Inspirational Woman: Victoria Darragh | Award Winning Executive Assistant at Hays PLC

Vic-Brand-NewmainI am an award winning Executive Assistant from London. For the last six years I have been supporting two of our Global Directors at Hays PLC, a FTSE 250 Global Specialist Recruitment Agency. In addition to my EA role, I am also the National Channel Lead for Hays PA & Secretarial, UK & Ireland. Hays PA & Secretarial is our recruiting arm for PAs across the UK.

My previous PA Role to Hays was to support the Canadian Female CEO of a small charity in London that works with employers to employ disabled people and prior to that I worked for a variety of companies in different sectors as I worked my up the secretarial career ladder.

“Frankly Miss Darragh, you are never going to be a Personal Assistant, the best you can hope for is a spot of data entry work”. That added fuel to the fire but in a positive way! Another key breakthrough moment!

I have been networking in the PA industry for over ten years now and that involves speaking at PA events/conferences, not just in the UK but internationally too. I am a former Chairman of EUMA (European Management Assistant) for London and the South East and a member of the Global PA Network.

I head up the Hays PA Network, which started as an internal PA network for our PAs here at Hays but has also become external in many respects and alongside this I organise, manage and chair the Hays PA Conference, the largest PA conference dedicated to British PAs.  The conference is about empowering and inspiring PAs from across the country to be proud of this incredible profession and being the best assistant they can possibly be.

I also recently launched my blog www.papowerwithvictoriadarragh.com which has been read by PAs from over 30 countries.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been getting to this position in the first place. It has felt like at times trying to smash through a concrete ceiling, not glass, even as a PA.

I was initially rejected by over 20 recruitment agencies when I first came back to London in the space of two days and for a number of reasons; too working class, not the right accent, wasn’t elegant enough, the list goes on.  There was a very stereotype image of a PA then and a specific age range and if you didn’t meet the criteria the door was almost firmly closed. But I simply found an open window instead!

In fact I went to an interview in Croydon at a Solicitor’s where the gentleman that interviewed me said “Frankly Miss Darragh, you are never going to be a Personal Assistant, the best you can hope for is a spot of data entry work”. That added fuel to the fire but in a positive way! Another key breakthrough moment!

I trooped along to another agency in Holborn, Central London, defeated before I got in the door and met Helen, an Australian Recruitment Consultant (she was actually one of the Directors). I had prepared myself for battle and she said ‘Missy you are going places, I can tell there is a bright future ahead for you’ and gave me this pep talk to boost my confidence. I had never in my life had anyone believe in me and actually say those words and I have never forgotten them! Meeting Helen was a key moment in my life – what we like to call a ‘Breakthrough moment’.

Plenty of people will be negative towards you and your success but all you need are one or two people in your corner, rooting for you and giving those words of encouragement to pull you through. Even now I have encountered terrible behaviour towards me because of my success.   I hold my head up high, shoulders back and walk tall, because I have worked hard for this and deserve the career I have.

I have actually decided to track Helen down now as I feel she needs to know that her words of encouragement, guidance and her belief in me as a recruiter, paved the way for me to have the extraordinary career that I have today.

I am proud that I have done things that weren’t me, such as trekking various mountains and undertaking various challenges for charity over the years, pushing myself to the limit. I feel very lucky at the moment and take nothing for granted.

The irony is also not lost on me that I now work for one of the world’s largest recruitment companies but I honestly love it. I remember when Hays offered me the role here. I said to my since departed Grandad, “I can’t work for a recruiter, they were so horrible to me way back then and nearly destroyed me!” He said that Hays had handed me a golden opportunity and that instead of complaining about the industry, to get in there and make a difference. I think I have made a small contribution!

Hays are a great and interesting company to work for and I am heavily involved in our recruiting arm for PAs, EAs and Secretaries. Hays have allowed me to come forward with my ideas for PAs in terms of how we recruit and our value-add for candidates and clients.   We do this by helping them to upskill, empower, inspire and more importantly make them proud to be in this incredible profession.

PAs were hit very hard at the start of the recession. They were the first line of workers to be made redundant but they were the first to be brought back. A nice easy quick win for companies to dispose of but then they realise the sheer value add and enormity of the work that a PA does for a business.   In addition to this, in many organisations the middle management layer was removed too and when we came back we had to pick that up aswell they weren’t replaced and still haven’t been.

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

I am proud of my whole life to be honest. I am not a high maintenance person. I am proud that I purchased my first flat at 21, when all my friends were off to University or taking a gap year and buying new cars. I am proud of the traveling I have undertaken, which I didn’t think was ever going to happen and that has come off the back of my career. I am proud that I have done things that weren’t me, such as trekking various mountains and undertaking various challenges for charity over the years, pushing myself to the limit.

I feel very lucky at the moment and take nothing for granted.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

I have often thought about this! Being honest I probably would have had a crack in politics and run for Prime Minister. Perhaps there is still time? Is Great Britain ready for another female Prime Minister?!

To be quite frank I have been dismayed about the behaviour of our politicians in recent years. They are in positions of influence and power and have abused this in so many ways. People used to look up to politicians and now as a nation we are jaded. I hope we see a new breed coming through in the coming decades.

But quite honestly I work in one of the most incredible professions, one that is so invisible to so many people and PAs are vastly underpaid for the work they are doing. Having the opportunity to support our business leaders in Great Britain really is incredible and you can learn so much when you have the right boss.

I also like the element of surprise. My life and the people in it constantly surprise me and I think an element of that makes life much more interesting.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My Father! My Dad has been through so much in life including life threatening terminal cancer, which he did recover from.   At the time he was given 3 months left to live but by some miracle survived! However, a few years after that he was diagnosed as HIV Positive after his partner had an affair and passed the disease onto him.

I was told about this at a fairly young age but took it in my stride. The fear is always there, what if it turns into full blown Aids, but the research around HIV and Aids has been phenomenal in recent years. I really do feel like a cure will be found in the next decade or two. Perhaps that may be too late for my Dad but we still need to keep on track with it as it is a terrible disease that so many people don’t understand and is devastating for those living with it.

To put it into perspective my Dad took part in a drugs testing group for people with this disease some years ago, he is the only person still alive from that group!

My Dad also still to this day in the 21st century receives homophobic abuse and just recently in Central London. He also takes it in his stride but it is saddening in this day and age that people will not allow others to live the life they want to and feel they have the right to form an opinion on someone they don’t know anything about. The fact my Dad is Gay has never concerned me one bit and I only ever want him to be happy and enjoy life and he deserves to.

What does the future hold for you?

I don’t plan too much in advance anymore to be honest. My career has been stratospheric for me and my original five year plan ten years ago happened within a matter of years. I also like the element of surprise. My life and the people in it constantly surprise me and I think an element of that makes life much more interesting. I am always open to new ways of working, change within organisations and opportunities to grow and develop. I think if you plan too much and those plans don’t come to fruition it can actually come across as a negative thing.

I guess my final thought is you can either sink or swim in this life and I am more of a doggy paddler but I always give things a go and get there in the end!

I am in the not too distant future going to be voted onto the Board of Governors for an Infants School and Children’s Centre in South London. I am very keen to work with the next generation and inspire them and help them to believe and achieve their dreams. Who knows we could have some budding PAs amongst them that will be supporting the next generation of British leaders in business!

I am also very keen to help in any way that I can with assisting in the movement of getting more female leaders into business and organisations. As an Executive Assistant, we are the very people that will be supporting those female leaders when they reach those levels or will be with them even at managerial level. We can really help them to achieve success and their goals. Our role is to work with our leaders to achieve their strategic objectives and ensure the success of that company or department but we also wear many other hats too that contribute towards a leaders success.

If there are any female leaders that need more advice and guidance on how you can really utilise a PA/EA then I am more than happy to provide support.   Many bosses don’t quite know what a PA is capable of and many are ‘missing a trick’ by not utilising the skill set of the 21st century PA.

I guess my final thought is you can either sink or swim in this life and I am more of a doggy paddler but I always give things a go and get there in the end!

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