Employability

WHAT GLASS CEILING? … I ONLY EVER WANTED TO BE A MUMMY REALLY!

Quite recently I had the pleasure of working with an inspiring group of women of all ages on an open programme I was facilitating for the CIPD which gives an insight into the world of Human Resources for those either starting off their careers in HR, changing to a career in HR or who’ve just had HR bolted on to their already very busy roles at work.  

Over the many years of facilitating this programme I am still amazed at how few men attend (we had one very brave soul out of 12 with us last week) and why our profession is still so heavily biased towards females.  At Change Gear we are often approached by clients who are trying to bridge the gender gap at senior level asking for creative ways of helping them address this challenge.  When we ask about their existing statistics on gender at senior level we frequently find a Board made up of 80/90% men and typically one of the only one or two females on the Board is the HR Director.  

In trying to unpack the reasons why this is still the case I did some inward reflection about my career journey.  Having opted for nursing school as opposed to university, a minor back injury led to a rapid change of direction where I found myself working in Graduate Recruitment at Ernst & Young – I loved the job so much but the travel didn’t allow me to study for my CIPD qualifications – and I found myself taking a more generalist role at a well-known retail business – and starting my journey into the world of HR and L&D.

As much as I loved my work, my biological clock was ticking, in fact thumping and when things got tough on the fertility front I decided to leave my permanent role and take on what I thought at the time was the softer option of “going freelance”.  Fast forward 20 years and I have never regretted that decision once.  What started out as way of having a more flexible way of raising my children somehow morphed into me co-owning Change-Gear with my business partner (and dear friend) Karen Christensen.  Did I ever wish for this – sadly no! My only agenda was to have a family and I didn’t think way beyond that.  

I often wonder if I’d stayed in the corporate rat race where my career aspirations would have taken me. Would I too have shied away from senior level roles in favour of getting home at a decent time to bath and put the kids to bed?  Would this glass ceiling have affected me? I believe it would. Having fought so hard to have my family I can’t imagine for one minute I would have sacrificed my time with them in order to gain myself a seat at the Exec table by staying late every night and toughing it out with the boys.  I am hopeful that these attitudes change but I fear for our daughters that they face quite a tough time ahead and I wonder what advice I can give mine as she starts to make career choices as she approaches 18.  When I observe her peer group they seem so much bolder and stronger than I was at her age but in another way so much more vulnerable – I’m actually not sure what was a better era to grow up in – I hope that we continue to strive for gender parity and that those businesses that are out there flying the flag for the sisterhood with a strong D&I agenda continue their great work.

In the meantime, I will continue to encourage both my children (of both sexes) to treat everyone with the same respect they deserve and to always believe they are of equal value in this challenging world we live in.

Would I have changed my path if I could? Not for one minute – I may not have reached the heady heights of a corporate board but I have a business that I am proud of, a business partner that I love working with, a fantastic team and a family that I am ever grateful for.  No seat on the Board could match that.

If you’d like to find out more about our innovative Diversity & Inclusion workshops or Women in Leadership programmes please contact us at hello@change-gear.com

“FAILING TO PREPARE MEANS PREPARING TO FAIL” – IS IT TIME TO RETHINK THE OLD SAYING?

 

We all know the old sayings “failing to prepare means preparing to fail” and the 6 P’s – “Proper Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance” – goodness knows I had them drummed into me enough times as a fledgeling Training Officer back in the day. While there might be some truth in these old adages, I think it is time that we started looking at them through a new lens.

In a week’s time my family will either be jumping for joy or drowning our sorrows – what am I talking about? Yes, it’s almost time for the dreaded A-level results. My daughter along with countless other students up and down the country will be nervously waiting for their UCAS tracker to update and hopefully show they have a place at their university of choice.

Anyone that knows me will probably be sick to the back teeth of hearing me warble on about the unhealthy pressure and stress that was heaped on our teenagers during this year’s exam season. In the rush to meet the political agenda of halting “falling educational standards,” examination papers were created which even degree undergraduates couldn’t answer, let alone the brightest of A-level students. This feels incredibly wrong and that in 21stCentury Britain we seem hell bent on “preparing to fail” our young people in many different ways.

As my daughter has rightly pointed out, what is the point of putting in the hard work if the exams are so difficult the grade boundaries have to be adjusted so much that a student with a score of 35% could potentially get the same grade as someone scoring 85% (sadly this has been confirmed by a number of teachers). I am not talking as some pushy mother that wants her child to be first in everything but as someone who is concerned for the mental health and well-being of all our young people. Clearly, we are short changing everyone, creating a dangerous world of over inflated expectation on one hand and de-motivation on the other.

When I look at my daughter and her friends, there is no way they could have prepared any more than they did and yet they may still fail! I am a great lover of the saying “there is always more than one way to skin a cat” and on the morning of the 15thof August, should the results not be as hoped for, I will be helping my daughter to see that her perceived “failure” is something she can learn from and that she hasn’t failed, the system was prepared to fail her!

Perhaps a new saying should be “work hard, put the effort in and good things will happen eventually because the road to success is always under construction!”

What are your thoughts? Do you have any sayings that are better than the two I shared at the beginning of this blog? 

Leave us a comment in the box below or get in touch at hello@change-gear.com

Karen

P.S. Good luck to all A-level and GCSE students waiting for their results – I really hope you get what you wish for!

TIPS FOR GETTING ONTO A BOARD

I had the pleasure of meeting with Author, Selina Siak Chin Yoke earlier in 2018 who was happy to share details of her remarkable background with me. A most inspiring lady, Selina has written two books – ‘The Woman Who Breathed two Worlds’ – loosely inspired by her great-grandmother’s life and ‘When The Future Comes Too Soon”. (I’ve yet to read the second book but it’s on my reading list!). As well as discussing her successful and diverse career we found ourselves chatting about women in leadership, something we both felt passionately about.  Being a writer I couldn’t resist asking Selina if she would mind writing a guest blog for us which has just appeared in my inbox. Very timely with our up-coming seminar this Wednesday on bridging the gender pay gap.

When Carrie invited me to write a few sentences many months ago on the challenges of joining a company board, the media was awash with scandals involving pay, women and naked prejudice. Not only had the BBC been paying Martina Navratilova ten times less than John McEnroe for – as far as I’m concerned – the same work, but a report by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy revealed eye-opening excuses as to why many FTSE companies had no women. The excuse that sticks out most for me is: “My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board”. That’s precisely the point, though, isn’t it?

With so much focus on the topic, I thought that I should dust off my CV and try to get appointed as a non-executive director to another Board before writing this guest blog. This has taken longer than anticipated. Like many women, my career has gone down an unusual path and my main occupation today is as a novelist. I’m a traditionally published author and my agent had asked me to rewrite parts of my third novel. In the middle of that, it was almost impossible to think about revamping a CV.

Once I did, though, things moved pretty quickly. Within weeks I was approached by a headhunting firm and my name was put onto a list of candidates for a board position (still in process). I’ve since also been asked to join another board whose chairman is an acquaintance. All this to say that there’s plenty of hope! If you’re wondering how to get onto a board, below are a number of suggestions.

First, use your networks. If this sounds obvious or trite, it’s not meant to be. Telling as many people as possible expands your realm of possibilities. Speaking to other businesspeople has helped me clarify what I may want and what I’ll avoid when it comes to board roles. For me, being a non-executive director is not a career – it’s an add-on. I’m working on another book already, but at the same time I have twenty years of solid experience in finance – first as an investment banker and then as a quantitative trader – which some board is hopefully going to appreciate. A slight digression here that may be reassuring: the fact that I left finance eight years ago isn’t necessarily a barrier. A non-executive director needs to be independent. Being a little removed from the industry currently can actually prove helpful. So don’t discount your abilities just because your experience dates back in time.

Secondly, make sure you have a profile on LinkedIn, that the profile is up-to-date and puts your experience forward in the best possible light. This was how the headhunter mentioned above contacted me. A disclaimer: I was appointed to the board of a corporate finance boutique many years ago and have remained on it. Being already on one board is immensely helpful for getting on to the next board. Yet, I didn’t even think to put my board experience on LinkedIn until recently!

Thirdly, have your CV critiqued. Show it to a friendly audience first if you wish. Also, let a headhunter look at it. I had to rewrite my CV completely!

There are many websites which claim to connect companies with possible non-executive director candidates. You have to pay to join some of these without really knowing how effective they are. A website I can vouch for is nurole. I hadn’t heard of it, but as soon as I started talking to friends and acquaintances, three of them independently recommended nurole. It’s free to register, and your registration is first vetted before you’re sent an invitation email. You check off your interests and receive regular notifications about new roles. nurole works.

Finally, it’s worth giving thought to what you’d like to get out of being a non-executive director. There are hundreds of opportunities and you’ll have to decide which to pursue. Do you want to be compensated? If not, how many pro bono positions are you prepared to take on?

The world is our oyster now, but getting onto the right board(s) will take time. Good luck!

 A big thank you to Selina for sharing her advice and recent experiences with us.  I’m sure you will have all found this interesting and useful. If you’d like to hear more about Selina and her work please visit her website at http://www.siakchinyoke.com– and do read her books – a great Christmas gift too!

And don’t forget it’s not too late to sign up for our free breakfast seminar in collaboration with Moorcrofts Law this Wednesday 28thNovember. https://www.facebook.com/events/580144002414838/?ti=ia

 

A SEASON FOR CHANGE

With the long sunny days of Summer behind us, Autumn is often a season of change and new starts – school, university, jobs, careers, homes, lifestyles. In the UK, many women are choosing new beginnings by setting up their own businesses. It is reported that female entrepreneurs account for nearly 10% of the UK working population and having attended a number of networking events across the Summer, I have certainly seen how women are grabbing the hand of opportunity and carving out a new future for themselves.

We have the great pleasure of working with Bettina Siddiqi who owns BusyB Solutions. As a fellow business owner experiencing the ups and downs of running a company, I was curious to know more about why Bettina has made the move from corporate life to working for herself.

Karen:  If you had to sum up your business in a nutshell, what would you say you offer?

Bettina:  I offer Social Media Marketing with the aim of raising my clients’ profiles on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook; helping them to gain traction and increase business. I train people 1-2-1 to use LinkedIn, helping them to effectively use this superb marketing tool. LinkedIn is a great way to gain new business, retain existing customer relationships and re-establish contact with old clients. In collaboration with my extensive contacts of photographers and web designers, I can help my clients have a more visible presence across a range of social media platforms.

Karen: What led you to set up your business?

Bettina: Having worked in corporate Sales and Marketing for 15 years I was approached to undertake some freelance marketing work. When the contract ended I thought to myself, “if I can do this for one client I can offer this service to many others.” I also wanted the flexibility to spend time with my young children and be able to attend their school events such as Christmas shows and sports days.  Commuting into London took up much of my time and I felt I could be much more productive working from home. I like the variation my work gives me: from attending meetings, networking, delivering an exceptional service, to being able to focus on home life as well as getting the right amount of exercise –  worklife balance is incredibly important to me.

Karen: What did you do before you set up BusyB Solutions?

Bettina: I worked for a Records Management Company called Iron Mountain in their Sales and Marketing Department and helped to implement a CRM system and trained all the Sales and Marketing team in how to use it effectively.  I also worked in Law in a Marketing department, helping to organise events, CRM and campaigns.

Karen: What gave you the confidence to take the step of working for yourself?

Bettina: Having children gave me the confidence to start my business. It hasn’t always been easy as I’ve had to work hard at networking with potential clients and building the visibility of my business.  When the children were very little I only had 3 hours between nursery runs, but I managed to do lots in that short time – telemarketing, online marketing as well as attending network meetings.

Karen: Now you’ve made the change, how are you feeling about it?

Bettina: I feel great about it! I couldn’t have made a better decision; the joy of being with my family and being able to pick up my children from school is a wonderful feeling, as well as eating a lot healthier and getting that all-important exercise.

Karen: What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Bettina: Time management – making sure I have enough time to get everything done (there are never enough hours in a day), getting the right clients and also regular, consistent clients. As a sole trader I get approached by many different people, so making sure I invest in the right type of business is important in how I will grow my business, whether that is finance, marketing, web design or IT support.  Another challenge is not having a team to work with; there is no-one to delegate tasks to as I did when I worked in the corporate world. I also miss the camaraderie that comes with working in a team.

Karen: Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on your journey?

Bettina: Yes – a few things. Most of the time I have been extra careful with my budget, although I did once overspend on a networking membership, which didn’t result in me winning any work. So, I would definitely re-think which networking meetings are worth attending,

Karen: What advice would you have for anyone setting up a new business?

Bettina: Always be careful about what you spend, especially on your marketing.  Find a group of people you can trust and maybe even collaborate with. Outsource things which are time-consuming such as Finance, IT and Social Media,  as there is always someone out there that can help.

Karen: What does success look like for you?

Bettina: To be content in what I am doing.  Seeking ways to expand my knowledge, skills and collaborative relationships and most importantly to always have a goal!

 

A very big thank you to Bettina for sharing her story with us.  You can find out more about Bettina offers at www.busy-bsolutions.com

And finally, if you are contemplating the move to working for yourself, be reassured that you are not alone, there is a wide and supportive community of female entrepreneurs who will warmly welcome you into their fold. If you would like to hear more about how we support aspiring female entrepreneurs, then please get in touch at hello@change-gear.com

 

I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT!

Back in the day – let’s call it BC (before children) I thought I was always busy; no time for anything – getting to a gym class was a feat, doing the weekly shop hard work, making time to catch up with friends always a challenge. Never left the office before 6.30/7.00pm. What was I thinking??? I was clearly luxuriating in oodles of time – all I can say is I must have been a dab hand at wasting it!

Yet I know that not to be true.  I was genuinely busy … and then deciding (without giving any thought to how I might accommodate the biggest time stealer ever) that the time was right to start a family.  After a rocky start the miracle occurred – my gorgeous boy arrived and I had been given the best gift ever.  Did I think about how I was going to juggle being a mum and my new found self-employed status? – of course I didn’t.  I just “knew” everything was going to be fine.  My first jolt back to reality came when I was strolling through the maternity ward in a state of bliss to find a new mother frantically tapping away on a laptop, taking a work call and trying to feed her new born at the same time.  To say I was horrified was an understatement – how could she?  Did she not know how lucky she was?  She must have seen the horror on my face as she made a point of seeking me out in the “day room” later to point out this was child number 4 and if they wanted a meal on their plates then her working all the hours she could was not optional.  I was rightly “put in my place” and decided never to judge another mother again.  (okay so maybe just a few times I’ve fallen by the wayside there).

So somehow after six months off, I went back to work and found a new definition to the word “busy” – not to mention sleep deprived.  I managed to get through the fog and keep the plates spinning and a few years later, my beautiful daughter arrived all guns a-blazing.  This time I was going to suss this new born lark!  I would have a routine to beat all routines (Gina Ford eat your heart out).  That lasted about 4 days before chaos ensued and I was lucky to ever blow dry my hair again.  This time I was back at work within 4 months and before I knew it major milestones were passing by – nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and now university. I have no idea where the time has gone and I am also acutely aware of how each stage of our children’s life brings with it a different challenge.  You think nothing can rival the sleep deprivation of the early years until you hit the worry of the teenage ones and even when they’ve left home they still manage to consume your thoughts.

So I find myself today on a train on the way to see my son down in Cornwall who has managed to slice open his finger on a knife whilst cutting an avocado – I have subsequently discovered this is a modern day problem!  After refusing to let me come to the hospital for his first operation last weekend – a second operation tomorrow to repair the damaged nerves led to an admission that “it would be good to have mum here after all”.  And so I have juggled my diary and am on my way. Something that I’m sure every working mum I know would do without a second thought.

Reflecting back on my years as a working mum I do sometimes wonder how I managed to pull it off (not that it’s ever a completed project!).  I remember reading the best-selling novel by Allison Pearson “I don’t know how she does it” – the story of the frantically busy career woman and mother trying to do it all.  The part where she needs to bring in mince pies for the Christmas fair and finds herself buying some from the local supermarket, bashing them with a rolling pin and sprinkling them with icing sugar to make them look homemade resonated so much.  It goes without saying that I wanted to not only be good at my job but also keep up with the Alpha Mums at the school gate – if there were mince pies to be made – I was sure as hell not going to send my little ones in with M&S Finest (well maybe once in a while).

As a working mum we becomes masters at short cutting the system – stapling hems on fancy dress costumes continues to haunt me. We are always trying to make the most of every spare minute in the day – laptops in hairdressers, squeezing in conference calls between school pick-ups, juggling diaries to make sure we are always at every parents evening, school concert and doctor’s appointments – many a night I’ve fallen asleep at my laptop either finishing a client proposal or a shopping delivery order (never sure which one had the highest priority).  The list is endless.

I know I’m not alone; I’m surrounded by wonderful female friends who have all managed to successfully juggle the highs and lows of motherhood with their careers – perhaps they haven’t always managed to achieve the dizzy heights they may have wanted to but I know they are all enriched by choosing to continue to work at the same time as doing their most important job – raising their children.

Some people might say I work too hard – but I was raised by people with strong work ethics – my grandmother worked until she was 85, my Father was 73 when he retired and my mother did a part time degree when I went to school – every day she’d drop me at school in Hammersmith and take the tube all the way to Elephant and Castle to go to Teacher Training college; she then enjoyed a successful career as a teacher until the age of 67. Working hard is in my bones.

I hope that when my children are grown up they will have positive thoughts about me choosing to be a working mum and I’ve been a good role model for them.  I remember way back when my son was 7 and he asked me why I had to work.  I gave him the full on explanation of how mummy helped to pay for all the lovely things we did as a family and how lucky we were to go on nice holidays etc etc.  He promptly replied “Well Tom’s mum doesn’t work and they have a swimming pool” – oh well – Can’t win them all.

So looking back, would I have done things differently?  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sometimes a little envious of ladies who lunch and gym and don’t have to worry about pipelines, meeting a client deadline or how they were going to get to London when the train drivers were on strike – but it’s short lived.  And to all you ladies out there who have chosen not to work, or can’t because your personal situation doesn’t allow you to … I salute you.  Motherhood is not a job to be taken lightly.  I also massively salute you ladies who don’t have children and work your socks off too – let’s hear it for the sisterhood.

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