Inspirational Woman: Sharon Peake | Founder & CEO, Shape Talent

Sharon Peake

Sharon is a gender diversity expert and experienced diversity and inclusion leader with over 20 years’ experience in global businesses.

She is a registered psychologist, a certified coach and the Founder and CEO of Shape Talent – the equity, diversity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality (and what it can achieve for their business). Prior to founding Shape Talent in 2017, she held senior leadership roles in two FTSE20 business.​

Born in Australia, Sharon has lived and worked in Australia and the UK, and her roles have given her experience working across 6 continents, delivering work in locations as diverse as Colombia, Romania, India, Uganda, New York, and Hong Kong. Her clients come from sectors as diverse as telecoms, consumer goods, professional services, manufacturing, publishing, medical devices, and financial services. ​

Sharon’s research has identified the most significant barriers to women’s career progression and this, combined with her significant corporate experience, has informed the development of the methodology underpinning Shape Talent’s evidence-based solutions: the Three Barriers model™.​ Sharon regularly speaks at events, conferences and on panels, has published her research on career transition, and her work has been cited in wide range of business- and psychology-focused magazines.

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

I am an entrepreneur, an equity, diversity & inclusion practitioner, a certified psychologist and a coach. Although I was born and raised in Australia, having lived in England for over 20 years, I now call the UK my home. After working in corporate HR for several blue chip FTSE companies for over 20 years, I launched Shape Talent as I was frustrated with the slow pace of change in women’s representation in leadership and wanted to be an active part of the solution. I am the creator of the Three Barriers to Women’s Progression Model, measuring the impact of societal, organisational and psychological barriers which prevent women from taking senior positions in organisations. Thanks to Shape Talent, now I get to work with insightful clients and a brilliant team, partnering together to actively dismantle the workplace barriers that women face.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

The answer is both yes and no. I used the help of career counsellors and coaches many times over the years. When I was 20, one career counsellor suggested I should be a Conveyancer! Now, I laugh at that given my first degree was in business and then later I trained as a psychologist. But the most useful thing I did to develop my career was experimenting: trying different jobs and organisations, retraining in my 30s and redirecting my career several times from HR to psychology to EDI to business owner and CEO.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I faced various professional challenges – the acquisition of my employment and subsequent redundancy, burnout and health scares – but I always felt I could see a path through these. The biggest challenge I faced was a fertility challenge partially associated with me prioritising my career in my 30s, which meant I very nearly missed the chance to become a mother. I am incredibly grateful to live in a time of modern science and advanced IVF options, which, after a long and hard 5-year battle with pregnancy and various miscarriages, allowed me to become a mother at the age of 45.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

There are a few things that I’m really proud of: requalifying as a psychologist in my 30s after 5 years of additional study, working as the Group Director of Talent Management in a FTSE10 business during the third biggest global M&A transaction in corporate history, setting up Shape Talent and driving it from nothing to 7-figure revenues in three years after returning return from maternity leave. A few months ago, Shape Talent won D&I Consultancy of the Year, which was an incredibly proud moment. But probably the thing I’m most proud of is raising a kind, compassionate young daughter who makes me laugh and smile every day.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I am nothing if not tenacious! When I set a goal for myself, I will move mountains to achieve it – I drive myself very hard. I tend to think long term and keep one eye on the bigger picture, which helps during the inevitable setbacks that come along the way.

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

Mentoring can be incredibly valuable, drawing on someone’s expertise and experience. I have mentored many women over my career, although, interestingly, when I look back on it, I have never had a formal mentor. I never worked in organisations that had a formal programme and I didn’t think or didn’t have the courage to ask others to mentor me. I am currently part of some excellent peer mentoring networks, with other powerful women, and these have been a game changer for me. I have also been fortunate to have had several male bosses who were excellent mentors and sponsors and helped raised my profile and visibility. This has been invaluable, and I believe that sponsorship –  the act of positively raising someone’s profile and visibility and extending their network – is just as important as the career advice you might get from a mentor.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

As someone who runs a gender equity consulting firm, it is hard to limit this to just one thing. Gender equity is a nuanced topic with nuanced solutions. But if I had to pick one thing, I would address gender stereotypes. I believe outdated gender stereotypes sit at the heart of many of the barriers women face in the workplace. If we could alter entrenched views around ‘men take charge, women take care’, and ‘think leader, think man’, for example, many of the barriers would disappear. Leaders can start by sponsoring women and publicly advocating for them, creating workplaces that suit the needs of dual-career couples, and implementing policies and practices encouraging and normalising paternity leave and a fairer distribution of domestic responsibilities between the genders.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Always trust your instincts, even when (or especially when) you doubt yourself. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. There have been many times that I have doubted myself over the years and questioned my intuition. I would say that nine times out of ten when this has happened, I later realised my intuition was right, and I should have listened to myself in that moment.

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

I am focused on growing Shape Talent and helping more organisations address gender equity in a meaningful and sustainable way. The team and I have exciting plans for growth with new products, research and partnerships coming out this year. Privately, I am also planning to re-learn the piano as well as introduce my daughter to this. I am an impatient learner, so I expect this will be the biggest challenge!

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