Teresa Scott OBE is the founder and CEO of Kennedy Scott, an organisation which helps individuals with disabilities and mental health issues find jobs and realise their career potential.
Teresa continues to achieve record-breaking results across the country in terms of supporting customers with profound disabilities into long-term, sustainable employment and recently won an OBE for her services to employment.
Originally graduating as a teacher, Teresa founded Kennedy Scott in 1989 with the aim of providing career development opportunities for young people who had not fared well in mainstream education. One of the first companies to offer apprenticeships within the employment sector, Teresa is an unwavering advocate of quality and diversity in recruitment, believing that everyone has a niche and can progress while adding value to forward thinking organisations across a range of sectors.
Under Teresa’s leadership as CEO, Kennedy Scott has provided 28 years’ service to the Government. Through its dedicated work, it helps people with disabilities, those living with conditions such as autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, or combating mental health issues, find a new career and then supports them to stay in employment.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
Growing up I was very fortunate to have two inspirational parents, a driven mother who valued education and an entrepreneurial father, who demonstrated the necessity of always giving someone a chance, regardless of their background or history. Today these values are at the core of Kennedy Scott, and a personal mantra I have always held in mind throughout my life.
Originally, I graduated as a teacher, working in both North London and briefly Australia, before moving on to a training manager role specifically managing youth training programmes for large Blue-chip companies. I have always been passionate about working to help others achieve their potential, so in 1989 I decided to set up my own training and development business with a friend. After 18mnths I acquired the company outright and have been sole owner ever since
Kennedy Scott, support a wide range of people build successful careers and stay in employment, even customers with complex barriers to work. Since our inception, we have grown from just one site to become a nation-wide service provider with 17 offices across the UK. To date the dedicated team has helped more than 100,000 people into work and continues to work with both government and employers to bring people with health, disability and mental health challenges into the workplace.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not as such. I have always had a passion and keen interest in helping to improve employability access for people from all walks of life and at all stages of their career. This is something I still do and I often find myself late at night reformatting a C.V. for a friend’s child to get the best from their past experience. I have supported people to achieve their potential in every job I have approached; however, I never set out specifically to establish my own company. The idea grew as I developed my experience within the sector and subsequently I took a leap of faith, leaving a good steady job to start a business from scratch and I have never looked back
Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?
At Kennedy Scott we face challenges daily owing to the nature of the industry we are trying to influence and the customers we are trying to help. Often their health challenge or disability is not the factor preventing them going into work, it is a mindset based on an inaccurate perception that they are not up to the job. Unfortunately, there are still some unjust stereotypes in society and so not only do we work to build individuals confidence and skills to approach the job market, but we are also working tirelessly to transform employer’s opinions of who that workforce should be. This is a constant challenge and one I continue to champion.
On a more personal level, when my daughter was younger the age-old dilemma of juggling a work/life balance was a very real one for me. Whilst there is no doubt that I wanted to pursue my career, I also made a vow to myself not to miss my daughter growing up at the same time. I was very fortunate to have a strong support network around me and had to adapt to a more flexible pattern of working, but ultimately drive, determination and an absolute belief in our staff and customers got me through.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
In the early years my days would be heavily planned around my daughter’s schedule, meaning sometimes I would work late into the night so that I could pick her up from school. In more recent years my daily routine has remained flexible in order to offer our customers the best service possible. I still like to be very hands on within Kennedy Scott, so I typically spend my days in meetings planning our delivery models with our Senior Management team, visiting our different offices and meeting the clients we help each day and providing leadership and support to managers and staff in often difficult times. It is important to me that we practice what we preach and if a member of staff has a health issue or a personal matter than could impact on their job we try to create a more flexible work pattern, where the role allows, to accommodate this. I firmly believe that you reap what you sow and if you treat people fairly and offer support and flexibility when they most need it you get a rich return in loyalty and hard work.
Are perceptions of people with disabilities in the workplace changing?
Yes, perceptions on disabilities in the workplace are definitely undergoing a transformation for the better and employers are at the forefront of this movement. In particular, I believe SMEs are helping to lead the way in giving real opportunities to people who face all sorts of barriers to employment. However, there is still a lot more work to be done.
It is crucial that the UK workforce continues to build on the improvements being made, and I believe that the work we carry out at Kennedy Scott is championing this change through innovative ideas. Concepts we have pioneered such as the ‘Circle of Support’©, which brings together key people in a client’s life to provide continued support for their journey into employment, are central to affecting positive change and also provide vital support to the Employers.
You currently have an all-female senior leadership team at Kennedy Scott – what advice would you give women looking to get into leadership roles?
Never give up, be determined and know your business inside out! We pride ourselves on breaking down stereotypes and pushing back boundaries that hamper an individual progressing in their career, and this is a view that should be adopted across all industries. For women looking to pursue leadership roles it is crucial to be passionate and driven about the industry you are looking to advance within, and address the practical logistics of your life and commitments so that you can spend time focusing on your role. Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for promotion or apply for a new job but be prepared to provide some solid evidence of your previous success, even if it is not in a job but gained through chairing the school fundraising committee. Women have amazing multi-tasking abilities and need to value those skills and translate them into other roles. Also find a mentor to support you on the way. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in the same industry but an independent sounding board is always helpful. Striving to be good at what you do normally leads to success in any field but it doesn’t have to be at any price. A family is also important and the working world is becoming more accommodating so be brave and push back those barriers yourself.
You were recently awarded an OBE for your services to Entrepreneurship & Employability – how did it feel to be recognised in such a way?
I was extremely humbled to be recognised for my efforts in the New Year’s Honours list. I consider myself extremely fortunate to work with inspirational people every day, and I believe that this award really recognises the collective work and dedication of the team at Kennedy Scott who strive every day to pursue better employment opportunities for all, truly changing lives every day. I hope that receiving this honour helps to increase awareness of the important work we are doing and help us gain momentum within the sector.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor, or do you mentor anyone?
I think mentoring is a great idea and holds considerable value in helping people to discover and harness their potential. During the early days of founding Kennedy Scott my colleague and friend, Jill Mcardle, was a great source of support, offering crucial advice on how to promote my company and acting as a huge inspiration. I don’t have any formal mentoring agreements in place for myself but some of my staff would claim that I am their mentor which is nice. In many ways Kennedy Scott is centred around mentoring people, helping them to appreciate their valuable past experience, hone and utilise their unique skills, so that they can make a significant contribution to any organisation. Over the many years of evolving our work, I have witnessed first-hand how important mentoring is in helping our clients navigate the employment landscape, and so would always endorse the practice. Our Employment Coaches provide mentoring and support for the first year of someone’s new role which is invaluable in helping them grow and progress in the workplace.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Over the past 28 years at Kennedy Scott I am fortunate that there has been a plethora of achievements that I am extremely proud of due to continued commitment and hard work of our teams. Personally, watching and supporting individuals and our own staff, grow and develop through the company is hugely fulfilling. For example, one day I was waiting to cross a road by Paddington station and a black taxi passed by me. I recognised the driver as Ali, a Kennedy Scott client, who had trained to gain a Public Carriage office, prestigious green badge having joined our fast track London Knowledge Programme. Ali was now supporting his family on a good income and his life and that of the entire family had changed. I guess knowing that the work we do actually makes a valuable and sustained positive impact on people’s lives is the greatest achievement of all. Of course, receiving the OBE was also extremely humbling for me and really allowed me to reflect on the fantastic team I have around me and all the exceptional work they do.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
I would like to see a greater availability of part-time career opportunities and more flexible working patterns across all sectors and industries. Today juggling childcare and family commitments invariably still falls on women, and as I can comment from personal experience, this can be a real struggle when trying to pursue a career. My mother returned to work as a legal secretary when my brother started in Secondary education. She had fantastic skills from her previous role as a PA to a Director at Shell and she leveraged this in negotiating a term-time, part-time contract. She went on to becomes one of their most productive members of staff and mentored other young people starting out in their careers. Companies could be doing more to encourage women back into work after having a child, and adapting working patterns so that they do not have to settle for a less demanding role or they do not lose their valuable, experienced staff member because of a lack of affordable and professional childcare.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
To see Kennedy Scott grow from strength to strength! We are ambitious and eager to raise awareness of a wide range of issues surrounding employability in the UK. We are particularly keen to do more to help employers make the very small and simple adjustments to accommodate our clients so that our extremely capable candidates can get the job and thrive. I hope that we can continue to uphold the strong reputation Kennedy Scott has gained over the many years of innovation in the field of employability and develop new and innovative ways to deliver an even better service for our customers and employers.