say to their children, “It’s okay if you are not good at maths, because I was never good at maths.” Just pause for a moment and consider whether you would ever say to a child, “It’s all right if you are not any good at reading, I was never good at reading.” I mean, we just wouldn’t do. I think we have to put that same pride on maths, and move away from this sense of it being kicky or I’m no good at numbers. We just wouldn’t say the same thing around letters and reading. It’s a pause for thought when you think it.

Amanda:               It certainly is and I’ve never thought of that. Emma I have to say I’m guilty of that. I was never good at maths, and I’ve actually said that to my eldest son who has always struggled with maths, but actually he’s actually turning the corner now. My Goodness, I never thought of that, I was never good at maths. Do you think that maths is one of those things that … I mean they say, everybody can sing with a bit of training or everyone can draw with a bit of training. Do you think it’s the same with maths, it’s just how it’s taught?

Emma:                    Absolutely, I do. It’s like, you could look at things like everybody can read and some people have to learn to read differently and some people struggle because they might have learning difficulties around letters. We have our education system here which has a pretty high success rate in terms of teaching to read. I think if we were to put the same effort into teaching math, I think we could get very similar outcome.

Amanda:               Is the implication here that if we started early at that age 8, 9 where girls are switching off, and we encouraged schools and teachers to have a more practical based fun perhaps maths curriculum that that would actually be a really great start to encouraging more young women into careers in STEM.

Emma:                    The simple answer is yes, but without becoming too much [inaudible 00:10:42] 5 months. I just think it’s about … And teachers have a really tough job. This is by no means a criticism of teachers, but it’s really hard when the industry is moving so fast. The things we can do on a mobile phone today haven’t even been conceived 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. The fact that I can pay for a cup of coffee on my watch, it sounds fiction a few years ago. To ask teachers, and we are talking primary teachers here to try and keep up with understanding how you can create energizing inspiring classes around technology and maths and science at the young age is hard. What the industry needs to do in my opinion is to make this easier to reach out and to make it easier.

The distant between the technology industry and education needs to come closer to help make this happen. I think math, I think coaching, I think these are the things that we should be encouraging principles of teaching very young children when they are 5, 6, 7. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that. I just think it’s quite terrifying to a lot of people because it’s not something they are familiar with. That’s where it becomes harder because you are trying to ask somebody to educate their child in something perhaps they are not familiar with themselves. That of course is always going to be more difficult.

Amanda:               Maybe we should get joint classes for children and adults to help adults as well. How old are your children?

Emma:                    I have an 11 year old daughter and I have boys who are 9 and 7.

Amanda:               Do you see a difference between your 11 year old daughter and your 9 and 7 year old boy in their attitude to master technology or not.

Emma:                    No, but all my children I think they are very good at maths. My husband and I were speculating whether that’s because there was such an anticipation around being capable of math. They don’t pause a thought a moment about not being good at maths. Therefore, it’s a very natural thing to them. We will do one direct [inaudible 00:13:06]. I have to say, children are so impression limit to inspire their parents. My husband and I would both say the kind of maths and the logic based thinking is something we were very strong at. Yeah, my children are all very strong at maths.

Amanda:               Is it nature or nurture, we’ll never know.

Emma:                    Exactly.

Amanda:               I like to think it’s a bit of nurture of course, but possibly nature. What do the boys and the girl think of mum being managing director of technology at Accenture?

Emma:                    This is a syndicate maybe that they don’t really quite understand what I do, but they are certainly very proud of me having the job that I have. They know there aren’t many women who have the job that I have or something comparable to it. They carry a great sense of pride around that. My son likes to tell people that his mom is very good at coaching and fixing anything to do with the computer which causes me endless of the news, because I think sometimes Vicky thinks I run tech support.

I’m still their mum. There is a … It’s a hard place sometimes and they are only less so really also growing up first. I don’t think they really understand. They’ll ask questions sometimes to try and explore exactly what I do and who I talk to. They’re sometimes quite surprised by some of the people that I interact with, because it’s seems very far from them and where they sit. They are growing up thinking that as an entirely normal thing to do. I’ve done it back to that nature versus nurture. I think if you can introduce your children to the sense of finding whatever they want to be, but thinking anything is accessible, I think that’s how you [inaudible 00:15:06] to them.

Amanda:               Do the boys kind of … Do they understand it when you are doing work, empowering young women, do they have any kind of knowledge about that?

Emma:                    They don’t understand actually at all. My 9 year old will rationalize that we have a particular focus on school girls because there are not many girls choosing those subjects. He is very stubborn about not understanding why it is that we think, society thinks men do things and women don’t, or women do things and men don’t. Because that’s … Mummy that’s silly isn’t it mummy, because everybody can do that we are saying, and some people will just be better at some things than others. He has a tremendous sense of equality in that regard, a lack of understanding as to why it would be an issue. It’s very strong in the 9 year old and the 7 year old of course adores his big brother when he is not fighting with him, and will tend to repeat what his brother says.

In many respects I think he is heavily influenced and I should maybe say by now my children … When they were very young my daughter started ballet when she was about two and a half. When her brother got to a similar age, and I was thinking I would start him at some kind of activity class. Well the feminists want to drive for equality will say I should put him into ballet. I also didn’t want my son to become some kind of social pone in my belief system. I struggled as we all do as parents as to what the right thing was to do. I started him in a football class, and as soon as he started football my daughter said, well I want to play football. I moved the football class so they could both start football, and then my son said, well why don’t I do ballet, I want to do ballet.

They were 11 and 9, actually my daughter doesn’t do ballet anymore, but she still plays football, and my son is a 9 year old student of ballet and football. I have to say my kids have grown up thinking everything is accessible to them, very much in a nutshell, but almost in a self influencing nurture, because they don’t draw distinctions between themselves. Having said that they have very different habits as you would expect from young people, plus my 9 year old son would happily play on Minecraft on an iPad for hours on edge. My daughter will quickly become bored. There were some stereotypes how you are using that too.

Amanda:               Yeah, did your 11 year old daughter see you as a role model or she kind of not there yet?

Emma:                    That’s a really difficult question Amanda. I was asked to do a video recently by Accenture with an amazing team from the Dear World project which is led by a man called Robert Fogarty who I have I met a few times and he is amazing. He gets people to tell a story through photography and writing a message on with marker pen. He did a portrait of me a few months ago, where I had girls do tech 2, and it’s my twitter handle photo, all written on my own. I was asked by Accenture to do a video around that, and Robert did this piece where I had to read a letter, an imaginary letter just to my daughter. It took quite a few takes for me to do it without being … Without breaking down into tears I have to tell you.

I did a letter which was a dear Maggie, my 11 year old daughter letter, where I spoke to her about having self belief ,and if she wanted to do something believe she could do it and give it a go, and if it didn’t work out try again. Don’t let anybody tell you the things you can’t do, do the things you want to do. I showed her this video, because it felt appropriate too after I [inaudible 00:19:34] hesitant. In the recording it’s quite clear I was quite emotional, and it made her well up, and she went and told me she watched it again on her own, and how it meant a lot to her that I had done that.

Well as role model is not … It feels like a very formal thing for my daughter, she is thinking me of. I do think she can see in me that I can do, that you can do, that she can do whatever she wants to do just as I have done. What I have done isn’t what most women have chosen to do.

Amanda:               Wow, that’s really powerful, it will stay with her one [inaudible 00:20:16] I think.

Emma:                    I hope so; her brothers couldn’t understand why the letter wasn’t to them too.

Amanda:               You are going to have to do another two.

Emma:                    Exactly, I’ll have to get Robert back.

Amanda:               Watch out for those girls, I have to say that one, don’t trust him.

Emma:                    That’s why I tell my boys.

Amanda:               I was going to ask you something, role model yeah, actually on that point about role model seems a little bit too formal. You might like this phrase, I was interviewing Jacqueline de Rojas the other week, and she said she prefers the term real model. I like that, real model.

Emma:                    I like that too, I had breakfast with Jacqueline this morning.

Amanda:               Oh did you, oh my gosh?

Emma:                    Yes.

Amanda:               Well that’s a small world.

Emma:                    You see Jacqueline is both a real model and a role model I think. She’s amazing.

Amanda:               She is, isn’t she? She is absolutely amazing. I have got to ask you whilst while on the subject of your kids about because this is the kind of thing that everybody is dying to know. You’ve built your career up; you have very high profile leadership position at Accenture. You have three children, you are triathlete, and you’ve got a dog who is very boisterous and intends to break legs. How do you do it, can you give us a little kind of behind the scenes glimpse of how on earth do you … How does she … What was the question? How does she do it? How does Emma McGuigan do it?

Emma:                    I’m going to answer the question by telling you a story. When I was pregnant with my third child, and this will tell a little bit of something, it’s on my LinkedIn profile for anybody who looks me up. I had placenta previa, which means the placenta is, in fact it was full stage, it was across [inaudible 00:22:35] the womb. I ended up spending five weeks in hospital, and I spent the first few days thinking I was going home, and then I went home and I went home for 24 hours and had to come back into hospital. The consultant sat me down, a couple of days after that and she said, okay, you can’t go home again. I was like; oh you don’t understand I have two children. In my head I hadn’t really finished working either.

She said you don’t understand you have 8 minutes, and I looked at … So she went you have 8 minutes before you bleed out if it properly raptures, at which point I was, okay where do I sit? I spent then the next four and a half weeks waiting for Alexander as he now is to get to a size and a duration where they were happy to have involved my cesarean section. I spent that time … Really there was nothing with me from my health perspective, I was just at risk and I wasn’t allowed out of the hospital ward and I had to have an adult with me, and I wasn’t allowed out of the hospital rooms, an extra ordinary experience to have that much time to ponder your existence and everybody else’s existence. It made me very calm and it made me very philosophical about the things that you have in life.

It made me believe even more that you have to take what’s open to you and you have to make the most of it, and you have to not beat yourself up when things don’t quite go right, and draw the lines in the sand. Stick to the things you think are really important to you, and don’t think of the things that are important to you are going to be important to somebody else. I often wonder if I hadn’t spent all that time to ponder the world and my existence, whether I would ever have got to quite the same kind of calm state of mind. I have a series of principles if you like, that I try and live by where … Which are my day to day boundaries.

Any week could look different in any one day I have a general rule of thumb where I try and have a meal with my family, so we’ll try and have a meal together. My husband and I aren’t necessarily at the same meal, but we at least try to have one meal with the children, or during school days. I spent 10 of the last 12 years only working four day a week as well, I should probably [inaudible 00:25:21]. They are just the things like a part time working are the levers that we have to manage those boundaries that we want to have in our lives. I think we have to look at that problem differently. I think … In fact there was a quote yesterday from a celebrity actress about whether women could or couldn’t have it all. I hate the expression and I think the expression should be banned.

Because most people just try and live their lives to the best that they can, and when it gets too hard you need to change something. Just expect it and not feel like you failed, but just embrace the fact that your life has moved on again and you need to take … You need to look again and adjust again. I think we have to focus on that continual adjustment. It’s like fine tuning, it’s like an old fashioned radio that continually needs fine tuning, be really relaxed about it and I try never to feel guilty. I think that’s probably the only running thing I can give to anybody is to try and never feel guilty, and to try and use your professional time really sensibly. I have quite a lot of responsibility now, and I look at my role in terms of the direct reports I have.

I try much more to trying to coach and influence their decisions and direct them, which is why I don’t really like doing core direct reports. Because I think if you can coach and influence and use your head and not get lost in the detail, or lost in the checklist, I don’t think as professionals we necessarily are thinking of. Thinking is something that I do best when I’m out running which is a struggle for me at the moment, because I can’t with a broken leg, but I have to find other forums. I think my takes are, make sure you are reflecting on how you are spending your time and really use your brain. We are all gifted with amazing intellect, all of us, all of us. Let’s make sure we don’t forget to use it every day.

The second thing is around that continually fine tune and reflect and fine tune and reflect. Know on that fine tuning; know where your boundaries are. If it’s that you need to be … And it will change, it changes as your priority changes, your children grow, whatever it is, it changes. The third thing is never feel guilty, never live with regrets, always look to the future and always go, gosh I wouldn’t do that again, I’m going to do this next week. I don’t think … If you can always feel that kind of positiveness about learning where things didn’t work out, and take it forward rather than dwelling on how bad it was or what might have been. Then I think you can keep that real positive energy going, and that’s how I look at it.

Amanda:               That’s a sign of really strong resilience about not living with regret, looking to the future, and applying the positive energy, self fulfilling prophecy, isn’t it?

Emma:                    Yes, definitely, definitely.

Amanda:               There are so many questions and threads I want to bring out from what you’ve just said. Let me ask you about … Okay so just being devil’s advocate here you say you’ve … Let’s imagine your normal operations and you actually are running, and you are having a meal with your family each day, how do you do that? You know what I have clients who say to me, oh I need to get fit but there is never any time, by the time I have done to commute, and done a working day or … How do you actually fit it all in?

Emma:                    If I was to tell you about a day in the life, and I will tell you some of the big compromises we make. We live in … I live five miles from the office, so I live in [inaudible 00:29:32] West London. I never wanted to live there for any more … It was nice for a couple of years when I was just married and 26. It was my ambition to raise children there, but actually I’m running more than a half an hour from home in a cab.

Amanda:               Depending on compromise.

Emma:                    Yeah, so that’s a big compromise for me, so just to be clear, because if I’m not at work I want to be at home. I want to be at home with my kids and unless they are with my husband. That’s one of my huge compromises in terms of what my if you’d have asked me where I would be, the environment I wanted my children to grow up in terms of lots of open space, the nines and tens etcetera. Now a day in my life when I am fit I will get up maybe quarter to six, and go running with the dog, the dog’s very fit also, or I get up and I sit on my table trainer which is my son’s, my bike that sits in my kitchen. I will have, I might run for an hour, I mean I get up, it depends, I get up earlier or late or whenever. I get up and will have showered and be down for breakfast by a quarter past seven.

I will have breakfast with family and then my daughter and I leave together at about five to eight, and I walk with her to the bus top, then I come in to work and I will be at work for half past eight, quarter to nine. Then I have a full day at work or if I’m working from home, then I have an extra cup of tea at home which is always a delight. I’m on to calls by about half past eight, and I typically then will work and not be home until about eight o’clock these days, because actually my children are so into all of their activities that they’re invariably out swimming, running, football, something until that sort of time too. By the time I get home I … And that could have been any number of activities, it’s not that I sit in my office all day long.

I quite regularly … So today I had a breakfast meeting, I’ve had a client meeting, I’ve met with vendors, so you can be all over the place. With both my legs broken people come to me which is nice, but then and then in the evening my husband and I will have supper together and watch some rubbish on the telly, because I don’t profess to watch anything hydro on the TV. A bit old rubbishy American crime drama with some made up technology that’s what I like.

Amanda:               What’s is your favorite [inaudible 00:32:22]?

Emma:                    Well we have just finished watching a Netflix boxer which was light to me which has Tim Roth in it claiming he can read micro expressions, and tell what people are thinking, which became a complete preoccupation of mine when I was sitting in face to face meetings, quite entertaining. All these crime investigations whether you use bizarre sets and forensic science which is all tracking mechanisms which have a degree of truth, but only a degree each of them. Then we all have a glass of wine or whatever and go to bed, and we always have these intentions that we’re going to go to bed shortly after 10 and then we always get embroiled in talking about something, and never go to bed very early.

That’s how I fit it in. I think when I should probably say I didn’t … I come from a very sporty background, and then when I had children I didn’t do anything for a very long time. I started running, I had to start to build health, and I started running, because I wanted to take ownership of my health again. Running helped me feel more in control of my own fitness and just general well being I would say. My daughter was 7 at that time and in the ultimate she was 7. She saw a photograph in a newspaper of a little girl in a running race, and underneath it, it said Maddie so my daughter is also Maddie. Maddie 88 finishing her first marathon and my Maddie looked at this picture and she said mummy you used to do tracking, didn’t you. I said yes is did, and I could see where this is going. Then she said we could do this together, and six months later I was standing at the side of a lake about to do an adult race whereas my daughter was going to do a kid’s race a few hours later.

After she had raced she was hooked, and not only did she get me back racing she got my husband doing his first race, because daddy don’t you know if kids can do it, grownups can do it. Then her brothers think they’re going to be the next brownie brothers, so triathlon is simply taking over our lives. As the parents in the family when we tell the tale that we all do triathlon together, people look at us like we’re some kind of tiger parents, but in fact it was the kids that got us into it rather amusingly.

Amanda:               I love that. It’s great if you can find a sport that you can all do together and got that common interest. I think there’s too much in … Somebody pointed out to me the other day how unhealthy it is to have the parents standing there every Saturday morning watching the kids playing football, because the kids are actually getting the message that sport is only for kids and not for adults. When you’re that adult you just stand on the sidelines. That never occurred to me before, and I thought, oh gosh wouldn’t it be great if we could have more sport where parents and children were doing it together. I do cross fits sometimes when I’m in [inaudible 00:35:31] and us we’ve got a really thriving children’s cross fit community.

Actually this year one of the things that my youngest Freddy and I started doing it, well I’ve been doing it for years, but he’s really got into it. Every Monday evening Freddy and I do British matching fitness together, and he’s out there getting muddy in the dark and all weather with me, and we do it together and it’s fantastic.

Emma:                    Fantastic, yeah it’s awesome. I couldn’t agree more, and triathlon is such an inclusive store. We’ll turn up for these race weekends, and they’ll be elite athletes racing in the same race as me, and so my kids get to see them and it’s just, it is amazingly inspiring environment for them.

Amanda:               Yes it is, that sounds great, tiger family of triathletes. Okay thank you very much. I really enjoyed that insight into your life and I love the compromise as well, because it underlines what you said about having it all. Nobody has this perfect life with the hills and the wide open spaces and all the time with the children and every day, it’s not all everything. It’s not all tech, we do have to make compromises and decide what’s important at the time, don’t we? As you say it’s that continual adjustment, being relaxed about things and tweaking.

Emma:                    Yes and everybody is just trying to make the best of what they have, and I always feel quite sad when people say, well I can do this because I have children, or I can’t do this because … And it’s like they are the limitations you place on yourself. Maybe if you asked the question differently you could get a different outcome, and I think we let others define too often what we think we can achieve, or what we think we can do. Whereas if we have, if we can anchor in to that self belief, if we can take that away the guilt, and if we can focus on the outcome of what we’re doing everyday about helping or children grow up as well rounded adults. Helping with doors open to them to the future whatever they want to do, focusing on our professional lives around what’s the outcome we’re doing.

Not the number of hours we sit behind a desk or replying to email, but what’s the outcome we’re driving. If we reflect, if we have … I think we have to build that self reflection and anybody who says they don’t have time for self reflection they need to try harder, because we all have to take a shower. We all have to travel somewhere some other time. There are times when you are not able to be connected, and that’s the time to just spend an extra minute in the shower, but I don’t want you to use excess water. Just take a moment to just think about what you’re doing that day, and whether that’s the best way you could spend that day for your current priorities. If we can learn to do that all the time and do self reflection as a daily activity and not as a big run off, and ask for feedback regularly.

If you go to a meeting and you’re not sure how you got on, ask people, did that go okay, did you think, was that all right? Just ask. People think about all these things as if every six months your manager has to sit you down and tell you these are the things you do well and these are the things you need to do better. Actually I think we need to … I need maybe this is what I should, to feel content I have to build that time to just reflect on how I’m doing. Get back on an instant feedback and just re-tune all the time and that just applies to every element of my life, every element. Well so probably sound a bit crazy, it’s not meant to sound crazy at all, but if there’s a point where I think my care, I’m away from home too much, and I can see my kids suffering or my husband suffering. Then that’s a priority for me, and I have to readjust again, and in fact continual readjustment, but don’t ever feel bad. You can’t go through life beating yourself up about things you didn’t do, just celebrate the things you do, do.

Amanda:               Yes rather than feeling guilty or worried think, okay so this is, it is what it is, what can we do to adjust this? What am I willing to do; I don’t know if you’ve ever had this, this is one of my co principles as a coach. Awareness is the precursor to choice, and that’s exactly what you’re talking about, that once we take that time for self reflection, then we can do the adjustment. Then we can decide what’s the best outcome for today, what are we doing here.

Emma:                    Yes, I completely agree with that.

Amanda:               That’s just about raising your eyes above the horizon to see the bigger picture rather than getting constantly head down and just got to keep going, got to keep going on that treadmill.

Emma:                    Yes and it does often feel like a treadmill, right? Of course it does, but if you can put your head up daily like take a moment every day, do you think, this is what I’m thinking and I’ve got to keep my head up, it helps you feel much more motivated and less sucked in to the kind of repetitive or the hardness, because sometimes it’s really hard. I hate to have to get up before my husband everyday and it does my head in, and I’m like I’m so jealous of you being in bed still, and there’ll be little things for everybody. Every day you’re just like I didn’t want this to be like this today. If you can lift your head up a minute, then it doesn’t seem so bad, and then you go actually I mean it doesn’t seem not so bad, actually this is quite awesome. This is quite an awesome thing that is going on here that I’m involved in, and that might get you through some of the other stuff that you’re not enjoying so much.

Amanda:               I love the concept of having quality problems.

Emma:                    Yes.

Amanda:               It’s a great way of re-framing if something bad happens to you invariably if we live in the first world, it’s usually a quality problem.

Emma:                    Very true.

Amanda:               Yeah a problem that’s good. This all kind of ties in to something which I know is core to your own personal philosophy, and as a leader which is about taking responsibility and accountability and not being a victim, isn’t it?

Emma:                    Yes absolutely. Actually when I look at the whole debate around equality, I spend lots of time trying to get us to a place where we don’t have to still be having a conversation about why there’s only 15% of women in technology, in the technology industry and why at senior levels [inaudible 00:42:33] and all that. I would love to not have that discussion anymore. Everybody needs to be part of a solution for that; women are not going to solve that on their own. I’m going to strongly say to the next person that men are part of that discussion. Once resolving on gender I’d like to see us solve on all elements of diversity just as we go by. There’s also a huge amount that women can do to help themselves and the one of the things, and actually there are many stuff from this too, so this is not uniquely women who suffer from this.

Failing to take ownership of your own life, your own career is just … I am still amazed. I have frequently I meet people who are really quite experienced who still are saying; well it’s not fair because. The minute somebody starts on an it’s not fair, then you have to ask what they … That’s the wrong thing. Before you, I think I don’t care what’s not fair, but that’s not how I want to hear a sentence start when it’s related to some, a part of somebody’s life. Because it’s a bit like your quality problem segment, it’s rarely not fair in a true sense of the word at the worst. If you have … The minute you become a victim to what’s going on it’s the time that you can’t … You’re failing on that self reflection and we all feel like this right. I mean I am as guilty as the next person of going through times when I’m like it’s just not fair, why do I have to be the one, why am I the one that has to do this.

Why did it have to happen like this, but if you can turn that feeling of injustice into something where you’ve taken, you can feel empowered then you can drive the outcome. You’ll own the outcome and you’ll be accountable for the outcome, and you get the credit for it. I think this is such an important point, it’s such an important point that we rarely focus on thinking about the way we shape our own careers and drive our careers. Because let’s be honest we can have the best sponsors in the world, but nobody cares more about our careers than ourselves to be very blunt about it. If you’re always going to be looking for somebody else to tell you what you should do next, or wait for that tap on the shoulder, without you actually telling anybody that, that was what you wanted. You could wait a very long time, you’ll be very disappointed.

Amanda:               How did you, you mentioned before that you have worked for, so just leading on from what you said about driving your own career. I’m kind of guessing that probably you got your four day week from taking responsibility, and asking for that, but I bet there lots of people listening who would be really keen to know how.

Emma:                    When I had my first child I really struggled when I was on maternity leave, I had to … I ended up taking seven months of maternity leave. I have to confess I really struggled, I spent the first three months as most new mothers with their first child too is in a state of slight panic. I had anxiety whether I doing the right things, and I spent the second three or four months before I went back to work, in a constant emotional roller coaster wondering how I could ever possibly leave this little bundle of what was most, most precious to me and my husband, with anybody except my husband. Even then I wasn’t really particularly keen on leaving her with him for very long extended periods. I ended up with this feeling that nobody could look after my daughter like I could look after her.

Eventually my husband said to me, just go back to work and give it a go, and if it doesn’t work then we’ll readjust. I was like, and there was a bit of an undertone, and stop being such a crazy, because that’s not the person I married, I’d like to have [inaudible 00:47:00]. Although he never said that, and I had a very … And I just said okay, but I won’t go back full day, and I had for long, long time I thought I wanted to just go back 4 days. I had told quite, I had told quite a lot of people and I said before I went on maternity leave to understand how the 3, 4, 5 days work. I decided 4 days is what I wanted because I still … It was important to me, I kept doing client work. I spoke to the partner, it was a long time ago with the partner and that’s where am going.

I really want to come back to work, but I want to come back 4 days and I want to do client work, can you find me a role. He actually spoke to the client I had been working at before I went to maternity leave. He was delighted for me to go back to them on a 4 day week. I went back in what seemed like the dream outcome, but the client I went back to didn’t really have a role for me, they just liked me. They liked me being around, and that was … It quite quickly became apparent to me that wasn’t doing great things to my confidence, because as anybody you know who’s taking a career break, your confidence takes a deep because you’re not at work. You think everybody else is overtaking you, and you also think that you’ve forgetting how to do everything.

Then if you add in to that that you’re a returning parent, so you’re feeling bad about not being with your child and you wonder about the repercussions of not being with your baby. The not being busy for me was a terrible outcome, and so after five months I rolled off that and I had to go and look for another role, and again I found another somebody else. The same partner offered to help and he got me connected with the partner who was responsible for the whole area that I worked in, in financial services. I went to see him and he gave me [inaudible 00:48:52] he said go speak to these people and tell me where you want to go, and I’ll make that happen for you.

Again it was all about I didn’t know him, and I remember sitting outside of his office thinking, how do I go and tell this really senior person, I only work a four day week, I only want to keep working a four day week. I want you to give me a really role and by the way I want my career to continue progressing. It’s quite, I felt very uncomfortable with it, but I felt well if I don’t do it nobody else is going to do it, so I’m going to go in. I just decided honesty was the best policy, I’m always honest. I speak a lot, I speak really too much, I probably say too much sometimes, but I think it’s very important too. It’s very part of much part of who I am to be very honest and open with people.

To cut the very long story short I ended up going and being interviewed by this client, and I was interviewed by this client and she was a fifty something year old American lady who had been brought over to rescue this failing project. I was asked to go in as the only Accenture person to go and help her and her team and work out how they could get this big systems integration piece of work live. It was quite complex environment and quite complex project, and it was already nine months late, two-year program nine months late. It wasn’t going well. She interviews me and she goes, “I really, really like you, but I’m not sure about this four day week.” To my credit and to this day I don’t know how I managed to do this without pausing, but I said, “Well I’m sorry, but I only work a four day week. If you want me to come that’s all I can do.”

I hadn’t really prepped for that question. I think I was in denial about that being an issue. If you had asked me before hand would I manage to be that bold, I don’t think I would have done? It was the thing I have … That was the turning point for me around the real self belief that I could still do a really good job of a four day week. Having said it out loud and said it so strongly, and said it to a what was going to be my new client, because of how come she … I couldn’t start soon enough for this woman, she was just testing me out. It was a kind of landmark event for me for and my career, because it was where I really had cemented I have taken control, as opposed to going from one role to the next role, to the next role to the next role. We should have my career being to that point.

Sometimes if you know you really believe that’s what you want, you just have to say it, and build up to it sometimes, so the conversation with the other two partners helped me with her. Then every client, I do client roles for years. It’s only in the last few years I’ve done a much more internal role. I’ve been in much more of a doing much smaller roles with clients which aren’t full time anyway. That conversation changed me out for the next 10 years of working on those 4 day weeks with clients, and being able to go to client and go … When they said, “Well what about Friday?” Me saying, “You know what, why don’t I start and we’ll see how we get on, and we’ll see how it is after a month, and if it’s not working for you, then we can have a conversation about it.”

You are giving the client an opportunity to, or whoever it is an opportunity to come back to you, and then you have a month to really prove the contribution you can make. That’s the point that you have to dig deep on your confidence and go, “I know I can do this, because I’ve done it before and it’s just the next evolution of who I am. It’s slightly a bit bigger role, it’s a bit harder, but I can do this.”

Amanda:               Do you ever end up working on a Friday? Do you get that sort of work creep?

Emma:                    Well, I went back to working five days a week about 18 months ago. I went back to five days a week because my work load had become so great. I couldn’t make it work on four days anymore. I decided at that point, I wanted to do the job I had or the collection of jobs I had, and that was my priority decision. I didn’t see it as giving up on something; I saw it as the next phase of what I was doing. Again, I said on a Friday, I’m going to take the children to school and I’m going to pick them up. That was my thing, and I still do that. Well not so much for the broken leg, because I can’t drive a car and a car won’t [inaudible 00:53:39. Well, physically I take the kids to school on Fridays and I pick them up from school.

Again, it’s about stating out the things that are important to you, you are going to do and changing them. They need to change because your priorities have changed, or the opportunities that life presents you have changed. I always thought I would work for Accenture for initially a couple of years, then a couple of years came five and then it goes on. I always had this idea that I would go, I really wanted to change the world. I mean, back to being a teenager thinking I wanted to be the prime minister, because I wanted a place to feel more, have greater quality.

Then you go through life and you realize the things that you are most passionate about. If I anchor back to where we started around young people and skills and careers, the whole idea of school leavers being without a future, because they aren’t in tertiary education and they are not, they don’t have a job or they are coming out of tertiary education, and they can’t get a job. It makes me so desperately sad to the people at that real commencement of their adult life. We can’t help them get onto that first, take that first step into being self sufficient and having a working life. That’s the thing that I’m most motivated to do something about. That and the enabling of women which is why I do the work I do at the Orchid Project.

I realized a few years ago I have more influence in the agenda around skills in young people from within Accenture than I wouldn’t have done from outside of Accenture, not saying [inaudible 00:55:34] but most … I have such an opportunity to influence at the moment. Whilst some people listening might be, “Oh, she went back to five days a week.” Actually I see it as a privilege because next we’ve been at the House of Lords, with digital leaders, and we’re were talking about how to get digital literacy. I could go on. There’s so many ways I get to shape and drive the agenda in the UK/I and particular in the UK that I feel it’s a privilege. I get to do all of that in my five day a week. Running technology for Accenture in the UK and Ireland, I feel pretty lucky.

Amanda:               You are changing the world.

Emma:                    A little bit. I think we all have to try to change everything a little bit every day.

Amanda:               Yeah. It doesn’t matter how small that is. If you are just changing the world even just a little bit, you don’t have to be managing director of technology for Accenture to change the world, do you?

Emma:                    Not at all, not at all. Not even a little bit. I actually think if everybody could just think for a minute about the things, the little things they do every day, it’s mind-blowing the impact we could have. I went to an event recently with the Prince’s Trust. It was the Prince’s Trust Technology Leaders Center which is an annual fund raising dinner. The Prince’s Trust are amazing at making sure that at every event they get somebody, a young person who they have helped who they call their ambassadors to come and talk about their story.

The young man got up on stage and he tells the story about how the Prince Charles helped him to where he is today, and where he is today is as an apprentice at Accenture. I didn’t know. We had met, but we met such a long time ago that I didn’t recognize him initially until he said. I told saw afterwards. I had the most amazing evening because I got to write his celebrity cocktail, because he was obviously the celebrity for the evening.

It’s moments like those where you can think; you can see the influence in so many ways, and how that young man is giving back into the community that supported him. It just makes me feel so good about the organization I work for about some of the fundraising that I’m involved on so many levels. Actually lots of people have lots of stories like that in whatever they are. The things that people do every day to help somebody else. I think if we think about some of those small things, the illiterate story change, and that’s how I think we need to think about things.

Amanda:               Yeah, one person at a time.

Emma:                    Yes, absolutely, one life at a time, one day at a time.

Amanda:               It’s when you get that kind of little, like you have the meeting going or I might get an email from someone saying, “Oh my gosh, you’ve changed my life through what you did with us.” It’s that just one person that gives a satisfaction and drives us to continue putting it out there in the world, isn’t it?

Emma:                    Yes, my 14 year old girl with her, I also have a career in English even though I’m really good at it, but now I can see what I can with my maths [inaudible 00:59:00]. It’s those moments, those moments, they are the ones to [inaudible 00:59:06].

Amanda:               Champagne moments I call them, and often point to values as well. I love looking at people’s values. I’m just aware of time. I could carry on talking to you for hours, but could we just finish off by just talking about the Orchid Project and how you got involved in that, what it does and why you feel so passionately about it?

Emma:                    The lady globally who runs Accenture’s corporate citizenship program posted on our internal social networking site that Orchid were looking for a treasurer. I reached out and the CEO came to see me and with the intent of being in my office. Pretty much like, “What do you need me to do. I’ll do whatever you need.” Orchid is about ending female genital cutting. Orchid works with outreach partners in Africa particularly Tostan in Senegal. It drives a big debate around and to its advocacy and communications programs. We are now in our fifth year of operation. If you look at the last five years, then you might know that FGC is now commonly in the media. It’s been a huge change and also we can’t take all the credit for that. They’re certainly heavily behind a lot of the race awareness, what’s going on.

As I explored on that day with Julia, and Julia is the CEO and she is the best story teller I think I have ever met. It was very clear to me the Orchid view on FGC is that it’s a social norm, and it needs to be treated as a social norm. It needs to be changed as you change a social norm, and a social norm, and it’s rather vulgar comparison. In this country I shave my armpits, because I think it’s expected that I should shave my armpits. Actually we have loads of evidence of people like Julia Roberts having to apologize for not shaving her armpits, because the social norm is that it’s expected that she should do.

The Orchid view on FGC is that it’s a social norm and people, parents cut their girls because they think they will get married, and they think they won’t be able to get on if they’re not cut, but it’s a horrendous thing. You have to help educate around that, and help people understand that there is a different way, and so the outreach church we work with in Senegal, they have these public declarations, and it’s a 30 month program, where they work with them and its local volunteers who talk about human rights and what that means and etcetera.

You end up with these cutting up to 30 month will have these decorations where they will announce to maybe 500 other people from different villages, that they are not going to cut the girls anymore. Typically they also look at things like child marriage at the same time, and they abandon all in this big celebration. When you ponder that for a moment you think about how much enablement you bring with that, because you’ve given women a voice, and you’ve given women a thought around … You are making men recognize the value of women. I can talk about this for ages, but I’ll leave with just with one story, and there was a story of a young man who … This is quite a horrible story, so I apologize in advance.

On his female genital cutting means that not only do you cut the genitals off of women and first and second time as you also stitch up the women leaving just a small hole for them to urinate through. On the wedding night this young man who’d married his wife, because he loved her was told he would have to cut her open before he could consummate the marriage, and he was horrified by this. Now if you pause for a moment and consider this, he had married his wife because he loved her, and he considered themselves as equals. Then a tradition that’s a social norm was really putting upon them a different sort of relationship and making it no longer a relationship of equals that some of the context.

There are some amazing organizations in the UK who do lots of work in the UK run by survivors who talk about, and do lots of work. Orchid is really focused on driving that discussion points and re-focusing on the social norm program, and helping work with some of our partners actually in Africa where there are still very mixed success around ending FGC.

Amanda:               Gosh, yeah, I’m kind of still shuttering from that story what …

Emma:                    It is, but then there is … It’s lovely, Julia has these amazing photographs of these community declarations. What happens at the community declaration is you end up with the community, so they will put together a committee for the community which is made up of men and women in equal number. Together they vote and decide that’s what they want to recommend to the chief, and the chief by buying into the program has acknowledged that he would, to follow their recommendations of the committee, and they don’t always agree, but they agree and run about 80%, 85% of cases.

Then they invite all the neighboring villages along, and quite often the villages will declare in the same ceremonies, and they have these amazing ceremonies. It’s such a celebration of like an evolving culture that they have, it’s like moving forward into the next wave of how they are going to live, so within that traditional communities, but thinking about things differently. When some of those visiting villages see that they are abandoning, then they think well maybe we should too, so you end up with this knock on impact where other villages then go and look at what they are doing and think about their own practices and then they abandon them.

You end up with an exponential impact from these programs that are on in terms of the reach that you have and the impact you have. Senegal is tracking, and if you look at the numbers in Senegal and I forget where they are at today, so I don’t want to give you false number. They are reaching a point where the majority of the communities in Senegal have now abandoned. They are up in a country that in the early 1990 it had pretty much was in the high 90s in terms of adoption and cutting. Change can happen just as change happened with foot binding in China, and it can happen very quickly. That’s there is real optimism in this space and there is real hope.

Amanda:               Gosh, optimism, hope that’s a really … That’s a great note to end on, what an absolute turn around in Senegal, incredible work, wow.

Emma:                    I just get the privilege of being the treasurer and checking that they have everything in place that used to be in place, right. I thought it was a boring job, because everybody else is going to do all the amazing things.

Amanda:               You are the straight guy within, the kind of comedy duo, the one that did come to [inaudible 01:07:23] do that stuff maybe.

Emma:                    Yeah that would be about it right?

Amanda:               Still changing the world as you say it doesn’t have to be all singing all dancing. Thank you for sharing that, I’ll make sure that I put the Orchid project as well in the show notes Emma, so that people can look into it and support it. Thank you very much for sharing everything that you have shared. Is there one message that you would give … You are particularly keen on inspiring young people and empowering young women. If there is any kind of young women listening to this today, what would be your … If you just have one message to give them for them to take with them on the journey into adulthood, what would it be?

Emma:                    You only get one chance at your life, and make sure you grab every opportunity that comes along, and don’t hesitate for too long as to whether it’s right for you. If something for you worth offering it to, then give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, try something else.

Amanda:               Yeah, okay, and keep going, I love the quote leap on the neck will appear, have you heard that one?

Emma:                    Yes absolutely.

Amanda:               Thank you very much, so just grab every opportunity. Emma McGuigan thank you very much for being with me today, I have thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed talking to you.

Emma:                    Thank you.

Amanda:               Thank you everybody for listening to the inspiring women interviews and you can find the episode show notes, and the transcription at podcast. If you would like to connect, you can tweet me @thecoach. You can find me on Facebook, You can also find me on LinkedIn. Thanks very much for listening today. Bye, bye.

003 Jacqueline de Rojas: Encouraging Women in Technology

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
003 Jacqueline de Rojas: Encouraging Women in Technology

Named Computer Weekly’s most influential women in UK IT 2015, Jacqueline de Rojas is a believer in smart partnering & tech that makes life easy. She is a champion for women & diversity in technology.

In one of Jacqueline’s first management roles she was told that the company she worked for ‘didn’t put women on the leadership team’. Today, however, Jacqueline is a leading digital executive and a firm advocate of the importance of boardroom equality for successful businesses. She dedicates much of her time to encouraging and empowering young women to enter, remain and lead from the front in the sector, either in the boardroom or in more technical roles.

An international executive at mobile workspaces company Citrix, Jacqueline has been employed throughout her career by global blue-chip software companies to accelerate growth by pulling amazing teams together who can operate under pressure and extending their reach through smart partnerships.

Holding a number of board and advisory positions, she serves as a non-executive director on the board at Home Retail Group PLC focusing on the digital agenda, is a board advisor at Digital Leaders and lends her support to the technology group of the 30% Club to encourage more women on boards.

Away from her day-to-day role at Citrix, Jacqueline is the president techUK. Her presidency focuses on the ambition for the UK to seize its position as a digital nation of significance. She believes that to achieve this, all geographies and demographics across the UK must be included and we must strive to equip our country with the very best infrastructure and supportive business legislation possible. Above nothing can be achieved unless the UK tech industry attracts and retains talent from right across the diversity spectrum.

Exec @Citrix, NonExec HRG #argos#homebase, President @techUK.


Transcript of Amanda’s Interview with Jacqueline

Amanda: Hi. This is Amanda Alexander and you’re very welcome to the Inspiring Women Interviews podcast. Interviews are with female leaders and female role models who advocate helping all women to achieve success.

Today, I am really delighted to be interviewing Jacqueline de Rojas. Jacqueline is VP at Citrix. She’s also non-executive director of Argos and Homebase and HRG. She’s president of techUK. Jacqueline is a believer in smart partnering and in technology that makes life easier. Really importantly for today’s interview, Jacqueline is a fantastic champion for women and diversity, particularly in technology.

In one of her first management roles, Jacqueline was told that the company she worked for, now get this, “didn’t put women on the leadership team.” I’ll be asking Jacqueline about that in just a moment. Today, however, Jacqueline is a leading digital executive and she’s a firm advocate of the importance of boardroom equality for successful businesses. She dedicates a lot of her time to encouraging and empowering young women to enter and to stay and to lead from the front in the technology sector, whether that’s in the boardroom or in technical roles.

She is an international executive at the mobile workspaces company Citrix, and she’s been employed throughout her career by global blue-chip software companies to accelerate growth by pulling fantastic teams together who can operate under pressure and extend their reach through small partnerships. She holds a number of board and advisory positions. She serves as non-executive director on the board of Home Retail Group PLC focusing on the digital agenda. She’s also board advisor at Digital Leaders and she lends her support to the technology group at the 30% Club to encourage more women on boards.

Away from her day-to-day role at Citrix, Jacqueline is the president of techUK. Her presidency at techUK focuses on the ambition for the UK to really grab its position as a digital nation of significance. She believes that to achieve this, all geographies and demographics across the UK must be included and we have to strive to equip our country with the very best infrastructure and supportive business legislation possible. Jacqueline believes that ultimately nothing can be achieves unless the UK tech industry attracts and retains talent from right across the diversity spectrum. As if all that wasn’t enough, this year, Jacqueline was named Computer Weekly’s most influential woman in UK IT.

Jacqueline, wow! I would love to start asking you about that time when that company said to you, “We don’t put women on the leadership team.” Welcome. Thank you for being here today. Tell us about it.

Jacqueline: Thank you very much, Amanda, delighted to be here. Yes, it has been a bit of a journey, my career, in a good way. About the time when I was told … I went for a promotion. It was promotion for a country manager position. I was running a very big team; hundreds of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars, actually millions, hundred millions of dollars. I was up against a male counterpart who was running a region which was significantly smaller; I’m going to say 20 times smaller. I thought, “Okay, this is mine to lose,” but actually, when I got to the point of decision, I was told, “We don’t have women on the leadership team.”

I heard that and I thought, “Okay, well, I’m out.” It wasn’t petulant out, it was a … I couldn’t look for the miracle here. I’ve always been a big believer in when something bad happens and, to me, that was pretty devastating. I’ve worked a long time to become the person I’d already become. At that point, not to get the top job was crushing. However, I guess the miracle was that at least they told me that I was never going to make it there. It gave me an opportunity to reframe it as a learning experience and go and find a new opportunity somewhere else, which I did very successfully. I’m grateful for that.

I have to say, looking back over my shoulder the person they did choose did not last very long. Some years later, many years later, I went back in a very big leadership position because they came looking for me. There was poetic justice in that. I’m not mad about it. I think we will all, as women in a male-dominated industry, have inflection points where there’s a fork in the road and we have a decision to make. I would say walk tall, don’t let your head go down because there is definitely opportunity out there if you can see it.

Amanda: Thank you. I love your expression “Look for the miracle.” When we’ve talked before, I think that’s something that you’ve said that served you throughout your life, look for the miracle, isn’t it?

Jacqueline:It is. I have a very funny story because I have a very beautiful 23-year-old daughter who is actually not in technology, she’s in musical theatre. Very confident. We only had one rule when she was growing up, which was you may not have a tattoo. Of course, with my NLP training now, I should have known that I was programming her to have a tattoo, of course. She went on her first holiday abroad. She came back and she said, “Mom, I got some good news and some bad news.” I said, “Okay, give me the bad news.” She said simply, “I’ve broken the rule.” I said, “Oh gosh, right. Okay, well, where is it?” I thought it’s going to be in her forehead or [inaudible 00:06:49] where she couldn’t hide it if you needed a serious job.

Actually, she had it on her foot, the side of her foot, in beautiful italics. She said, “The good news is, is that it’s something that you taught me and something that I hold very dear and I live my life by.” She’s had him scrolled and inscribed on her foot, “Look for the miracle.” I am delighted to have brought it on, but so be careful what you wish for and be careful how you’re programming your children because they do exactly what you tell them to do.

Amanda:What good programming. I think I could accept that tattoo on the side of the foot, “Look for the miracle” on it.

Jacqueline: Exactly.

Amanda:How did you start your career? You’ve talked about what happened when you came up against that attitude of “We don’t employ women at senior management level.” You went elsewhere, but that was obviously some way into your career when you’re going for promotion. How did you start?

Jacqueline:I did a European business degree in Germany and I did it in German, so the thesis was written in German. We have to learn French at the same time. I’ve done A-level French and German at the time, so I was fairly able to communicate, but not finding myself then, and then finished my degree and came back to London and realized that I needed to earn some money. Of course, my ambition, my dream, had always been to do something like, and I’d always thought I would be reading the news on BBC at 06:00 doing something dramatic like declaring peace or maybe even war these days, but that wasn’t to be.

I was offered a role as a technology recruiter, so recruiting talent into tech industry. After about two years of that, I decided that selling a product that talked was quite complicated. I went to work for my best client which was a company called Synon and I worked for them. That was my entree into software and I have been in the industry ever since. A software executive in a company selling AS400 computer-aided software engineering, so a complete different outcome to be BBC newscaster I had huge ambitions to be.

Amanda:You’ve been in technology for how many years now?

Jacqueline: Twenty-seven and a half.

Amanda: When you started your career where you arrived in technology unexpectedly 27 years ago, did you create goals and did you have anything in mind like, “Yes, by 2015, I want to be voted most influential woman in IT and be VP of Citrix,” obviously not so specific. Did you have big goals, big dreams, big ambitions?

Jacqueline: The tech industry has moved at such a pace that it’s hard to set goals that far out. Three years in this industry is a long, long time and the landscape changes all the time. I have been so excited and blessed to be in an industry that has had such changing horizons, opportunities and has created massive ambition in me, but almost without the need to set huge goals because there are always crushing timelines. There’s always innovation, which says, “We’re going to try something extraordinary next” or “We’re going to create impact for people that has huge business change implications.”

I haven’t had to create enormous goals, but what I have done is, looked at my values inside, what I want and how I want to achieve what I achieve. I’ve looked at the things that have been important to me as I’ve moved through my journey, so looking after my family whilst holding very frenetic job schedule has been something I’ve had to really work hard at. I think having a personal life and trying to achieve work-life balance is also fairly complicated in a job as demanding as any of the ones I’ve ever had. I think part of that is because being in a male-dominated technology world, I felt the need. I don’t know if everyone else feels the need, but I have heard it said. I have felt the need to prove myself much, much more than my male colleagues.

I’m not sure is that my innate fear of failure which is my biggest driver. I really felt that pushing myself harder than my colleague, proving to myself, actually, and perhaps to my family that I was worthy even though I’d followed a path, which was perhaps not so expected. I think people expect their children to be doctors, nurses, teachers, whatever. I’m not sure technology exec was in the list of things that my parents expected of me. That was a big proving journey for me. I think the goals and ambition piece came from a different direction, not from the ones that the business would set for me but ones that I would set for myself and mostly personal.

Amanda: Proving yourself and pushing yourself has always been the driver rather than anything external.

Jacqueline: It has and I think that’s because I came from a very humble background. I was in a broken family where my mother left her Chinese husband … I’m half Chinese … when I was eight and I acquired a new stepfather, who I didn’t particularly like at the time. I think it’s always tricky to come into that world of “happy families,” in inverted commas, and try to make that work. I remember at the age of O-levels, GCSEs today, I have my letter with my results slip and my stepfather is a very … I’m going to say very humble man from Yorkshire. He definitely didn’t have huge ambition X on me as well, and he asked me what was in the envelope. I said it’s my O level results.

He said, “Well, what’s in that?” I said, “I don’t know,” so he opened the envelope for me and I got rather good results, a lot of A’s. He said the words “What are you trying to do, show me up.” I wasn’t really sure, as a 16 year old, what I was supposed to do with that. In my later years, I wonder whether he was being sarcastically humorous which actually would fit with his personality. At the time I didn’t take it like that. I thought, “I’m actually going to have to figure out whether I want to have no ambition like him or whether I was going to take a different path and say, ‘I’ll show you how amazing I could be.’”

Actually, I thank him for that opportunity and reframed it as where I could definitely see my path changed dramatically. My ambition and energy changed enormously in terms of what I decided I was going to achieve.” I think, again, it was an inflection point where I made a decision to definitely become a different person and change the direction of my life. I talked to him about it subsequently and he can’t remember that moment. I think he probably won’t be, none the least sarcastic, but I think hormonal teenagers take it differently.

It’s quite shocking as a parent to have that feedback. I think he was shocked that I’ve taken it that way. I now, think, “Gosh, we’ve got to be very careful as guardians of the children that we look after.” What we say resonates very differently with sometimes how they receive it. That’s true of people that we work with as well. It’s a good learning point and I am grateful for it, but it definitely, definitely colored my journey, in a good way.

Amanda: Yeah, and it’s interesting that you colored your journey in a good way because it’s the offhand comments, and as you say your stepfather can’t remember saying it, that could be responsible for a whole heap of self-limiting beliefs.

Jacqueline: Oh my gosh, yeah. I’ve got plenty of those, by the way, but it did make me feel, “Right, okay, what can I do with this?” Sometimes life is about an attitude in approach, isn’t it? I think we can either look at the industry or the family that we’re in as a, “Gosh, in my lot it is not so great” or we can look at it and think, “Okay, where is the opportunity in here? Where is the miracle?” That’s how I chose it to be. For me, it has definitely enabled me to achieve bigger and better things. At the very least, it made me feel better about things that could have been quite dark.

Amanda: Yes. Yes, the attitude or approach really rings true. There’s a quote by Albert Einstein and I came across again just yesterday. I wish I had it in front of me and he says, “Whether you see the …” I’m misquoting here, “Whether you see the world as …” I can’t remember if it was a safe place or a dangerous place, colors your whole life is the most important thing about how your life will be, which reflects your philosophy about looking for the miracle.

Jacqueline: Yes, definitely.

Amanda:Jacqueline, you said before that rather than goals you looked at your values and my spidey senses went, “Oh, values, a woman after my own heart,” because I believe very much in helping people to really look at their values and I believe that our goals, our intentions, flow from those once we get clear about our values. I’m really interested to know more about that and know how you reconciled having a family, looking after your family, and having that work-life balance, personal life with the other Jacqueline who needed to push herself and prove herself and have this in innate fear of failure within a male-dominated world. Big question, but, essentially, how did the values help with that?

Jacqueline: Enormously. I don’t know how I could have got through without them actually, because I looked at what I was about, who I was, and what I stand for, and I had a Catholic upbringing. There’s a lot of self-reflection when you are asked to go to mass a lot or church a lot. I’m not a religious person actually, but I think I have something spiritual in me where I like to feel very centered. We talked before about yoga or meditation and they’re very close to my heart too. On the point of reflection, what my values are, I got three. One is integrity and that has served me well throughout my entire journey both family and work. I think, without that, I lose my moral compass and I’m dead, I feel. As though if there’s ever a difficult decision to make, then integrity is always a big guiding stuff for me, so that’s important and that served me well both in business and at home. Transparence is hugely important.

The second one is family. Family, for me, is family at home but also with my extended family, which is my team at work or my community. I live in an amazing village called Taplow where we have a very, very strong community spirit. I love that, need that, and I celebrate within all of those communities.

Then the third one is, which I feel extremely strongly about, and that’s generosity. I think people have been extremely generous to me on my journey. I think that in technology, and especially for women in technology, for the rest who have been lucky enough to get to a position of influence, then sending the elevator back down is really important. Just look over your shoulder and see who you could reach out to and help just a little bit on their journey or even just give them a word of encouragement or offer them a connection that you can make to someone who could help them. All of those things make an enormous difference to somebody else and might cost you nothing at all. I would just urge people, women and men in our business, to think about who they could help and who they could acknowledge.

We have a little thing inside my own leadership team at Citrix where they are asked to acknowledge at least one person a day. It’s a nice generous thing to do and I believe that’s good karma. If you put it out there, then you’ll get it back as well. That’s why winning that award, the most influential woman in IT, in UK IT, was really exciting because it gave me an opportunity to have a platform where I could share those values and I could offer to shine a light on the issues of women in tech. We only have 16% of women in tech in the UK and we need to do better at that. We could have more profitable businesses with more women in technology, that’s proven, and we could have a larger talent pool which we definitely need.

Amanda: Oh, so many questions and nodding here for me as you’ve been talking. I love that metaphor of sending the elevator back down. I think I’ll make that for the podcast show actually because it says it in such elegant language which is what I’m doing here, which is interviewing people like you who want to see all women succeed. Thank you for that, thank you for that. I’m with you on that. I believe that serving other people and serving other people from a place of love, and to use your value, through generosity does come back. I believe it can be used as a marketing technique not in a cynical way but simply by just saying, “I’m just going to focus on helping other people” and it will come back. I’d like to hone in on the 16% of women in technology. Where does that figure come from?

Jacqueline: Yeah, so there are a lot of studies and most of … Well, actually, it’s probably an average of a number of different studies and you can look at it whichever way you like. There are, for example, studies which say there are 23% of women in boardroom positions now. That’s from, I think, the Davies report called for more women in the boardroom. If you look further down in the ranks, we do rather poorly in middle management. We have quite a lot of women in lower paid and lower class roles. We just don’t have them at the top in the leadership positions or the middle management positions.

That’s where we really need to focus. We need to focus in a way that isn’t just tokenism, we also need to make sure we’ve got strong commitment to succession planning, so that we have women to fill women’s shoes, if you will, when they move on as well. We’re a fairly fast moving technology industry so people do move around and that’s right. We need to keep women in a succession plan at the top table because, let’s face it, inclusion is definitely about being in the room, but diversity is really only achieved when you’re at the table.

That’s why I think it’s really important to have leadership positions and women filling those because they also define rules in businesses, like, for example, I’m very lucky to have a great HR team, a human resources team, here at Citrix where we can do things. Like we can change job descriptions for engineers or we can change that to problem solving as an example. There are little things that can be done by men or by women, but to encourage more women into the tech sector. I think if we have more women leaders, we’re more likely to beget more women down in the industry because we tend to recruit in our own image. That’s important to us if we’re going to make a difference to those numbers.

Amanda: Having the role models there for women to see that they can aspire to.

Jacqueline: Yeah. Good point about role models. We need role models at the top. I, of course, I’m the twenty-seven and a half year old veteran in this industry with gray hair. However, we do need cool young women in the industry to attract other cool young women into the industry. I’d like to see more of that, more of those role models too.

Amanda: Where do you think we are going wrong? Because I know that the technology industry has been losing women for many, many years. There have been so many initiatives to try to address that. It seems that we still haven’t got it right. I was one of those women who dropped out years ago.

Jacqueline: Right, it’s tricky. We have an affordability issue for sure. I think women and child care, women in the tech industry or women in the industry in general and the affordability of child care, it’s a question, “How do we do that?” I think we need to keep asking that question and figure out how we ensure that child care is both the domain of women and of men, because women’s issues are also for men to solve, and perhaps we also need to include a lot more men in the debate. We do sometimes, but I find that I operate and work in a male-dominated environment, but then I go and talk about women’s issues mostly in a female-dominated environment. I think we probably need to switch that balance on the conversation. I see that happening, by the way, in some places. We need to almost have a “bring a bloke” initiative when we talk about women and women’s issues.

Then, I think there is the how do we encourage young girls and women to make technology decisions about their education choices when they’re at school. There are lots of organizations doing lots of great work. As president of techUK, we find lots of organizations and we try and join the dots on those organizations so that we can amplify that message. I go into schools and I talk to young girls. I think, though, going back to our earlier conversation, they probably want to see cool role models who have made it at age of 24 which is much more … They need to see that’s much more within their grasp rather than the 27-year journey that I’ve made. They’ll probably see it too far out.

Amanda:Perhaps we need not just role models like you, but role models who are perhaps just a couple of steps ahead.

Jacqueline:Yeah, I think so. Also, we glamorize in films and TV, we glamorize a lot of young men. I think maybe we need to think about some technology based role models in some cool movies and TV programs. I think Lisa Simpson is about as cool as it gets right now, all the Simpson.

Amanda: She’s cool at playing the saxophone, isn’t she?

Jacqueline:There’s nothing wrong with that. I do think we can up our game in that area. Think about this: If we said, “Our ambition is to create the most successful football team on the planet,” we’d be scouting for talent at age eight and we’d have league tables to shine a light on the talent that rose to the top and then we’d be selling them for millions of pounds as they transfer across football clubs. That’s what we would do. That’s what we do, do.

If we then said, “Okay, we are going to create a digital nation of significance,” what’s the plan? Because at the moment the plan is, “Oh, let’s wait until they turn out of university at age whatever or we stumble across them as we’re going to recruiting mode,” but we don’t have anything where we really are highly organized in terms of catching, creating, retaining, nurturing top talent in tech. I would say that there’s lots of pin-pricks of ecstasy. There are lots of people doing some really great things and we need to amplify and organize ourselves as we would if we were creating an outstanding world-class football team.

Amanda: Amplify ourselves, just bringing back that from what you said before into what you’ve just been talking about, about doing this early and getting organized, bring a bloke, getting men talking about in inverted comma women’s issues as well, is there something we need to change to do that? Because, quite often, I think men feel it’s not that place or they feel threatened, and they often feel that it’s, “Well, we’re going to go down the positive discrimination route. I’ve got no chance and this is all just about promoting women to take a typical kind of bloke response.”

Jacqueline:Yeah, and do you know what, I totally understand why that reaction is there. I personally am against quotas. I personally believe you absolutely need to recruit the best person for the role with the best skills and the best cultural fit. For sure, I would never go against any of those values. On the other hand, should we have balanced short lists for talent that we’re reviewing when we make those decisions? I think we need to work a bit harder at getting those more diverse talents list together which are inclusive rather than “Let’s go for proximity hiring of people that we know.” That’s where I think we can make a real difference.

Now, does that mean that the talent pool is a problem? Yes, it does. We still have an extremely small pool of talent, but I believe women are out there. I think we need to find them. I think we need to encourage employers to change the way that they write job descriptions. I also think that we, as employers, can do more in our cultural shift to make it easier for working women with families to engage in the workforce. To me, that is all about flexible working. I truly believe that work is not a place, it’s where you are.

I read only this week in the news that we’ve got people traveling into London for two, two and a half hours each way because housing is so expensive. I think there’s a balance between is it really an issue with housing and housing prices or is it that employers have a culture of needing to see bumps on seats before they feel you’re being productive? I think we need to just create a balanced work flex for working is an accepted practice and that remote working means that we can include people who have access to broadband but live in the middle of nowhere.

That means that the talent pool is instantly enlarged or it could mean that we are also including disabled people in the talent pool. It could mean that we’re including working parents in the talent pool who couldn’t afford that travel time before. A good flexible working and a cultural shift in employment practices is also really important in this debate.

Amanda:Yes, I do and it’s about focusing in on people rather than one specific type of people is what you’re saying.


Amanda:Or all people together. You said that … Just going back to not being in favor of coaches. It’s about however getting balanced talent list. I think you were talking about writing job descriptions and tweaking the way that they’re written, that kind of thing. Is getting the balanced talent list about getting the higher percentage of people in that list in the first place so there is more chance of having the balanced candidates come out at the other end?

Jacqueline: Yes, I think it is. I think also part of what I’ve been doing over a number of years is to get my network of fabulous women in front of headhunters and speed date them into each other because headhunters know who they know, which I know is an obvious thing to say, but there is a small group of execs and we all get off at the same jobs and all interviews for the same jobs and tap, tap for this or for that. There is also an enormous layer of talent which is coming through and which is invisible unless we make the introductions. This comes back to generosity, which is that people in positions where they have influence and are connected to headhunters.

We opened up our contacts to the headhunters. They would find amazing people and be able to get the next generation of talent into executive positions. That way, we can all make a difference at grassroots level. Some of this doesn’t have to be Big Bang planet checking stuff, but by everybody opening up their contact list in a responsible way, then I think we, recruiters firstly, would be opened up to a whole new world of possibility and opportunity with people that they haven’t met before.

Amanda:The layers of talent that you’re talking about, is that generally the middle management layer of talent who don’t necessarily have the connections with the headhunters?

Jacqueline:It could be. It could be middle management. It could be just people who have been working so hard in the job that they’re doing that networking is number 3, 4, or even 10 on their list. They’re just not connected in. It’s for me sometimes to say, “I really think that you should meet so and so,” or even just make the connection on LinkedIn. I think this will be a good connection. You would be amazed how many times that I do that, that people say, “Wow. Gosh, I didn’t know that that person existed,” and they have got big jobs on the back of it. In technology, it is not unusual for people to be so busy that networking is at the bottom of their list.

Amanda: Oh yes, yeah, not just in technology. This is a conversation I have with a lot of my clients when they’re talking about changing jobs is literally not having the time to network. LinkedIn is a great resource now because it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to turn up at a networking event.

Jacqueline:Yes, exactly. I love it because it makes life so easy and transparent. I think those connections, again, it costs nothing, but it is a nice generous act of “That role isn’t good for me,” and it’s very easy to shut down the conversation at that point. You could then just add one little sentence, “But have you thought of X, Y and Z,” and that makes a big difference to the outcome of that, generally, or career inside the business.

Amanda: Jacqueline, the people that you might help through your value of generosity, if you were to give them some advice on how they could initiate that process of seeking support from people like you. I guess there’s a courage piece here, about being courageous in asking … A lot of people are very concerned, particularly women, really, about asking for help. What advice would you give them?

Jacqueline: Well, if I see that, I sometimes just send them a LinkedIn reference because it’s interesting how confidence boosting that can be. I will say I think often when I say to someone, “Have you thought about this kind of role?” They would say the words, “I don’t think I’m good enough for that kind of …” which I think is always interesting. Just having a five minute conversation about, “Are you kidding me? Let me tell you what I see.” If you take the time to reflect back the amazing things that they’ve already achieved and you mirror in a career that they’ve had or the things that they’ve achieved, I think it’s actually sometimes like shocking. Again, it goes back to just take 10 minutes just to give someone a little nudge in the right direction. You’d be amazed about the outcome of where self-worth can get to. I mean I know because my self-worth has always been pretty rock bottom in terms of, “No, I’m not worthy. I can’t take that. Why would you think I can do that?”

I even remember having my first managing director’s role and I thought, “Oh god, I’ve got the role now. What on earth does a managing director do?” Of course, you have all of that self-doubt. I think just being there and sometimes fielding a call from people when they meet someone to talk to that isn’t their direct line manager just gives them a little bit of confidence boosting. I think those things make a big difference. Just look at what you’ve achieved. List out what you’ve done and then reflect it back off. Or have someone, ask them what they see when they look at you. Not in an arrogant way, but just who do they see. I think you’d be amazed at the reflected opportunity that people can see in you and how that can boost your confidence.

Amanda: Yes, hear, hear. That mirror, it makes such a difference. As you say, it just needs to be the five minute conversation that, as you say, “Are you kidding? Look at this. This is what I see.” “Well, yeah. I never thought about it that way.”

Jacqueline: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s also important … Managing manager is awkward. I spent a lot of time with senior people or even people I report to. I always make sure that I acknowledge what a great job they’ve done. I think it’s interesting. The higher up you go the less you hear it. It’s really important to also make sure that you’ve got that acknowledgement going on senior levels because that’s where confidence can sometimes get lost. It’s a lonely place at the top for all of us.

Amanda: You mentioned acknowledgement before as well and you set these in Citrix. You have something where people do an acknowledgment once a day. Did you all do it in front of each other or is it just a habit that’s ingrained?

Jacqueline: No. No, and it’s not monitored. It is an invitation actually to think about your people and retention. What is the top? What’s top of mind when people say, “This is what I like about working with you at Citrix”? It’s about having interesting things to do and feeling acknowledged. Money is kind of number five; it’s not number one. Part of creating that family culture is about how are you acknowledging people in your team. That literally, it’s an invitation from me to my direct reports to say, “Who have you acknowledged today?” I got an email back yesterday saying, “Oh this is what I did just so you know.” They just want to share it because they felt really good in terms for what they got back from it.

I think it’s really interesting. I had another one where someone had been here for 10 years and we celebrated that and then there’s this whole acknowledgement thing going on email, which is lovely. It makes a difference to someone’s day. It color’s your journey in a really good way if you have that acknowledgment. Believe me, I think it makes such a difference in confidence and also why people want to work with you.

Amanda: Yes. Yeah, it makes such a difference. What about acknowledgment of yourself and self-promotion? I even hesitate to use the word “self-promotion” because the connotations are so negative, but I think it’s so important. What do you think?

Jacqueline: I’ve re-framed that because I’m rubbish at acknowledgement with myself. I’m really, really not very good at receiving that. I’m also the person that doesn’t particularly like getting Christmas presents, but I’ve actually created a way of receiving them in quite a gracious way, but I find it painful on the basis that I think I’m not very deserving and I’d much rather give than get. I imagine that might be something fairly common amongst women.

On the self-promotion side, I re-framed it which is, “Okay, what can I use this for? What will this platform give me?” When I am acknowledged for anything or given that platform to speak like the Computer Weekly influential woman in IT this year, I have used that as a platform to shine a light on women’s issues, how we can get more diversity across the business, why it’s a good thing, how much difference can we make to getting more women into tech and creating that enthusiasm for diversity. I think, for me, by reframing it, by reframing self-promotion as a platform for influence and making a difference, I reconciled myself to that in a way that’s okay for me.

Amanda: It’s a really positive flip of serving other people, of using that to, again, come back to giving back and living through your value of generosity.

Jacqueline:Yeah. Absolutely. How can we find a way to shorten the time to success of other women? Some of our journeys have been so tortuous and so ridiculously backward in terms of un-thoughtful leadership that there has to be a way in which women can challenge, in a good way, without leaving too many dead bodies around them, I think. Also, just by figuring out what is the shortest route to success and how do you maintain, how do you take everyone with you. I really believe that that’s a very interesting way to not just go on the same journey, but to find a more efficient way to get there faster.

Amanda: You used the phrase just before unhelpful leadership and it just sparked a thought in my mind that I just like to ask you something, because this comes up a lot for my clients and because I’ve just had a conversation this morning with somebody. I hear so many stories of women dealing with so-called unhelpful leadership. I think it would be really useful to get your take on this. If a woman is ambitious about her career and she loves what she’s doing, but she is in a position where she feels that she’s in … and I’ll use example from the conversation I had earlier this morning … Perhaps a toxic work culture or with a toxic colleagues.

She feels stuck because she has got the one part of the equation right with the flexible working where she is and she feels that if she looks elsewhere, she will say goodbye to the flexible working she’s built up through loyalty through her current company, but things are getting to such a point, such a burning point that it’s having an impact on her health in the current working environment. I ask this because it comes up so often that, “I can’t leave because …” These high dream factors are ticked here, however, this is just horrible. How would you help someone like that?

Jacqueline: Well, I don’t have the solution to everything but I’ll tell you what I would do. I think that I would decide what was most important to me. I think there’s two sides of it. One is perception and one is reality. That is that I never do anything that I don’t want to do. It might be uncomfortable but I don’t tend to operate in an environment that I would consider to be toxic. Now, having said that, this one’s quite tricky because if you are a person that looks for tricky things, and I’m going to use an analogy. If I said to you, “Just look around the room and look for the color red.” Then all you see is red things.

I wonder whether because sometimes we expect things to be red that then that’s all that you see. I think there is one layer of filter we possess, and this may be controversial, one layer of filter we possess, if you’re looking for toxicity and you’re looking for those examples, then you will see them a lot. There is one part of me that says, “Okay, just make sure that you can also see the non-toxic things.” Maybe look at the color blue following that analogy. Maybe you need to see some blue things and that might give you some balance. That’s the first thing, so look at it in a balanced way, I would say.

The second thing is that there are lots of companies who offer flexible working, whatever that means to you. I definitely am a believer that great idea is going to die in the boardroom and thrive in the coffee shop. I’m flexible working all the way. I am sure that if you’re brave enough and you mentioned the word “courage” earlier, that looking outside, once you’ve got your filter right, looking outside is not a bad thing to do anyway if you feel that all you can see is too much red and toxicity. I would have a look outside. The world never revolves around one company. It doesn’t. I think there must be opportunity out there. I think in that case if toxicity is right, for me that would be a very short journey to looking for another role.

Now, having said that, should that be the case? The answer is no but there are times when you have to make a decision which is right for you. I think if health is suffering, then I wouldn’t stay a moment longer.

Amanda: Yes, I agree. I’m really glad I asked you that because you’ve echoed what I’d said and it’s just lovely to hear it from you as well. I guess you’ve probably, as part of your NLP studies, come across the science between behind the filters of the reticular activating system. In other words, once we decide I’m going to buy a red mini, we see red minis on the road everywhere.

Jacqueline: Yes, exactly that. As humans, we are very good at mostly at looking for red, i.e. toxicity, and it’s a massive reprogramming job to look for the miracle.

Amanda: Absolutely. Jacqueline, you’ve given us some really tempting things that I’ve got to ask you about. You said earlier in the interview that you had some … What did you say? … Plenty of self-limiting beliefs and you said that you’ve always had to think about self-worth and self-deserving.

Jacqueline: Yeah, definitely. I think when I was younger, I’m half Chinese I mentioned earlier, and I went to school in a Catholic school. Everyone else was Irish-Italian or Polish, but all very white and I didn’t have dark hair, dark long plaits, and certainly didn’t have a surname that everyone made fun of. For me, that was a big survival world going on right through until I was 18. That made me feel very … I think it gave me a big feeling of low self-worth. I know at certain points in which I thought I’m going to engage, I’m going to excel. I was very into … I’ve got six gold medals at Irish dancing, can you believe, but that’s my Irish Catholic school upbringing. It’s hard to be that girl collecting a gold medal when you’ve got two long dark plaits and everyone else has got ginger ringlets.

Fitting in and surviving was pretty tricky. I think that’s probably where that’s stemmed from. Of course, everyone else seemed to have lovely whole families and I didn’t have that either. Fitting in and my early upbringing, these probably are my biggest survival context and that’s where the low self-worth came from. Now, having said that, has this served me well? The answer to that is absolutely yes, I would not swap it and I would always look back on my childhood and say, “It was a good journey for me.” Was it a school of hard knocks? I think it was. There was a lot of growing up very fast, very young. I loved school; I loved every minute of it. I had some challenges and struggles on the way, but they have served me well in my business world, so I can definitely hold my own and I’m probably at my best when I’m in a corner.

Amanda:Do you think back when you’re in the corner, too, “Well, if I can survive that school with my long, dark plaits, I can survive this”?

Jacqueline: Oh gosh, yeah. Yeah, this is child’s play at this point.

Amanda:What do you do to look after yourself and to gently handle the self-worth issue? I guess not just how you rationalize that in your mind, but what habits do you have that help you on a daily basis?

Jacqueline: Perhaps, I have some visible things I do. I’m up early. I’m a very early bird. I go to bed early too, by the way. I’m not superwoman so I do need like seven and a half.

Amanda: Tell us what time you go to bed and what time you get up.

Jacqueline: I’m up at 5, but I would be in bed at 09:30. I love that. In the morning, and sometimes is up earlier because of lights and things, but my favorite time is with my husband. He’s a teacher of yoga for special needs children. He was in the tech industry so he’s built and sold four companies. With him, I have that special moment in the morning where we meditate together, so we just find our balance. That could be anything from five minutes to an hour depending on my day. After that, we do a little bit of yoga or if I’ve been for a run, sometimes I run about three miles a day, five times a week, something like that, then I’ll do what we call stretching, but it’s really yoga.

Then I’m off out the door. He makes me some juices. We’re a big green juicing family, and off I go to work. I feel very nourished and very looked after. That’s where I get my balance and my strength from. That’s my morning habit. Then my children are my regular little fixes. I have a 23 year old, 25 year old, and now a 28 year old who keep us busy at weekends. We’re very blessed to have them very close to us, so that’s what we’re like as a family.

Amanda: Lovely. Your morning routines, you are up early and then meditation, yoga, running. What about your evening routines?

Jacqueline:Evening is all about communing, I suppose eating with my husband and talking about the day. We also have five dogs, so they need a little bit of attention and then we go to bed. There isn’t a whole lot going on there and I don’t do email in the middle of the night. I switch off, but I am on it first thing in the morning.

Amanda: When you say you’ve on email first thing in the morning, is that after your meditation and exercise or would you do that the first thing?

Jacqueline: Yeah. No, depending on the time of the quarter, so we have some imperative timing as we go through three-month cycles. As we get to the end of the quarter, sometimes things come in that are super urgent so I might have a quick look. I try not to because it means that I ruin the moment of meditation. What’s going to happen in the day rubbed with my sleepiness as I come out of my night? Definitely, the ideal scenario, which happens earlier in the quarter, is that I don’t look at my phone.

Amanda: Okay, yup, that sounds sensible advice. Jacqueline, I have so many other questions that I want to ask you, but I’m very aware of time. I’d like to just ask you one last question. What does having it all mean to you?

Jacqueline: Gosh, that’s a fabulous question, I love it. Having it all means, to me, it means having my family first, and that’s I love, of course, my children and my husband and my dogs and all of the extended family that we have, but also it means having my team around me and I hold my team very dear too. They are very loyal and very accomplished. I learn from them all the time. Having it all means that, for me, from the people perspective first, is having great people around me. At work, it’s people around me who can operate under pressure, and at home, it’s about having kids who are doing what they love and having a husband who also does what he loves. We are very supportive in our accomplishments. To me, that’s having it all.

Having the roles that I have: president of techUK and Citrix and the board roles that I have, to me, that’s about … I mean that’s my playground. I really enjoy what I do. I don’t find it stressful. I feel that I can really get into my stride with all of those different roles and juggling those means that I put quite of a pressure on my amazing assistant, Lona. She’s part of the family partnership too, so having it all means I can do it all with help from the team that is absolutely amazing. That’s both family and work, so yeah, I’m in a great place.

Amanda: Wow, what a wonderful answer, and you went straight back to that core value of family, people.

Jacqueline: Yeah, definitely my number one.

Amanda: Well, mine too. Jacqueline, thank you so very much for being here today. Thank you for talking to me and thank you for sharing and for putting your generosity here. I know that this interview is going to be so helpful to so many people. Really, hand on hat, thank you very, very much.

Jacqueline: Thanks, Amanda. I’m very grateful to you for giving me the opportunity and giving everybody the opportunity to share their lives, journeys and thoughts with other people too. Great that you could shine the light on that.

002 Maggie Berry: Director for Europe of WEConnect International

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
002 Maggie Berry: Director for Europe of WEConnect International

Maggie Berry is the Executive Director for Europe of WEConnect International. WEConnect exists to encourage and support global supplier diversity for women-owned businesses,  helping women-owned businesses to connect with multi-national corporations, something that historically has not been quite so easy for women-owned businesses to do.

Previously Maggie was the Managing Director of – an online job board, recruitment and networking forum for women working in the technology profession in the UK. She was involved from Women in Technology’s inception in the autumn of 2004, managed all aspects of the website and the networking activities Women in Technology organised and she continues to run the Women in Technology Network on an informal basis.

In March 2012 Maggie was honoured by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader and she is currently serving as a Global Agenda Council Member on Employment for the 2012-2014 term. In July 2011 she was listed as one of 15 UK-based TIAW (the International Alliance for Women) World of Difference Award winners and in July 2010 she was included in Management Today’s ’35 Under 35’ list. She is also a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.

Highlights of Episode 2

In this, the second of my Inspiring Women interviews, Maggie and I discuss:

  • The need for supplier diversity in today’s business environment
  • What does being a “high flyer” mean to Maggie?
  • The importance of creating your own definition of success – and being flexible with that definition
  • Why Maggie believes in taking opportunities over setting goals
  • The first thing you need to do when you join a new company to avoid being passed over for promotion
  • The key issues facing women with their career progression
  • The best strategies for returning to work after maternity leave or an extended career break
  • The emergence of return to work programmes with forward-thinking multi-nationals
  • Why every woman who is serious abut her career must network  – and how to make time for it
  • The qualities of a good leader
  • What you need to be aware of as an aspiring female leader
  • How to be more courageous about your career
  • Maggie’s “don’t ask, don’t get” philosophy on career advancement
  • Why women are partly responsible for the gender pay gap
  • The importance of creating more flexible working policies for effective business
  • What we need to do to encourage the next generation of female leaders

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Transcript of Amanda’s Interview with Maggie Berry

Amanda:                    Hello, and welcome to the Inspiring Women Interviews podcast with me, Amanda Alexander. If you haven’t joined us before, the interviews are with female leaders and female role models who are advocates helping all women to achieve success as leaders. Our aim with these interviews is to inspire you to lean in, step up, and really go for it. Today I am delighted to welcome Maggie Berry, the Executive Director for Europe of WEConnect International. WEConnect essentially exists to encourage and support global supplier diversity for women-owned businesses. It helps women-owned businesses to connect with multi-national corporations, something that historically has not been quite so easy for women-owned businesses to do.

I’m going to let Maggie just tell you a little bit more about WEConnect in a moment. Let me just tell you about Maggie. Maggie joined the organization in December 2012, and she has lead responsibility for the management, leadership, and development of WEConnect Europe. Her role is about developing corporate and public sector support, as well as growing and developing the database and network of registered and certified women business owners across the UK and Europe. Before she joined WEConnect, Maggie was managing Director of, an online job board which was also a recruitment and networking forum for women working in technology professions. She was involved from Women in Technology’s inception in autumn of 2004, and she managed all aspects of the website and the networking activities for Women in Technology.

Maggie’s wonderful wow moments include being honored by the World Economic Forum as a young global leader. She is currently serving as a global agenda council member on employment for the World Economic Forum. Also, in July 2011, she was listed as one of the 15 UK-based International Alliance for Women World of Difference Award winners. Wow. That’s a mouthful. It’s very impressive but a mouthful. In July 2010, Maggie was included in Management Today’s 35 under 35 list. As if all that wasn’t enough, she’s also a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. I think it’s fair to say that Maggie knows something about women in technology in particular. Welcome, Maggie. Thank you very much for being here today.

Maggie Berry:            Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda:                    Can you just tell us a bit more about WEConnect and how you help to connect women-owned businesses?

Maggie Berry:            Absolutely. WEConnect International, and the WE stands for Women’s Enterprise. We’re all about connecting women-owned businesses into the corporate supply chain. It’s an international organization. We’re actually headquartered out of Washington, DC. I’ve got colleagues all around the world in Canada, India, China, Latin America, Africa. I’m based in the UK and I look after our corporate members and our women-owned businesses here in Europe. It’s an international supplier diversity campaign. By that, we have a lot of focus here around workforce diversity, and to get companies hiring more women, keeping them, promoting them, getting them coming back after maternity leave, all that good stuff. WEConnect is actually looking at huge big corporations. Who do they buy from? What businesses are they buying from? Are they buying from women-owned businesses?

As a concept, supplier diversity is very embedded in the US market. They’ve got a lot of support in place for diverse-owned business, women, minority, LGBT, et cetera. The big corporations there are looking to roll their programs out globally. WEConnect International was set up a number of years ago to help those firms roll their supplier diversity programs out into other regions of the world. Europe was actually the pilot program about seven years ago. I’ve been working with the organization since about 2012, just over 2 and a half years. I work with big multi-nationals like IBM, Coca-Cola, Accenture, Ernst and Young, and our group of women-owned businesses. Very specifically, we work with majority-owned women’s businesses, businesses that are fifty-one percent or more owned by women. The model is that our corporate members tell us what they’re buying through their tenders or RFPs. Our job is to identify women-owned business who could be a potential match and who could participate in the tender process. It’s almost like corporate matchmaking in the supply chain. Hugely interesting. Hugely challenging. It keeps me very busy.

Amanda:                    One thing I wanted to say, Maggie, was I met Maggie at a WEConnect event where I was introduced as a guest there. It was an absolutely brilliant event down in London. As a result of that event, just from the networking … I don’t know if I told you this. I actually gained some business with a big corporate. There you go. QED. It works.

Maggie Berry:            This model works. That’s fantastic. Yeah. We work through formal procurement channels where the corps are issuing a formal tender, but we also facilitate a lot of connections around the edges. Women-owned businesses come to our events and they get the option to meet the representative from our corporate members. All sorts of things happen. Sometimes it takes a while. We had our last conference probably about 9 months or so ago now. A number of our women-owned businesses are coming forward to me now saying, actually on the back of that I met so-and-so, we’ve done this. It’s kind of carried on. That’s now come to fruition in June [inaudible 00:06:16]. It can take a while. You don’t just knock on the door of a big corporate and start to work with them straightaway. It can take a while to build up relationships. It’s all in the name. It’s Women’s Enterprise and it’s Connect. So it’s WEConnect.

Amanda:                    Absolutely. Yeah. For everybody listening, as you know, I really like to connect personally and ask people’s journey and what works for them, et cetera. At this point, I just want to dive in, Maggie, and just ask you about the need for WEConnect. On your website it says a diverse supplier base is no longer an option, it is a business imperative and WEConnect is here to create that opportunity. For those who might not be au fait with the importance of diversity and who might think because there is always an argument about diversity, isn’t there, why do we need to have something that connects women owned businesses? What about men owned businesses? What about someone else owned businesses? How would you respond to that within the context of it being a business imperative?

Maggie Berry:            Absolutely. I have those conversations fairly regularly. I think, for me, the driver is around this. In, let’s just take the UK, women make up about %20 of business owners in the UK. Twenty percent. We’re %50 of the working population so we’re already in the minority in terms of business ownership. Business ownership is directly linked to economic wealth and economic power. For us, what we’re looking at is how can we help put more women into a situation where they’ve got the opportunity to bid for more business and to grow their businesses and to grow their economic wealth. Globally WEConnect international is essentially a women’s economic empowerment company. I think here in the UK it is a very a new business concept.

The majority of the corporate organizations that we’re working with are US based multinationals who have very robust programs in the US supporting diverse owned businesses and they want to have these programs in all regions of the world where they’re working. It is a very new part of the diversity landscape. It is essentially supporting SMEs and underrepresented SMEs. When people say to me, “What about men?” … Well, business is very male and when you look at lists of successful business people, they’re often populated by men. I just read an article this morning as I was eating my breakfast on the BBC … I saw it on Facebook. It was about the top 17 people in advertising globally and 16 of them are white males earning the most money. One woman, no ethnic minorities. It’s things like that that you see time and again and that’s what spurs me on. I want to see more women succeeding and achieving. Through WEConnect, we’re looking at women entrepreneurs and female business owners. Through all the work I’ve done with Women in Technology and continue to do with Women in Technology, it’s around helping women succeed and achieve in the technology profession here in the UK.

There are lots of reasonings around working with SMEs generally. The diversity of thought that they bring, they’re more nimble, they can often move more quickly than some of the big suppliers. It just so happens that at WEConnect our focus is specifically on women owned SMEs.

Amanda:                    Excellent answer. Nobody could argue with that. I would say, anyway. Thanks Maggie. I want to ask you, I’ve given you this introduction and when I read your profile … and probably a lot people in there listening to your profile with your awards and plaudits will think, “Wow. Here is a high flying woman.” Do you consider yourself to be a high flying woman?

Maggie Berry:            I don’t know. It’s not a phrase that I would use to describe myself but I do have very high expectations of what I want to achieve and anything that I want to do … I only want to do things if they’re going to be good. I have very high standards of myself. I’ve worked very hard around Women in Technology and that network. I work very hard around that. With WEConnect it’s the same. I’m pushing very hard all the time. Does that make it high flying? I don’t know. Am I passionate and committed? Absolutely. Have I enjoyed lots of different success in my career? Yes but it hasn’t just happened overnight and it hasn’t come without me doing anything. I’ve had to work quite hard. I also feel very content when I’ve proved to myself that I can do something, that I can deliver something, that I can deliver another great event. You mentioned that we first got connected at our WEConnect conference. I get to the end of the day when we’ve done a big event like that and I’m like, “That was good. I can feel the feedback in the room was positive and that’s great.”

Amanda:                    Yeah. I think that the reason I put you on the spot and asked you that question is because I think it’s interesting. I think very few women would actually say, “Oh yes. Of course I regard myself as a high flying woman.” I think the term is … I think any term to do with female success can often be loaded with a whole set of beliefs and attitudes that aren’t necessarily positive. I think it’s an interesting thing. I’m in a group on Facebook called … It’s a closed group of female entrepreneurs and it’s called High Performing Women. I know that a number of members have had quite an interesting reaction to that high performing women label and I wonder if we need to create a new label of women who are … I don’t know … purposeful women.

Maggie Berry:            Yeah. Quite possibly. I think everybody’s different and one of my beliefs is that success is different for everybody. Success is different at different points of your career as well and at different points in your life. What you have to understand is what success means for you right now and what you’re looking to achieve in the future. Yes, you’re quite right the moniker high flying … That’s not what I think about myself but I want to be successful and I want to do well at whatever I’m working on at that particular moment.

Amanda:                    Yeah. Did you set a master plan, a set of goals for your career? Is that something that you do on a regular basis?

Maggie Berry:            No. Not at all. I’ve never … If I’m honest, a very potted history. I’ve got a history degree. I then, once I graduated, went home to Scotland and I worked at home in Scotland for a few years. Then I came down to London in 2000 and I got a job with a recruitment firm. Didn’t particularly really understand that it was technology recruitment but I got the job and I took every opportunity that came along. Women in Technology came along and I worked on that and then I joined WEConnect in 2012. Did I have a goal? No. Was there a plan? No. Did I take every single opportunity that came along and made the most of it? Absolutely. Absolutely. Some people I meet have very clear goals and I’m almost a little bit envious of them because they’ve obviously got a bit of a path marked out. I don’t particularly. I know what I enjoy and I know the kind of things I would like to see myself potentially doing in the future. We’re going to be working for an awfully long time. When I think about careers now, it’s certainly not just one linear career path. I think we’re going to have time to have various different reincarnations in our careers because we’re going to be working for so many years. No, I haven’t had a master plan but I’ve been very lucky and taken opportunities as they’ve come along.

Amanda:                    Yeah. I think that whole attitude of taking opportunities can take us perhaps further sometimes than creating goals. Goals are great depending on … Again, it’s up to the individual but I’m always a little bit wary of when setting goals that you don’t set a goal and then set something so unbelievably unachievable and then you defeat yourself on the way to the goal.

Maggie Berry:            Yes. One of the things that I think potentially contributes to things like the pay gap, things like women not being in as many senior positions is I think sometimes we are prone to sitting in a job that we enjoy for maybe a little bit too long and staying with companies sometimes for a little bit too long. We don’t move roles frequently enough to get the promotion, get the pay rise … when you join a new organization, you establish yourself as the senior person, not somebody who has worked their way up through the ranks. That’s a piece of advice I share with people when they start new jobs. It’s like, “Well think about how long you’re going to stay and don’t necessarily always think, ‘Well this is going to be my job for the next 10 years’ because that’s probably going to be too long.”

Amanda:                    Yeah. Do you know what is the average that people stay in one organization now? I know it’s dropped a lot, hasn’t it?

Maggie Berry:            Yeah. Do you know what? I don’t know but some organizations are so big that you can have a whole career in one organization and in different divisions and you can work in different locations globally. I know plenty of people who have had 25 year long career in one organization but they’re never stayed in the same job for more than 2 or 3 years because they keep moving on and on and up and up in different things. I don’t know that stats but I do think sometimes when you’re happy you can stay somewhere maybe just a little bit longer than if you’re looking that career progression than you maybe should be.

Amanda:                    Yeah, yeah. Related to that, Maggie, about career progression and moving organizations, one thing that obviously as women we have to address because many women take that route and it’s a route I took, which is to have kids. One of the big issues that I know you will have been involved with and you still are addressing within WEConnect is how do we help women to maintain their career, continue with their careers, after maternity leave. I have a very personal interest in this question because I’m one of those highly trained IT people … I was an accredited project manager … who simply … Well, I dropped out of my career because it was made incredibly difficult for me to continue once I had my first son. From your perspective, what do you think we should be doing? Actually, what do you think both employers and employees … because personal responsibility is a big thing here … should be doing to retain more women after paternity leave, particularly in the IT industry?

Maggie Berry:            Absolutely. If people talk to me and say, “What are some of the issues facing female careers?” … I do think maternity is an issue. I think we need to differentiate between maternity leave … being in a job, going on maternity leave and coming back to your job … and actually taking time out to have a family and not working a number of years, whether that’s 2, 3, 5, 10 years, whatever. I think the issue for me is more around the longer career breaks where you lose touch with the profession that you’re in or with the employer. I’d say mostly around maternity leave you have to understand the environment that you’re in and you’ll know the environment that you’re in.

If you decide to take the maximum 12 months out, well there possibly will be some impact on your role in the organization and in that time everything’s carrying on without you. I’ve certainly talked to some women, say within financial services, who’ve been very clear, saying, “If I’d taken the full 12 months, my job would have been gone and I have to be realistic” and so they took a shorter amount of time. The UK has very generous maternity leave and I have no issue with it. It’s fantastic. When I look at some of my colleagues in the US and how quickly they have to come back, it just seems so so sad that they have to leave their children behind so quickly.

I think you have to be realistic of the environment that you’re in. I also think, coming back, there has to be flexibility on both sides. For when you’ve had a big gap, that’s where the issue is. Where you’ve left the industry and your connections with the industry have lapsed a little bit and you’re coming back in. Really you’re probably looking for a job with a bit of flexibility because your kids are maybe just starting school and things like that. What I’ve seen over the last 10 years or so is a growth of more focused return to work schemes. I think employers spend a lot of time and effort on graduate higher and invest an awful lot of money in all these young people coming in. I think if only just a percentage of that effort could be spent on bringing experienced female talent back into the industry, upscaling, getting confidence back up, working with them maybe on some projects that they can work on outside of maybe the main thrust of the business so that they can spend a bit of time getting back into the world of work. I think there’s a huge amount of benefit for those kind of programs.

As I said, there has to be flexibility on both sides. Both from the women returning into the workplace and also from the employer and not necessarily thinking that they’re going to be up to speed in the space of 2 weeks because that’s not the case. There’s a whole piece around flexible working in the UK and we have still such a culture of 9 to 5 and presenteeism. Actually, especially in an industry like IT, should be able to facilitate flexible working and working from home and it should be based on the delivery of what you’re doing depending on the nature of your job. All jobs can do this but as long as you’re delivering what you need, it doesn’t matter which hours of the day you’re actually working and you shouldn’t actually be having to do big commutes every day if you could potentially work from home.

For me, the issue around maternity leave is there, there is legislation in place to support that, but the bigger issue is around when you’ve taken a bigger gap, how do you get them back into the industry. There are thousands of women in the UK with tech qualifications that just need a little bit of upscaling to get them back into the industry. We’re facing a digital skill shortage. I know so many employers that I speak to would absolutely love it if we could find more experienced female technologists. I think the pool of returners to work is completely … Well, not completely but very untapped.

Amanda:                    Yeah. Yes, I agree. I remember … I’ve forgotten which company it was but it was last summer I read about a a big company in London that had created a structured program to help women that had career gaps to go back into … and I’m sure it was an IT company … No, in fact I think it was a consulting … it was one of the consulting companies … They were so oversubscribed by women who had started their careers in consultancy and then had career breaks to have children. It was a phenomenal success but they couldn’t keep up with the demand of the amount of really talented, really good women who wanted to actually access this program. Yeah, the demand is on both sides, isn’t it?

Maggie Berry:            The demand is definitely there and I think for some companies they’re still quite at the early stages of implementing these programs so they’ve maybe only got say 10-15 places on our program but you’re quite right, the demand would probably be for 100 people on one of those programs. Absolutely there are a lot of women who made the decision to take time out, which is absolutely fine, but how can we integrate them back into the industry quicker and more efficiently and more effectively? That, that is a key thing.

Amanda:                    What would you say to a woman listening to this who’s thinking, “Yeah, that’s great” but maybe she was in IT, she’s been looking at her children at home or doing something, some sort of career break, that she wants to get back into IT. She doesn’t live in London and realistically these programs are still few and far between. What can she do to proactively get back into it?

Maggie Berry:            I think one of the first things to look at would be the technical skills so maybe looking at some local colleges to see if there’s some courses you can do just to get back up to speed on everything to do with the IT industry, or sector of the IT industry that you’re in because you’ve got to remember that IT is massive and there are so many different parts within it. There are also lots of programs around getting yourself work ready again. Things like getting your CV back together. Have you got a LinkedIn profile, are you connected into different groups, have you got a sense of what’s going on within your profession, within your area of expertise? I think there’s also the power of the network and reaching out to colleagues that you’ve worked with previously just to get a sense of do they know people that they could talk to. I think the power of a network is incredibly important and one of the things that we ran at Women in Technology a few times, a managing maternity course so getting ready for when you’re going on maternity leave. Things to think about before, during, and afterwards.

One of the things if you are going and you are going to take a proper break is to keep up your network and not to cut yourself off completely but to keep up your professional memberships if you can afford to and to go to some events. Maybe say, “I’m going to go to something once a quarter. I’m just going to make sure I’m giving myself that time for my career.” That’s very, very important to keep up those connections and just keep an eye on what’s going on. I talked to plenty of women who just stopped completely and they had no interaction with anybody and they’re like, “Right. I’m going to start again. Where do I start?” The connections are lost and it takes a while for them to pick up again and to reestablish connections but LinkedIn’s a brilliant tool for that because you can find people and reach out to them and get a coffee set up with them.

I know a lot of stuff happens in London. It simply does. It’s where a lot of head offices are. I have to say, I don’t know how you get around that because I think a lot of these return to work programs would probably be in head offices. Interesting you touched on consulting. Consulting often takes you all around the UK. It’s just a case of, I would say, keeping an eye open and seeing if there’s anything local to you.

Amanda:                    Yeah, absolutely. It’s really good advice Maggie. I want to add to the LinkedIn thing as well. Finding groups, finding the right kind of groups that are either industry specific or maybe professional women’s groups … You don’t even have to travel to network nowadays. Having LinkedIn, it’s not just about having your profile there. Just statically having a profile there, that’s important, but also just go into LinkedIn every couple of days and look what’s going on, look into a group, contribute to a group is all helpful, isn’t it?

Maggie Berry:            Absolutely, there’s so much information just on LinkedIn alone. Loads. Yes and there’s so many different groups. You can keep an eye open. A lot of groups have job postings as well and there are a number of organizations, networks, that look at return to work programs as well, geared up to helping women get ready and go back to work.

Amanda:                    Yeah, yeah. Thanks Maggie. I want to ask you about that great big subject that is leadership, which could go on for ages. Just honing in on leadership, a word that covers all bases, I’d love to know what that means to you and what qualities do women bring to leadership and why is it important that they step up to the table and bring those leadership qualities?

Maggie Berry:            I know when people think about leadership, it immediately comes to mind that you’re really leading a team.

Amanda:                    Yeah.

Maggie Berry:            The environments that I’ve personally worked in have been really quite small. I’ve mainly worked in an SME environment and so for me leadership has been more around issues and campaigns and championing. When we set Women in Technology up back in 2005, there were only a couple of organized groups looking at women in tech and the issue around women in tech. We really championed and really pushed that agenda. Now when I looked around there’s loads of fabulous networks supporting women in tech just as one sector, which is just fantastic. For me, leadership certainly does cover lots of different things and it isn’t necessarily just about leading a team of people. I think, for me, what I’d be looking for a leader for me are always … I like really clear explanations for why decisions are being made. I want to understand why this is the decision that is being take and the impact that it’s going to have on the organization and what I can do to contribute towards it.

When I think about good leaders, I don’t necessarily think that men and women are so different. I genuinely think when you meet someone that’s good or a good leader, they just are. It doesn’t matter whether they’re male or female. There are bad male leaders and good male leaders and bad female leaders and good female leaders. For me, it’s almost irrespective. It’s just looking at the right traits and that they’re taking their team with them, they’re taking responsibility for the team, they’re the driving force, and they’re leading by example. I’m not just necessarily taking acknowledgement for all the hard of work of their team but definitely sharing the glory. I think everybody’s different and I don’t think it matters whether it’s male or female, it’s just the good leadership traits that you want to see in whoever is managing you.

Amanda:                    Yes. I agree. What do you think the main obstacles are for aspiring female leaders right now?

Maggie Berry:            I’m not sure it’s obstacles. I think it’s just being really aware of what you want to achieve and equipping yourself with all the skills that you need to be ready to achieve that. Networking is super important. It’s not just for seeing people. Get out there, get involved. Get involved with your local … I don’t know, whatever … chamber of commerce if you’re running your own business or if you’re in a profession, what’s your trade body in. Get yourself know and involved and building a profile for yourself, for your own brand. I do think children, career breaks, they kind of pause careers. As I touched on, I do want to see better onramping of women coming back into work. I think there are so many opportunities … It’s not necessarily obstacles, it’s opportunities and being brave enough, shall we say, to take those opportunities and apply for that job, apply for that promotion. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no. That’s the worst. The best is that they’re going to give you the job and they’re going to give you a pay rise.

Amanda:                    Yeah, yeah. I want to pick up on what you just said there about being brave enough. How can women be braver?

Maggie Berry:            I think you just sometimes got to go for it. I’ll give an example. We at Women in Technology had an online job board and we helped firms try to hire more technical women. Sometimes we’d approach women about jobs and they’ll be a little bit, “You know, I’m not sure. Maybe yes. OK, I’ll go for it.” You’d almost be persuading them to put themselves forward. Then they’d get requests for an interview, which would be great because the employer would be like, “Great. We’d love to meet them.” Then the women would go, “Actually, I don’t think I’m right for the job and I’m not going to go to the interview” and then they back out.

I think sometimes it’s just understanding the structure that even if we just take, say, hiring and recruitment and when you look at a job spec it’s a wish list of say 10 things that the employer is looking for. They’re probably going to be really happy if they can get 5 or 6 of them and they get the right attitude and the right kind of person they want on their team. Women often look at a job spec and say, “I have to be able to do everything and more before I’ll apply.” Anecdotally, it’s much more likely that a guy will look at it and go, “Oh, I can do a couple of those things. I’ll apply for that.” I think men are a bit more speculative on how they’re applying for jobs and what they’re doing and going for a promotion. I wish women … we would do more of that ourselves and just go for it. I say, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? They say no. So they say no. Move onto the next thing or wait another 6 months but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you don’t apply, you’re certainly not going to get an opportunity to have an interview and to put across yourself and all the talent and expertise that you might bring to the table.

I think you have just sometimes got to be brave. When I was younger that book was Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and I think if you are nervous about stuff, you won’t go far on leaving that getting some of the [tips 00:33:58] from that. Just go for things. I always had … Somebody once told me if you’re not feeling brave, just act as if you are brave. If you don’t %100 know what you’re talking about, just act as if you do because you’re probably going to be more expert than the person that you’re talking to if they’re not … Say you’re talking to a client and your company is the expert in what you’re doing, you will have more knowledge even if you don’t think you do. I think you can just be confident. Just act as if. They won’t know. They can’t read your mind. Obviously there’s situations where you can’t do that but mostly it’s just be brave. You just got to take that first step. It’s always easier once you’ve done it once. It’s never completely easy but it gets more manageable.

I remember a lady talk to me once about she always, always negotiated pay rises. She would always ask for pay rises every year. The first few times she said it was really awkward and then it just became completely normal. The negotiation, discussion around salary, it’s really awkward but it became much more normal. She’s now, “I do it every year. I’ve had increases because I’ve asked.” If you don’t ask, they’re not necessarily going to come forward and give you one.

Amanda:                    Yeah, I have a fantastic recent example. One of my clients went for a new job and it was completely outside of her comfort zone. She got the job and she relates this story. She said, “Yeah. Then I got the job.” Then she said, “You’ll never guess what. I said no. I wanted more money, I want a bigger package and they said yes.” She was absolutely amazed at what she could do just by asking …

Maggie Berry:            Asking.

Amanda:                    … and not assuming.

Maggie Berry:            Absolutely.

Amanda:                    It’s a story that we tell ourselves. By the time we publish this interview, Maggie, there will be on my blog [inaudible 00:35:08]. In fact, I’ve just finished writing it, a post called how to overcome fear of rejection. I wrote that blog post … I was inspired by, I came across a Chinese guy called Jia Jiang and he did something called 100 Days of Rejection. He did this challenge 2 years ago and his challenge was to desensitize himself from the pain of rejection. I think the fear of failure we have, and particularly women have, is a fear of rejection. I believe that is very much fundamental human fear because as human beings we’re tribal animals.

It’s really interesting this 100 Days of Rejection and the lessons that Jia Jiang learned from that echo what you have been saying, which is it’s just about doing it and asking, desensitizing yourself, taking that first step. He even quotes Susan Jeffers book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. There’s going to be some things that you ask, for example, he asked on the 97th day … so he’s setting himself up for rejection, it wasn’t particularly an ask … was to give a public speech on a public street. Even though he’d done 96 of these and you think by now he’d be like, “Yeah, I can do anything. I’m not worried about what people think, of people rejecting me.” He said he really, really struggled with this. I think that really echoes what you said, which is it’s not always going to be easy, it’s about just taking a deep breath and saying, “Let’s just see what happens.”

Maggie Berry:            Yeah. What I’ve heard anecdotally from some of my connections, network connections, who do work in large corporates … What they say is that the guys are always asking. The guys are always knocking on the door, talking about what they’ve been doing, promoting their projects, promoting themselves. Women don’t do that as often. They’re doing it as regularly. When we think about things like a pay gap, I think some of the things like our behavior could contribute to it because if they ask, they get listened to and maybe they do get a raise. If you’re not asking, they’re fine then. They’re not going to be thinking about giving you more money because you’ve not asked. In some organizations its very clear and they’ve got banners of … salary bands and things like but not in a lot of private sector organizations they don’t so yeah. Ask. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Amanda:                    Yes, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is echoing exactly what you’re saying here.

Maggie Berry:            Yeah. I’m going to be really honest. I haven’t actually read Lean In but I know some of the key points and I think it’s important if you want to progress and succeed and achieve, you’ve got to be engaged and you’ve got to spend time on yourself. Sometimes you might work in an organization where they’re not prepared not invest in you so you maybe need to think, “Right. Do I need to invest in myself? Do I need to get a coach? Do I need to find somebody in another organization that can maybe be a mentor for me? What other things do I need to be doing to equip myself with the skills for the career that I want.” We used to ask when we were doing the training courses at Women in Technology, “Who’s paid for the course? Have you paid or has employer paid?” We had a fairly even split. About 50% of the participants would have paid for themselves and about 50% would have had it paid for by their employer. We also used to give people tips on asking their employer to pay for something because it might be the first time that they’d asked. You know, “I wanted to go and do this external course, would work pay for it?”

Amanda:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maggie Berry:            Some of them weren’t used to asking those kind of questions and sometimes when they asked they did get it paid and that’s fantastic but I think you do need to think about what do I need to do for myself. Is it that I actually need to spend some time learning a specific skill set or actually am I wanting to be in the leadership position in a couple years. What courses do I need to be looking at? Do I need to be thinking about doing an MBA? What do other people in the organization who are ahead of me … What kind of skills have they got? What kind of things have they been doing that have enabled them to get to their positions. It’s very important to be very self aware of what you need to be, equipping yourself. I mean outside of your technical skills for your job, whatever your job might be. I’m talking about the additional skills you need to be that well rounded professional, whether it’s in technology, whether it’s in finance, whether it’s engineering, what other things do you need to be succeeding in your career?

Amanda:                    Oh, absolutely. Brilliant advice. Maggie, thank you very much for that. I’m going to start bringing us to a close now. I just want to finish by asking you what I think is a very important question. What do we need to do to encourage our daughters to reach higher. What do we … does our generation need to do to help the generation who will be the next leaders to … I guess get out of their own way because I think the message here is that women, we tend to hold back.

Maggie Berry:            I think role models are incredibly important. I think we need to think about who are young girls in the UK … who do they see? Who are the people that they are looking up to? Quite often that’s going to be people in the media. Not necessarily teachers or parents but maybe people that they would interact with. Actually sometimes it’s not many so I think the importance of role models and skills bringing in external speakers and giving their young people an opportunity just to hear from different professionals, different walks of life and different things that you could achieve. I think that’s incredibly important. I think the inspiration can just spark an imagination and just set young people off on a completely different career journey. I think parents are big influences on the careers that children choose so we also need parents to be quite open minded about what their children are interested in.

The generation I’m from is very much around you go to school, you go to university and then you go and get a job. I think now that all the fees, the costs associated with getting university education, there are some brilliant other routes into … some fantastic apprenticeship schemes. There’s whole programs now around bringing out young people and setting them off on an entrepreneurial route if they’ve got business ideas. There’s so many different things out there and it’s just shining a spotlight on them for all young people, irrespective of where they are in the country because London can sometimes feel a little like the center of the universe because there’s just so much stuff going on here but there are also some fantastic programs around the country, especially … I talk a lot about tech because it’s where I spent a lot of time, going out and speaking to girls, talking about what a career in technology could be. It’s also the same with an entrepreneurship. There’s a whole piece around entrepreneurs and founders of companies going out and just talking to young people about their business journey, which is incredibly important. I do wonder whether the generation of young boys that are growing up alongside daughters now, how different their perspectives will be as well.

Amanda:                    Yes. Yes. I wonder about that too. I have … They call it Generation Y, don’t they, Gen Y, the next generation. I’ve heard that Gen Y are going to be far more demanding in terms of how they’re able to work. Take, for example, Google and the way they work. There are no set hours. It’s about you have your objectives and you meet your objectives. The whole working environment is set up to support a really, I guess empowering, healthy environment that helps their employees’ well being. I understand that Gen Y will be far more demanding of that in workplace. Then again, an interesting article I read a few weeks ago was … It was in the Guardian and it was regarding the assumption that … Well, this was about women … the assumption that women are only interested in work-life balance. They’re asking are companies guilty of benevolent sexism. The quote from this study was that … Here it is, “14% felt a benchmark of success would be a better work-life balance. 44% wanted job satisfaction while 34% wanted to define their company’s direction and leadership. It’s not more time that women want, it’s more power.” That makes me wonder if that’s this generation with women wanting power, will the next generation of women and men want more power or will they just want more time to play?

Maggie Berry:            Possibly a bit of both. I think the move towards being able to work more flexibly has got to come. When I look at what must be the extraordinary cost for some of these big businesses to maintain big offices in central cities … cities in the centre of town, I just think, “How can they keeping affording to pay for that when actually you could have a small site and people work from home and they work flexibly?” You need to equip your managers with the skills they need to manage a remote team. I think sometimes that can be the missing the link in some of this. It’s setting up flexible working but we don’t actually equip internally with how you actually manage those kind of things. I think work life is important. I certainly think in London life can be incredibly busy. People do very long hours. My husband leaves the house at half past 6 every day and normally gets home at half past 7. They’re long days. I don’t always necessarily think of it as it’s about power. I think people maybe just want a little bit more control over what’s happening with their job and how they work. I think technology now is so much better equipped to be able to offer that. I think employers are gradually seeing a change.

Amanda:                    Yes. May that change continue on an upward trajectory.

Maggie Berry:            Absolutely, absolutely.

Amanda:                    Of course, where you are with WEConnect Europe is really at the forefront of actually driving that change so Maggie, thank you very, very much for being here today. If you’d like to learn more about WEConnect, you can go to We’ll put that in the show notes, which you can find on podcast. If you would like to connect with my interviewee today, Maggie Berry, you can find Maggie on LinkedIn. Again, I will put a link to Maggie so that you can connect to her on LinkedIn. I’m sure she would be happy to say hi to you. If you’ve enjoyed today’s show, please don’t keep it to yourself. Please spread the word. Do subscribe to us on iTunes or Stitcher. If you’ve enjoyed it, please rate the show and give me a review. That would be much appreciated. Until next time, you’ve been listening to Amanda Alexander interviewing Maggie Berry on Inspiring Women Interviews podcast. Bye bye.


001 Kristen Pressner, VP, Head of HR EMEA & Latin America Roche Diagnostics

By amandaalexander

Inspiring Women Interviews
Inspiring Women Interviews
001 Kristen Pressner, VP, Head of HR EMEA & Latin America Roche Diagnostics

Welcome to the Inspiring Women Interview series.  We’re kicking off the show in style interviewing a truly inspirational female leader and advocate of women in leadership, Kristen Pressner of Roche Diagnostics.

Highlights of this interview:

  • Planning your career progression
  • How to make it “work” as a working mother
  • How to return from maternity leave with confidence and ease
  • The most important qualities of a leader
  • Why we need more female leaders globally
  • The challenges faced by women in leadership positions
  • The case for positive discrimination to increase the number of women on boards
  • Being  strong female role models for our children

Transcript of Amanda’s Interview with Kristen

Amanda:      This is Amanda Alexander from amanda and today I am absolutely delighted and really excited to be interviewing Kristen Pressner, the VP and Head of Human Resources for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America, that’s kind of two-thirds of the world for Roche Diagnostics. Kristen is joining us today from Switzerland.

Just a little bit about Roche, with nearly 90,000 employees globally they are the world’s largest biotech company and also the world leader in in vitro diagnostics. Kristen’s worked extensively both in States and in Europe in many different positions across all HR disciplines. Originally from the US she worked for nine years in HR within the high tech industry before joining Roche in the North American Organization in 2005. In 2007 Kristen and her family relocated to Switzerland and she took on the role of Senior Director Global Learning and Development at Roche Headquarters.

Today she’s responsible for HR, the largest business region with more than 7,000 employees spanning four continents across over 150 countries. There are the statistics but let’s get to what’s most important and that’s what’s most important is that I’m interviewing Kristen today because she is in a fantastic position to share some insights of someone who’s really passionate about diversity as a true business driver.

She provides perspectives from the view of the global environment, as well as from behind the dark curtain of HR. She’s also someone who knows the subject about women and leadership inside-out from the perspective of a real woman executive herself and also as a mom with four children.

Kristen was recently voted as a top keynote speaker of the Women in Leadership Economic Forum in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates and I am going to dive straight in. Kristen, welcome.

Kristen:          Thank you, Amanda. It’s fabulous to be here.

Amanda:        I’m really excited about this. Tell us, we’ve got the kind of, the official bio of your career so far but in terms of how you’ve got here and with four children has that been a kind of, has it been a straight road from A to B, with B being where you are now, or has it had many ups and downs?

Kristen:          Definitely many ups and downs. It hasn’t been a straight road but I have to say when you look back you look at how each moment in time prepared you along the way and I wouldn’t trade any of my opportunities, but like you mentioned I do have four children and there were certainly about a handful of years that I affectionately called the “busy years” where our family was growing, and at that time while my career was a priority accelerating my career as quickly as possible wasn’t my top priority.

I can definitely say as I look back at my career there were windows where I decelerated and windows where I accelerated, and in looking back I wouldn’t have worried so … what that meant for my career because everything’s worked out great so far.

Amanda:        How old are your children now, Kristen?

Kristen:          They are 14, 13, 11, and 8.

Amanda:        You have them fairly close together, 14, 13, 11. Did you have 4 and a 5 at any point? My math isn’t that quick.

Kristen:          I had 4, not under 5, they were 5 years apart between the oldest and the youngest.

Amanda:        Almost.

Kristen:          It was a close call. It was a busy few year.

Amanda:        Which were the busy years? How many years were the busy years where you decelerated your career?

Kristen:          I would say it was probably those 5 years because we actually moved to Switzerland on international assignments when the youngest one was 1 year old. I would say there was probably a six year window where I was pregnant, or on maternity leave, or coming off of maternity leave, or not sleeping which is typically associated with those ages, and it was for me a bit magical when the youngest turned 1 and I was sleeping again and could imagine doing something crazy with my career like moving to another country.

Amanda:        When you had your first child were you planning to have four children? Did you have a master plan within the children, the career, how it’s all going to work?

Kristen:          I am the kind of person where I know people who know me will say, “Yes, of course she had a master plan,” but I really didn’t. My husband and I when asked when we got married how many kids we wanted, we’ve said three. We actually got pregnant on our honeymoon and it forced the discussion in our household much earlier than we expected with regards to, “So, what are we going to do from here? Are we both going to work? Is one of us going to stay home? What might that look like?”

For me I was really thankful that when my husband and I sat down and had a quite transparent discussion with each other that when I was honest with myself I felt like … of course not being able to predict what would happen when my first child arrived I felt like probably I was going to be best played at work because I really got a lot out of my career and my growth there. My husband felt like he was going to probably be best played at home because he always wanted to be a stay-at-home father and thought that that might be something that he would be really good at.

For us it was dose of good luck that each of us felt like we could get our dream scenario but we did try different scenarios. When I took my maternity leave I was home alone for a while. We were home together for a little bit and then I was back at work and he was home alone for a while, to kind of try all scenarios on for size before we made a final commitment, but after I went back to work my husband ended up quitting his job and he’s been a stay-at-home father for the last 14 1/2 years.

Amanda:        Your oldest child is 14, he’s pretty much been the parent at home since the first child was born, that’s right?

Kristen:          Absolutely. Absolutely.

Amanda:        How was it in your career, it just occurred to me that you had your first child and then your second child within just a year apart, and I know that for many women that scenario is, “Okay, I’ve been on maternity leave and, huh! Oh, I’m pregnant again,” and that can be quite a tricky situation. Was it for you?

Kristen:          I didn’t really feel apologetic or worried about the fact that I had two kids. They were 18 months apart in the end but it definitely felt like I’ve just gotten back from maternity leave and then I was pregnant again. I was one of the unlucky ones that really got quite sick for quite an extended period of time during my pregnancy and I wasn’t exactly at my best even in my pregnancy. They weren’t getting the best of Kristen during my pregnancy and then I was out.

I always did have an insecurity about going on maternity leave and I have to say it’s been eye-opening to work in a global environment because maternity leaves in the United States are quite short, 6, 8, 12 weeks and I always took the maximum which was 12 weeks before you could not have a job to return to. I know my husband and I each time we discussed, “Hmmm, do you think that’s a good career move? Do you think it sends the signal that you want to send? Do you think that they won’t think you’re serious anymore?”

My mode has always been, “I’m going to do what’s right and if the organization isn’t supportive of that then I’m probably not in the right place.” In the end I noticed that I got promoted after each of my four maternity leaves, it’s certainly, I guess absence made the heart grow fonder.

Amanda:        That’s really interesting that you got promoted after each of your maternity leave, especially as we’ve heard these stories of women being made redundant or losing their job after maternity leave. Tell me, what’s your secret? How did you get promoted each time after four children?

Kristen:          I have to say I think the hardest moment is coming back from your first maternity leave. I think people, even I see today are often skeptical that a woman is actually going to return. I suspect my organization probably wasn’t sure if I was going to return either, but after you’ve returned from the first one the next three people count on you to return, I think it was less of that and given the short maternity leaves in the United States, 12 weeks in the end isn’t that long. I always showed that I was committed to growing and learning and trying new things. I think they didn’t consider my timeout on maternity leave as being much more than a blip, which I’m thankful for.

You were asking before about feeling kind of bad about being pregnant, and I have to say I remember when I got pregnant with my third and a male colleague had asked if … he asked me something, I think probably to go for drinks and I said, “I can’t, I’m pregnant.” We were instant messaging and he said, “Hahaha!” like it was so funny but I actually was. He thought it was a joke because I’ve just gotten back from maternity leave. Sometimes it’s not a joke.

Amanda:        It’s real. Did you encounter any discrimination, any negativity when you were in the busy years?

Kristen:          Not that I can recall. I come from a fairly optimistic place of looking at the world and my assumptions are always that people are doing what’s right and that if something that I don’t think is quite right is happening then perhaps I don’t have the full view or anything like that. I can’t honestly recall a time where I felt like I was getting treated badly or a bad deal or anything like that but I also feel like I give a lot to my organizations.

I once had a leader say, “You’ve given a lot to us so let us be there for you.” I think that is, that’s how it should work. If I continue to perform in a high way no matter what was going on with me personally, busy years or not, there might be a time when you need to leave me alone because I’m on maternity leave or give me some grace because I’m not feeling so hot that day and I think it’s the part of the mutuality of the relationship.

Amanda:        Yes, mutuality is a thing, isn’t? I like that. Kris, do you think you could have achieved what you have achieved with your career if your husband had been in a similar position? Could you have made it work with four kids without your husband, without you and your husband making the decision for him to be a stay-at-home dad?

Kristen:          I probably would twist that question a little bit. I’m not sure we would have had four kids if my husband wasn’t a stay-at-home dad. I mentioned before that we had, our magic number was three and for me the magic number became four, I think in part because he’s really good at what he does and I felt like our family didn’t feel complete. It’s quite a luxury position to be in to say, “I feel like there’s a fourth person who’s missing at the dinner table,” and to be able to do that because we were in, a bit the luxury position that he was staying home and he was loving his role and just performing it so excellently.

I think if we both have had tried to have high-powered careers I doubt we would have had more than one or two quite honestly. I’m really thankful for the way that it’s turned out but a lot of people ask me, “Can you have two alpha careers?” I’m not convinced you can especially in a global environment I think you could maybe have two people who at one time or another have alpha careers but I think that to have two alpha careers at the same time, especially as people get moved around the world and the different challenges I think it gets real tricky.

Amanda:        Yes, yes, I’d love to ask you a question actually about your husband being a stay-at-home dad which wasn’t a question I was going to ask but I’m just listening to you I’m thinking and I know there’s so many women who are the main breadwinners now and I think stay-at-home dads are becoming more and more common. However, in certain circles they’re still seen as a bit of an oddity, did you find that? How did your husband find it?

Kristen:          It’s actually really funny when we had our first son, we lived in Dallas at the time and the newspaper there is the Dallas Morning News and they actually did an article where they interviewed my husband, “the oddity”, the stay-at-home dad about his life and what he did all day and all that, and put a picture of him and my son in the newspaper. It kind of amused me at the time because my mom was a stay-at-home mom, it’s not that crazy of a model, it was just a flipped role.

I found it interesting that they found that newsworthy. What was particularly interesting to me is that a couple of years later when our second child had arrived they actually wanted to do a follow-up article because that article had been so popular. It wasn’t even just that someone thought it was news but I guess it was so much of interest that they wanted to do a follow-up article which I thought was interesting.

I have to say it’s funny when we moved to Switzerland some people had said to us that in some parts of the world stay-at-home fathers aren’t regarded very highly. They may be perceived as having failed to provide for their family causing the woman to have to go and provide. We were prepared for the worst if you will, with regards to how we will be accepted in society and we’ve not felt any of that at all.

My husband laughs every time he goes, especially when the children were younger, to the grocery store he teases that little old lady stop him and tell him what a good husband he is and how they wished their husband was so good. I thought, “Wow, I don’t get a [inaudible 00:14:20] ride when I take the kids to the grocery store,” maybe there’s something to it.

Amanda:        Yes, that’s [inaudible 00:14:26], see a man with a buggy, “Oh, you’re such a good dad.”

Kristen:          Exactly. Exactly.

Amanda:        Thank you, that’s really … it’s a really, really positive story, I think, for anyone considering doing that where the husband stays at home. I’ll get them to call you.

Kristen:          Exactly. I know it’s not for everyone and I know there are tricky elements and I don’t try to downplay the fact that it’s a recipe that works for us and I don’t know if it’ll work for everyone but I’m really thankful that he had an open mind to take a non-traditional male role because there is no way I would be able to accomplish what I do in my career and my life if it weren’t for my husband.

Amanda:        A real supporter. I can think of a dozen’s other questions I could think of to ask you that but I would like to move on to the question of female leadership and particularly your own leadership as a woman. What are the things that you think that you do well or that you get feedback from colleagues, peers, managers, on what you do well?

Kristen:          I find leadership just in general as a fascinating topic and I’m particularly excited about women in leadership because when we have people representation in our leadership we have better business results and we have better organizational cultures. These are things I want and desire for my organization and it’s an important topic for me. What I find, there are some stereotypes with regards to women leaders and among them are that women are more collaborative and more likely to use a questioning or coaching approach versus a dictatorial approach to their leadership.

I found that to be a particularly interesting element because certainly it’s the leadership style that I display at work, but also at home which is I don’t tell people what to do but I do engage them in a discussion where they self-explore what they think is the right path and come to that conclusion themselves. Typically, people have it inside themselves what’s the right thing to do, they just needed some help making sure that it unfolds, and when they do they’re really committed to the action and willing to give a lot after.

It does take a little bit more time but it’s one of those situations like preparing well that you do the investment upfront and you get the payback later. This is something that I see in my own leadership style that helps me to be really effective and have the ability to attract incredibly talented people on to my team and keep them on my team contributing at a very high level, but I see this also as a trend in other women leaders as well.

Amanda:        The coach approach is, of course we all have the answers within us as you said and we’re far more likely to act through to a really satisfactory conclusion when we’ve had the idea ourselves, when it’s come from what we’ve discovered ourselves rather than something that’s been pushed upon us, and that as you said, that that works at home and the work, doesn’t it?

Kristen:          It was funny we had a disappointing grade on a report card and I felt like what stereotypically parents do is say, “That’s a bad grade. What are you going to do about that grade? That’s not okay and you’re grounded,” and all that. It was really funny because I sat down with my child and said, “How do you feel about this grade?” They said, “That’s a disappointing grade,” and I said, “Yeah, I feel like you could do better than that too,” and I said, “Where do we go from here?”

We engaged in this really interesting discussion where my child said, “Here’s what I think the problem is. Here’s what I think the potential solution is. Here’s what I’m willing to do differently.” That individual is spot-on working towards correcting that in a way that absolutely wouldn’t have happened if I said, “You’re grounded, get your grades up.” It’s been really cool as a parent to watch them grow and learn through that kind of parenting because when you do it that way you also get to have the … still having a good close collaborative relationship with your child versus a top-down I’m telling you what to do, I’m the parent you’re the kid kind of relationship.

Amanda:        I agree with you there sister. Have you read How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child?

Kristen:          I have not.

Amanda:        Daniel Goldman, really, really good.

Kristen:          Sounds like a good one. I believe I am raising an emotionally intelligent children so I might need to give that a look and see if I’m missing anything but …

Amanda:        No, you can read and you can go, “Yeah, I’m doing all these.”

Kristen:          Let’s hope.

Amanda:        It sounds like you are. On that –

Kristen:          It’s a mother thing I do.

Amanda:        On that issue IQ or EQ? Which do you think is most important for a leader?

Kristen:          EQ, a 100 miles EQ. There’s a lot of stuff that can be learned IQ wise but being able to read a situation, being able to flex based on who you’re dealing with, being able to appeal to people from where they are and what motivates them, for me it’s been a huge differentiator in my career, and also, smart, I think you have to be smart to get to a certain level on the organization, at least I sure hope so but the EQ, is in my opinion, clearly the differentiator in leadership.

Amanda:        Yes, that made the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with or come across have been strong … smart as you say, but EQ has been the driving force.

Kristen:          The bottom line is there is certain things I’m not the expert on. There’s certain topics I’m just not the smartest one in the room but I’m smart enough to surround myself with people who fill out my gaps. I think on the IQ side you can always build a team around you to buffer a certain level of intelligence to a certain point but on the EQ side, time and again I see leaders fail when they just can’t accurately read a situation and know how to react to it on a fly.

Amanda:        Kristen, you said you’re passionate about women in leadership, you said that women have a more collaborative, more coach approach than men and you referred earlier briefly to how having more female leaders makes sense for the business, could you talk a bit more about that, about what is really important about us nurturing and having more female leaders in the world.

Kristen:          I’m so passionate about this my mind is spinning with things to say but I have to say the biggest thing for me is no matter what you do there’s a limited impact that you can have on a system when you’re under represented in the power structure. In other words of you’re under represented in leadership as a woman there’s a limited impact you as a woman can have on that system.

One of the clearest examples that I can see is the World Economic Forum, if you just look at the representation. The World Economic Forum in January pulled together 2,500 top business leaders, selected intellectuals, politicians from all over the world. Their stated mission is to improve the state of the world through public-private cooperation – health, the environment … these big topics. 15% of the people who were there were women and for me that’s absolutely unacceptable. That means men, 83% of the participants there are deciding what the system looks like for me and for you, and for me that’s not okay. It’s a topic that’s important to me because in order to force the change that we want in the world women have to be represented in top leadership.

Amanda:        I agree with that. I agree with that. For you it’s about balance.

Kristen:          I was speaking at the Technology Conference this weekend and one of my comments was, “It’s not just about equality of opportunity it’s about equality of product when you look at high-tech. I mean, how can technology work for all of us if only some of us are working in technology?” When you think about it these are the people who are creating the technology that surrounds us and that is a notoriously imbalanced male dominated industry. How was that technology going to work for all of us if it’s built by men?

Amanda:        Indeed, and I think a lot more companies, for example I know the automotive industry they have got it now, haven’t they? That women generally make the buying decisions about cars and that they actually need to listen to women rather than assuming that all they want in a car is a pretty color.

Kristen:          Exactly and it’s funny because I think almost every industry has realized the influence that women have over purchasing power. It’s interesting how that should be changing the way we build our teams that create things and certainly changing who we see in top leadership.

Amanda:        I think this is a bit of a kind of just … I don’t know, just listening to you talking about the World Economic Forum, if you were organizing the next World Economic Forum what do you think we could … What would you do to try to boost that, was it 15% you said?

Kristen:          17%, and by the way 17% for the last three years.

Amanda:        What would you do to boost that for next year?

Kristen:          I love that question. I want to get to do that. Extraordinary women all over the world, I can tell you. You listed the regions of the world that I support I get to travel to South Africa, to Russia, to Latin America, come from the United States, work in Western Europe, home is in Western Europe, I daily am surrounded by incredibly bright, incredibly passionate women. It is not hard to come up with more women to go to this thing and to have a voice.

Given the task I would be delighted to put together a dream team that represents the world at large, if this is the World Economic Forum but also better represents the different genders. I don’t think it’s even that hard.

Amanda:        I feel a new challenge coming on for you Kristen. Do you think you might have time to do that?

Kristen:          I would take it on a heartbeat. Do you want to give the World Economic Forum my phone number?

Amanda:        I think I will do actually, just remind me to do that afterwards.

Kristen:          Right around the corner here in Switzerland, it only makes sense.

Amanda:        You know what, we’re half-joking but who knows? Who knows?

Kristen:          Who knows? Sign me up.

Amanda:        What do you think these main obstacles are for aspiring female leaders? Why is it that there’s only 17% female representation in the World Economic Forum?

Kristen:          That of course represents female representation in top leadership globally if you will, that’s how we get there, is if they go take the top echelons of leadership globally that’s who you get. Now, how do we get in that place? Honestly, if it was an easy problem to solve I think it would have been solved a long time ago. There are deep rooted cultural norms that lead us to this situation.

Certainly I carry around more than my fair share of mommy guilt every time I make a trade-off, but I can tell you as an HR person I’ve observed three areas where I see men behaving consistently differently than women and it comes in these three areas, one is knowing yourself.

I think I’ve observed women as less likely to really understand what they’re passionate about, what they want to do next, what they’re not so keen on, what their limits and boundaries are, things like that, really knowing yourself, and that for me comes down to if you had two minutes with a career maker can you, inside two minutes be tight on who you are, what you want or what you’re passionate about, and what you’re not so keen on.

The second one is around knowing you can do it or the confidence bit. I don’t believe that there is a confidence gap in that women somehow just have less of it than men, but what I do observe is that women tend to hesitate more than men, and I’m certainly guilty of that, and we could fill this whole time with stories about when I hesitated, but I think women need to hesitate less and really help each other through those moments of hesitation and go for it even if they’re not comfortable because you just have to be able to learn. If you’ve proven you can learn in the past then you can learn in the future and to learn to trust that.

Then the third area is around knowing the rules of engagement because if you look … the way I describe it to people is, “If the race that is being run right now is an academic one, women are winning, I mean they get more degrees, they perform better academically in all levels.” The problem is. I think women graduate thinking that the race is still the academic one that they’re winning at, and the problem is all the rules changed and no one told you.

I’m often finding myself kind of helping women understand the landscape of what the new set of rules are and some examples of the ones that I share are, confidence can beat out competence. Just being confident in certain situations you can win and men seem to get this or know this or learned this in ways that I don’t see happening with women. I think the combination of these three things and women getting tighter on these three things can be extraordinarily helpful and them taking the control in being able to drive their career forward.

Amanda:        Confidence beats competence, is that about the rules of engagement? Do you think … Is that the number one rule of engagement?

Kristen:          It’s right up there. Honestly for me, the number one rule of engagement is recognizing that the rules aren’t fair because the standards that women are judged against are different than the standards that women are judged against. Did I say women and women? I meant men and women.

I think that’s horribly unfair and really frustrating but it’s a fact and I’m a pretty pragmatic person and just coming to the point where I recognized that there is a less wide band of accepted behaviors from me as a woman in the workplace than there is for men in the workplace, while unfair is a fact. I have to learn how to operate within that if I want to be successful, and then once I get to the top I can influence that.

Amanda:        Can you give me an example of what you mean by the standards against which men are judged by different from the standards by which women are judged by?

Kristen:          I have this great advertisement from Pantene that I like to share with people. I’ll describe it there but it basically shows in the first screen a man probably dictating some sort of memo in an office waving his arms around and behind him on a building is the Hugo Boss logo, so it says, “Boss.” Then it fades to a picture of a woman, impeccably dressed doing the same gesture and the building behind her says, “Bossy.” Next scene there’s a man passionately giving a speech, gesticulating wildly and in front of his podium it says, “Persuasive,” then it pans to a woman in the same space doing the same thing and the podium says, “Pushy.”

I love this ad because it really calls out some of these different ways that we view people for doing the same thing. A man working late with baby bottles and a crib nearby is dedicated, a woman doing the same thing is selfish. There’s such an emotional music the ad gets me every time because it really highlights it’s not always fair the way we get judged for doing the same thing.

Amanda:        Absolutely. That [inaudible 00:30:14] I know the one you mean it’s a, really is powerful, very visual, isn’t? Very visual at that but it definitely shows the difference in me … in the standards. My son just came in and shouted, “Mum!”

Kristen:          Well, that’s life for us, isn’t?

Amanda:        That’s life. Can we have it all? Do you think we can have it all as women, Kristen?

Kristen:          I think it depends on how you define, “it all.” Mind view is, and I think there’s different visuals that people have given over time, there’s certain elements of your life or the big rocks and you have the put the big rocks in before the smaller rocks and those kind of things. Honestly I spent quite a bit of time making sure that I’ve thought through what are the most important things to me and I keep a beacon of light on those.

The things that are most important to me, I can have all of that. I also know that I have to say no to some things in order to say yes to those things, and being really, really rock solid on what’s the most important to me makes me able to say no to the things that don’t fit in a much easier way. I feel like I have it all but that doesn’t mean that I don’t make sacrifices for saying no to things because I do.

Amanda:        Yes, and in order to choose yes to one thing you have to choose no to another thing in which you’re going to choose. It’s all about choice.

Kristen:          Absolutely and trade-offs. It’s shocking to me how many people seem to go through life making trade-offs without knowing what’s most important to them and then they get surprised by where they find themselves. I’m much more purposeful in the way that I go through my life, both [inaudible 00:32:03] -wise and I’m always keeping in mind what’s the most important to me.

It’s funny I always tease my husband that I can control time, I can expand a 24 hour day and there’s a couple of ways I do that. One, is if I’m in a situation where I can be all of me and I’m not having to moderate and flex in my environment a whole lot, it’s really energizing and I literally feel like I get longer than 24 hours in a day.

I’m really passionate about women in leadership and when I spend time doing things like this or speaking at conferences or having one on one discussions with women who are returning from maternity leaves and have some questions and need some advice, like I was this afternoon. I always make time for that and somehow when I make time for that I find that the day just seems to be longer on the other side. I don’t know how but it feels like I can bend time. If you prioritize what’s the most important thing to you I think it all fits.

Amanda:        I love that. Basically do what you love and give time to what you love even when you think there’s no time for it and you will find that you magically expand time.

Kristen:          It sounds hokey when I hear myself say it but I really truly believe this. It’s like yesterday I got off a plane and I was exhausted and jetlagged and my kids came home from school and I was loving on them because I haven’t seen them in a week and a couple of them really wanted to, in great detail break down everything I’ve missed over the last week, and of course my mind was, “I’ve got to unpack and I’ve got all these laundry and I have no idea what’s lurking in my inbox.” I just sat and listened with all my heart to every single word and somehow it all fit.

I knew my priority at that moment was being there for my kids and making them feel, hearing them, being there in the way that I wasn’t it physically there over the last week and the rest it fits somehow. It’s not the priority.

Amanda:        I love it. I have to say, Kristen, I have got the perfect title for your next keynote.

Kristen:          Bring it on.

Amanda:        Kristen Pressner, How I Control Time.

Kristen:          Exactly, just think how many people would pay for that.

Amanda:        I certainly would. It could be just two minutes long and it would be worth it.

Kristen:          That sounds good. I’m taking deep notes because maybe I’ll do that.

Amanda:        Just housework and all that slab, you just touched upon that now when you said your kids needed you, you haven’t been there and you just … you gave that was the priority, you gave them that time, what about all the drudgery? What about all the stuff that every family, whether you’re a high flyer, you’re in middle management or whether you’ve got a part-time job it all seems, it expands … what do they say? It’s Murphy’s law, expands to fit, [inaudible 00:35:00] Murphy’s law, wasn’t it? Expands to fit the time available. What’s your take on the stuff that surrounds any family life whether or not you have a husband at home or a wife at home?

Kristen:          My husband and I have a separation of duties that we’ve agreed to and he does, he’s our Chief Executive Officer of household operations. He sees it as part of his role as a stay-at-home father also to run our households. He takes care of the laundry, he takes care of the cooking and shopping, he takes care of all those things. Although I have to say in the interest of true honesty I do my own laundry because I trust no other human being to do my laundry, but that being said he does everybody else’s laundry and he runs our household.

I think when it comes to anything that can be outsourced, I’m a big fan of outsourcing. We do have people who come and clean the house and because that isn’t something that makes sense for either of us to do and we also have four children which they would tell you it means we have four very good little helpers who have extensive chores that are preparing them to live on their own in the world when they’re not in my house anymore. The older ones know how to cook meals and do laundry and cut grass and shovel snow, and the younger ones are progressing toward that.

While it was a busy few years when they were younger being really honest, there’s not much besides my own laundry that I have to do around the house given or set-up, and I’m really, really thankful for that because it enables me to give a 1000% at work and then come home and be a 1000% at home versus scurrying around doing stuff.

Amanda:        Excellent, I love that and again it’s all about priorities and what’s important and going back to your first golden rule about knowing yourself and what’s important to you and what you want.

Kristen:          Absolutely.

Amanda:        Kristen, when you talked about your second golden rule about hesitate less, is that about leaning in to use Sheryl Sandberg?

Kristen:          Probably, I think we’re probably using similar language and I know … I’m a huge Sheryl Sandberg fan, wouldn’t want to steal her words but I think it’s a similar thing. It spoke to me the way she shared in her original TED talk about how women are making decisions to lean in back or not fully be all-in in career or education in anticipation of a life balance issue that doesn’t exist yet. That kind of really struck with me and I don’t ever recall doing that but I have seen it, and sometimes I think I’ve been guilty of thinking about that.

I often give the example of when I was offered my current role, my job is a big part of the world and I have 50+% travel and I have four children and I have an hour and a half commute to the office each day and I … Originally when I was offered the job thought, “Yeah, I’m not going to take … there’s no way. How does that work?” I almost turned it down until I really got real with myself about why, because I was telling myself, “Well, you’re going to have to turn it down because it isn’t a good fit for your family,” but deep down really I knew I probably could find a way to sort it.

It might requires us to learn new skills as a family and we did have a discussion about what that might look like and how the kids might need to step up to enable it, but in the end the real reason that I was telling myself that it wasn’t a fit for my family was because I was afraid I couldn’t do it. What I really want is for women to be honest with themselves when they’re making a decision. If you’re making a decision because you really, really think it’s not the right fit for your family right now, fine, but if you’re making a decision because you’re scared and you’re blaming it and you don’t think it’s a good fit for your family, I think that’s a bad call and you’ll be … you just …

Amanda:        Kristen, are you there?

Kristen:          I hear you.

Amanda:        Sorry, I just lost you. I lost the last bit of that sentence.

Kristen:          Do you remember what you heard last?

Amanda:        You talked about being a bad, what is a bad fit for your family.

Kristen:          I just often see women not being honest with themselves about why they want to turn something down and if you really look truthfully at your own motivations and what’s going on and you say, “This is a bad match for my family,” then by all means don’t do it but if really what’s going on deep down is that you’re afraid you won’t be successful and you blame on it not being a good fit for your family I think that’s the wrong call.

I know I’ve been guilty of almost doing that, probably more than once if I’m honest with myself and I am really thankful in those situations where I, to use Sheryl’s vernacular lean in or to use mine, I don’t hesitate or give a label to why I’m not doing something that’s actually … that’s socially acceptable that it won’t fit with my family socially acceptable reason, when in fact I was going to turn it down because I was afraid.

Amanda:        That requires a lot of self-knowledge to be able to recognize that and be honest about that, isn’t it? Coming back to –

Kristen:          Back to know yourself, exactly. Exactly.

Amanda:        But I think it’s worth … It’s worth bearing in mind that so many of us, particularly women worry about what other people think. Have you ever suffered from that? Have you ever been worried that, “Oh, what do they think of me?” Going back to the yadda-yadda stuff that should have gone out with the arc about, “Women should be at home when they’re …” I had a friend who actually used to say to me, she wasn’t a mother, “If I’d had children I would have stayed at home. I don’t believe women should go out to work … go to work if they have children.”

Kristen:          We women are really good at making each other feel bad, aren’t we?

Amanda:        Fantastic.

Kristen:          I really try not to be that person. I’ve had people judged my choices and physical husband’s choice and it’s a bit befuddling to me because I don’t understand why they care if it’s working for us. That’s a bit, my take on the world is, “Whatever your set-up is, if it’s working for you, go for it.” Quite honestly, do I care what other people think? Only all the time but I’m learning, I think it helps as you get a bit older to know you’re on a good path for you and to be less concerned about that, or less driven by that.

I have carried around more than my fair share, four kids worth of mommy guilt for the trade-offs that I’ve made and I can tell you I just celebrated a birthday and my 12 year old daughter gave me a gift. It was a little booklet of 50 Reasons Why She Loves Me, and there’re really adorable things in there like, “Because you help me with my homework, because you’re taking me to Paris for my birthday,” but the one that brought tears to my eyes was, “Because you’re changing the world.”

I wouldn’t be able to be the kind of mom who’s admired by her 12 year old daughter for changing the world if I hadn’t done the things that I’ve done. I’m a 100% convinced she’s growing up to be an incredible young woman and I’m really thankful for the choices that I made back when I wasn’t sure if they were the right ones.

Amanda:        There’s almost tears coming out to my eyes. I’m convinced of that too, Kristen.

Kristen:          I think it’s hard when you have young kids. I had a mom who just returned from maternity leave saying to me today, “Do I take the promotion? Do I not? Am I hurting my child somehow?” I shared this story with her because I said, “I had all those same questions and I had all the same people whisper in my ear or raising their eyebrow and wondering if I wasn’t going to regret later the choices I made and I am just as part of myself as others are, and so I can tell you, you know my kids are 14 … 8 to 14, which means they’re getting close to being finished, and I have no doubt in my mind that the choices that we made were the right ones for our family.”

My job, my primary job is to turn those four children into the best human beings out in the world possible and they’re turning our just fine, really, fine, fine individuals.

Amanda:        My primary job to agree with you there and I think you answered my next question, how can we arm ourselves, protect ourselves from those naysayers and the mommy guilt. What would you say to a young woman, which is what you did, to speak to somebody who has got their head screwed on like you and somebody who is multi-faceted and who understands, who’s been there and done that but who can give you a broad perspective rather than the judgmental perspective to help you to see things logically rather than through the prism of guilt.

Kristen:          Absolutely, one of my biggest pieces of advice to people is, “Be careful who you listen to.” You don’t have to listen to everybody and I remember I think it hit me when we had our youngest son …Sorry, our oldest was two and he would say things and all of a sudden I have this parenting epiphany that not everything your child says requires questions reaction. This is a moment for any new parents, this is going to blow your mind that not everything they say requires a reaction, sometimes your best reaction with your kids isn’t no reaction at all.

I think that’s the same thing when it comes to people who are naysayers or people who don’t have the whole picture or are giving not very positive feedback. Surround yourself, make sure you’re listening to and reacting to the right people.

Amanda:        I think I’m going to paint that on my wall, I like it.

Kristen:          You know the funny thing is it’s easy to give advice and then I have to go back every day when I have my weak moments or my moments of doubt and then I would say, “What would I advise me?” Then I have to do that. It’s easier to say than to do.

Amanda:        Very, very [inaudible 00:45:31] advise, thank you Kristen. I’m going to jump right out of home and mommy guilt and with not comparing yourself, not worrying about what other people say to, back into the micro world of the gender pay gap. Do you believe it’s still a problem for women? Obviously it’s a problem for women not in the developed world but in the Western world, from your perspective, is it still something that absolutely needs tackling?

Kristen:          Absolutely, I saw a cartoon, cartoon is a scary word to use since it wasn’t really funny but a man asked a woman if he could borrow a dollar and she hands him something and he says, “This is 77 cents,” and she said, “Yeah, it’s a woman’s dollar.”

Amanda:        I saw that.

Kristen:          It’s [crosstalk 00:46:21].

Amanda:        There’s a video, actually it’s a … It was a woman and a man, I wish I’d saved it and send it to you, and the guy, they’d just both been given their pay rise in both the same jobs. What she started doing was she started doing 77% of the job and when her boss [inaudible 00:46:44] her on it she said, “Well, yeah I’m giving. I’m giving my full 77%.” Very good.

Kristen:          Hysterical.

It’s just, for me that is mind-blowing, really unacceptable. I think again if they were easy problems to solve they would be solved a lot and they would have been solved long ago, but I do feel like the world has … must address this issue and women need to start raising it and forcing that discussion.

Working in Human Resources you get to observe anecdotally gender differences with regards to salary negotiations and things like that, and time and time and time again I find that men will negotiate their pay literally almost for what seems to be the sport of it, like to see if they can get more but no harm if not, where I see women time and time and time again take what they’re offered and be thankful for it.

My advice is in particular to young women when they’re taking their first roles, your base pay is the gift that keeps on giving because every increase after that is on that basis. If you don’t do right by yourself on your first job you are hurting yourself and your income for the rest of your career.

Amanda:        I remember when I went from my first company to my second company and my pay increased by, it was by 85%, 85%, and that was …

Kristen:          Good negotiating.

Amanda:        No, it wasn’t that, I didn’t negotiate at all. When I told them what my salary expectations were I think they almost fell off their chair laughing and thinking, “We’re getting such a bargain here.” Because I had accepted a very, very low salary on my first job.

Kristen:          I find that is consistently a gender difference. I mean I’m not a big fan of, “Oh there’s a problem, blame the women,” but at the same time I am a big fan of pragmatic solutions and a pragmatic solution to this is for women to start educating themselves on what they’re worth and start asking around.

Amanda:        Absolutely. The women need to educate themselves on what they’re worth but from the organizational perspective has it got to be top down?

Kristen:          You know it’s funny because there’s always the discussions, especially in Europe, if that should be mandated by the governments or things like that. I think pay is a very nuanced thing and a lot of people would like to treat it like it’s a science and I see it more of an art in paying the right amount for a particular job, given skills, and capabilities, and potential and all those things.

I do think that organizations need to be committed to ensuring that they are not inadvertently paying people differently based on their gender, but I always say, I use the example I’ve taken … I’m a woman who’s taken four maternity leaves that were each 12 weeks long, which means I have one year less work experience than if I had a, what I’d like to call an evil twin brother who is exactly the same as me in every way but didn’t take four maternity leaves so he has a year more experience, and I again, and again, and again see leaders wanting to pay, give a pay premium for years of experience.

Again, my CV doesn’t carve out my maternity leaves or anything like that but to a certain extent if you really boil it down I have a year less experience, does that make me worthless? Of course not, not if I’m contributing to the job right now. I think some of the things that we use to measure differences measure how we differentiate pay aren’t the right things to be looking at, but it’s an art.

In fact there is a study where professors were asked to rate the CV of a pretend laboratory manager applicant and in some cases the CV was named John, in some cases the CV was named Jennifer, but everything else was the same, and the professors rated John on a seven-point competency scale, they rated him a four and they rated Jennifer … Are you ready for this?

Amanda:        Go on.

Kristen:          A 3.3, and then when asked to propose an annual starting salary they proposed a starting salary for John that was $4,000 a year more than for Jennifer. It was the same CV.

Amanda:        That’s an interesting story that rolls eyes here. What about …

Kristen:          In certain roles.

Amanda:        Discrimination? Is there a place for positive discrimination given this gender pay gap?

Kristen:          Positive discrimination meaning doing something to pop women up?

Amanda:        Yeah.

Kristen:          It’s always interesting because I often have people telling me … You know I see evidence of bias against women but I also see evidence of things going the other way, like they say they would point here to maybe a promotion of a woman that they wouldn’t have personally endorsed or programs that are targeted at women, or what you were suggesting was something to try across the board to fix this. People will tend to say, “Therefore it all evens out because there are some actions that if you would make things better for women then it evens out the actions that are making things not well for women.”

I point back to the global gender gap study that the World Economic Forum did this year that says that it’s going to take 80 years to close the gender gap given the current rate of women’s advancement around the globe. If it’s not going to happen in my lifetime or in my children’s lifetime I don’t think things are evening out. I really think there needs to be a mindset change that some actions need to be taken to level the playing field if you will.

I don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not certain actions need to be taken specifically on base pay but recognizing this is an analogy that I really like. It’s easy to think the system’s fair if you’re the beneficiary of the system’s unfairness and if this was a race there’s an invisible tailwind they’re supporting men through that race, and there is an invisible headwind that women must push against. When you accept that analogy then you realize you’re going to have to really do something to overcome that to get things fair.

Amanda:        80 years.

Kristen:          That’s a long, long time. It’s a long, long time. It makes me so sad because if … pragmatic … “Well, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime,” but my eight year old daughters, come on, surely, surely we should make some progress for her and I mean honestly that’s what drives me to be so passionate about this topic. It’s too late for the world for me but I sure want to leave the world a better place for my kids and that is including my boys.

Amanda:        Like you’re on a mission to accelerate and cut that 80 years gender gap down to, maybe about 10.

Kristen:          Sounds good.

Amanda:        Kristen, do you know what? The time has flown by and there’s so many different questions I wanted to ask you as well, but I’m very aware of the time and your time as well, can I just ask you one last question which is related to what you said before that your daughter said, “Mom, you know I’m really proud of you. I love you because you are changing the world.” There’s going to be lots of different women listening to this in different positions in their career in the world, how can an ordinary woman, each individual or ordinary an inverted [inaudible 00:54:35] change the world, do you think?

Kristen:          My view, honestly I come back to what I said earlier which is you have a limited ability to impact the system when you’re under represented in the power structure, and my view is women who haven’t until now seen themselves as a leader or thought of themselves as a leader really have an obligation to step into leadership to enact that change. My call to action for women is to move into leadership so that you can have an impact on the system, and I think that’s what we can do. If we can start leading we can start having an impact.

Amanda:        Given that everybody can’t be leaders how would you define leader that are not in that perspective?

Kristen:          For me leadership, you can be a leader of none and I tell this to my kids all the time, they don’t have direct reports but you’re leading every day in the way that you’re taking in information, the way you’re working with the people who are in authority, the way that you’re driving change and driving a new way of thinking. I would ask if you can move into a formal leadership role, great, if that’s not for you or you’re not capable of doing that figure out the part of the world that you can influence, whether that’s your household, whether that’s your social networks and make sure that you’re pushing for the kind of change and the kind of fairness that you want to leave behind for my kids.

Amanda:        Perfect. Thank you very much. What a wonderful way for us to … sadly bring this interview to a close.

Kristen:          It was such a pleasure talking with you.

Amanda:        An absolute pleasure for me. Thank you so much. I absolutely know that this interview is going to be so valuable to so many women to start changing the world alongside your day job of changing the world. Thank you very, very much. Kristen Pressner …

Kristen:          Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda:        Goodbye.

Kristen:          Bye-bye, thank you.