Inspirational Woman: Liz Dimmock | CEO and Founder of Women Ahead

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently.

inspirational-woman-liz-dimmock-ceo-and-founder-of-women-aheadI am founder and CEO of a social enterprise called Women Ahead. Prior to setting up Women Ahead I spent 16 years working coaching, mentoring and leadership development roles in organisations such as KPMG, GP Strategies and was Global Head of Coaching at HSBC before moving my work base out of the City.

I also sit on the Steering Committee of the 30% Club and am co-chair of their Sport and Business working group.

Women Ahead develops the pipeline and parity of women in leadership roles in business and sport. We do this predominantly through creating mentoring partnerships and through supporting and showcasing pioneering female leaders to share their stories through a Speakers Academy. I believe that parity between men and women in the worlds of sport and business will benefit individuals, organisations and society as a whole, so we create innovative and mutually beneficial partnerships between and within the worlds of business and sport.

I love cycling and in 2012 cycled the entire route of the Tour de France. This highlighted long-standing inequalities in a sport I love (the face there is no women’s Tour de France) and ignited my desire to use my corporate experience to bring about a level playing field – both in sport and business.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Rather than planning my career, I’ve planned my goals – focusing on what I want to achieve and learn in my current roles. I’ve mapped out my growth and development, and strived to continually challenge myself and always learn from those around me and where possible work with inspiring people. When working to set up Women Ahead I looked at what my purpose is, and how I can make a positive difference. In terms of career moves – at times I’ve evaluated and planned these moves, but they’ve predominantly emerged through networks.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

For me, setbacks and challenges are a source of learning and growth, and they have made me who I am. It’s when we can process and learn from setbacks that we can create positive change. My biggest personal challenge came when I was not able to set off on a much anticipated cycle trip around the world. I was devastated at the time, but in the end this experience led me to make a significant transition and set up Women Ahead.

You can use failures as a great catalyst for change if you take the time to reflect on why a setback has happened, and what you’d do differently next time. I have also found that the challenges I have experienced have also enabled me to better empathise with others – which I think is a key leadership skill.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?

Naturally my first piece of advice is to get yourself a great mentor! At Women Ahead we believe this is a critical part of personal growth.

Think about who you want to become as a leader. What traits and qualities do you want to be known for? Surround yourself with positive role models who can be sources of learning and knowledge, so you are equipped to succeed. With a mentor, when you face setbacks you will be supported. Remember to learn from them.

Be tenacious, but also patient and keep your long-term goals in mind. Don’t get hung up on titles and hierarchy – be mindful that you are establishing your own skills and competencies along your personal path to leadership.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

It’s very rare to find genuinely equally matched candidates. If their competencies and experience have been mapped and they are truly equal, it comes down to values. At Women Ahead we value curiosity, openness, collaboration, integrity, a can-do attitude and openness to feedback. It’s also important to look for diversity in many ways – for example working style. Having a diverse and balanced team of extroverts, introverts, big thinkers and detailers is most effective.

How do you manage your own boss?

Managing up is an important skill. Be efficient and organized with the time you ask of your leaders. Present clear solutions and considered options, not problems. Of course, go the extra mile and don’t underestimate how inspiring and motivating you can be for a boss. Show your curiosity and passion. This can be so energizing for your leader to see. Remember it can be lonely at the top! Share what you notice that they are doing particularly well and what you role model from them. Remember they are learning too, and be kind with that. With permission, share feedback.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

Of course there is no typical day! I always try to start or end the day walking my dog (our office companion) Pickle the Labradoodle. I love that time with her. I’ve recently started going on early morning river swims with a great local group. I always have a fresh ginger, lemon and apple smoothie, a good coffee and a great breakfast and I aim to have a good hour alone to clear my head and plan priorities before the day starts.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

It’s important to consider what your personal brand is first. What do you want to be known for, or noticed for? Strategically think about getting to know and building relationships with people around you who can help you with knowledge, support and guidance, as well as access to other people and systems. Build genuine relationships with the right people and you will naturally build your profile. Remember to be credible, consistent, professional, positive – and on time! If you always convey the values that matter to you, you will raise your profile for the right reasons.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Richard Branson says that behind every successful person there’s been a mentor. My mentors have helped me gain broader perspective, positively challenged me with support and helped me see in myself more than I can. We find that 90% of the people we help through mentoring programmes say simply having someone believe in them, tell them that they are ready, and that they can do something, is what they need – and unlocks their confidence. Many women need to feel they tick x,y and z before they’ll go for x,y and z. It holds them back. A mentor doesn’t have an agenda. They are not your line manager. They can see your potential, without being caught up in their own agendas or any of your own self-limiting beliefs.

Another great role model for me is Nancy Kline, who says the quality of our actions depends on the quality of our thinking first. We’re all so busy ‘doing’, but a mentor will give you the space to think clearly and carefully. That’s when you can make good decisions, reflect, create goals, and acknowledge progress.

Having someone help you with the quality of your thinking and decisions is so important. We all need support and guidance. A quote I love is “if you want to go fast – go alone. If you want to go further – go together”.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker?

Strategic networking is important. It’s not about handing out business cards while you make small talk over a soggy canapé.

Think about your brand and what you want to convey, then map out the key people who can help you succeed. Look for a range of roles within your networks – for example, someone who inspires, someone who challenges, someone who can open doors, someone with great subject-matter knowledge.

Be specific if you are asking for help, and open minded when you meet someone new. Anyone you meet can tell you something you don’t know. A great academic said “be more focused on being interested rather than interesting!”

What does the future hold for you?

I plan to continue to focus on the work I love and believe so strongly in at Women Ahead. We aim to continue to grow the team and expand the positive impact of the work we do.

One of our fantastic speakers and role-models here is F1 driver, Susie Wolff. Something I have learnt from her is “Focus on plan A. Forget plan B. If there’s no plan B you’ve got to do everything to make sure plan A works.” We’re positive about achieving Plan A here by having our vision and long-term goals in mind at all times. We’re breaking it down in chunks and celebrating each milestone we achieve.

I want to continue to grow personally from all that I do. I’d like to continue bringing in people with different strengths and be stretched and challenged by them.

Like everyone, I’d like to keep working on the balance between work, family, friends and fitness and to be mindful and grateful for everything I have.

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