Inspirational Woman: Katie White OBE | Director, Nord Anglia Education Foundation

Katie White

With a background in evoking social change, Katie White has built an impressive career as an independent Campaigns Advisor.

Former roles include acting as an advisor to the Labour Party and the European Campaigns Director for ONE. Prior to that, Katie co-led the campaign for the Climate Change Act in the UK – later this month marks 10 years since this Act defied all the odds to be made legislation – and led to her being awarded an OBE in 2013.

Alongside this Katie has become the proud mother to two children, something that’s proved instrumental to her accepting her new role at Nord Anglia Education – one of the world’s largest education organisations with over 53,000 pupils across 56 schools in 27 countries. Her new role bridges her background in social change with education as she leads the Nord Anglia Education Foundation – a new initiative that will see a percentage of the organisation’s profits allocated towards achieving positive change. Over the next decade more than £75million in funding will be given to the Foundation and the opportunity for Katie to encourage and enable future generations to have a real positive impact on the world.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve been fortunate enough that my career has also been my passion. Nothing excites me like driving social change and having a career that is so much more than a means to pay the bills. It keeps me motivated and driven every day. Part of what makes my job so great is working alongside people who share my passion and enthusiasm, which was one of the key factors in my decision to join Nord Anglia Education. I’m a firm believer that each of us has the power and responsibility to affect positive impact in our lives – be that professionally, personally, socially or environmentally. We have an amazing opportunity at Nord Anglia Education to inspire young minds – the leaders, entrepreneurs, influencers and consumers of tomorrow – and provide them with the tools and skills required to create a better world for their generation and generations to come.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve planned out my career in parts over the years, but I’m yet to have fully stuck to any of the plans. I’ve often been guilty of being overly ambitious, and even naive, in the past. Hindsight is a beautiful thing and I’ve learnt that things always take longer than you plan for. After university, I set out to find my purpose and quickly found it in climate change. I thought this would be the path I followed for a year or so, but ended up spending 10 years in the field and still work with charities. My outlook is now very much focused on 10 years at a time. Being realistic with your time and what can be achieved, is massively important. Likewise, so is the realism that even the best plans encounter unforeseen circumstances or throw-up new opportunities. Ambition is great, but don’t be disappointed if things don’t happen as quickly as you would like. Progress is not always fast, but as long as you remain focused and heading in the right direction, that’s what’s important.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Professionally, my biggest struggle came shortly after I came onboard as a civil servant – incidentally, a position I’d never planned for – within the newly established Department of Energy and Climate Change. I was brought into lead the department two months after it was first launched, which was both hugely exciting and utterly terrifying. I entered without fully knowing what to expect and soon found that it was a wildly different environment and culture than anything I had previously worked in. The department and people were great, but I’d never managed 12 people before, and to top that, 12 very talented and experienced people that were all striving to achieve a huge government priority in a tight timeframe. It was a real challenge to bring people together and I encountered resistance to the direction I wanted to take the team in. It was a case of sink or swim and, with less than a year to achieve objectives, I knew I had to make it work. It was a fast-track management lesson in how to motivate a diverse team and a period that really sharpened one of my biggest strengths of being able to rally support from stakeholders.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Having been both a mentor and a mentee, I can’t speak highly enough of the value of mentoring. I’d recommend it for anyone and always suggest looking for mentoring from a diverse range of people. One of my best mentors is a man in his 70s, who is so inspiring and a fantastic example of positive thinking. I hope I’m like him when I reach his age.

While female-to-female mentoring is great – I’m currently mentoring some brilliant, aspirational women in the early stages of their careers – don’t let gender limit your mentoring choices. Gaining different perspectives and learning from other people’s varied experiences has boosted me and my skillset at every stage of my career and I’ll continue to use it as a tool for personal development throughout my career.

All of us have something to learn and something to teach everyone – the key to getting the most from mentoring is making those connections with individuals you genuinely respect and admire – success is subjective.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

The fall-out rate of women in the workplace who’ve just had children is frustrating and a missed opportunity. Pregnancy and motherhood is already a real challenge and throw an extended period away from work into the mix, and you’ve got all the ingredients to erode confidence. It’s because of this that it can be so difficult for mums to return to work. I want to see more support, not just for mums, but for parents, so we can avoid this senseless loss of talent. Having children changes your whole perspective, which can prove invaluable for employers.

My husband and I struggled for years to conceive and ended up eventually finding success through IVF. We’re fortunate enough to work with innovative employers that offer flexibility and shared-working. This enables us both to continue working in roles that we love and wouldn’t want to give-up, while enjoying being parents.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

More support for women with families is desperately needed. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still nowhere near enough support for women who want to have a family and a career. It’s about choice and as it stands, too many feel they can only have one if they sacrifice the other.

Unfortunately, there is no one thing though that can deliver a solution for this. Of course, more initiatives in supporting women’s confidence before and after maternity leave would be welcome, but there needs to be huge efforts in raising awareness and shifting the culture around this first. Leaders in every field must come together to push for this with creative and innovative ideas. This will ensure that as well as having policies that look great on paper and win votes, we actually create modern workplaces that actively embrace parents.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Co-leading the Climate Change Act is undoubtedly the proudest part of my CV. Aside from the huge impact it’s had on the environment and shifting social opinion, it was a huge personal achievement. Against a backdrop of everyone (from my parents to the treasury) telling us we’d never change the law, the team proved that no matter how terrifying, if you remain focused and passionate, you can achieve amazing things.

November 26, 2018 marks 10 years of the Act and what continues to make me proud is its enduring impact and longevity. Social change is great, but it’s only really significant if its effects are sustainable. with the act we created a framework for tackling climate change, which other countries followed. It’s really rewarding to know the hard work and unrelenting grit of the team continues to bring positive change today, not just in the UK, but throughout the world in which we live.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’m incredibly excited to have joined the NAE team; the enthusiasm to use their position and platform to drive genuine change is brilliant. I have a unique and wonderful opportunity to work with 53,000 pupils globally. This is incredible. The scope and breadth of our resources puts us in a really unique position to do something authentic and meaningful with the Foundation for both the global community and the children. We have high hopes of building something we can all be proud of and that delivers impact in both the short and long-term.

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