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 firstname.lastname@example.org