What inspired you work in the public sector?
I started my career in the private sector, but joined the civil service as an economist in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, back in 2000. It was the best move I ever made: the public sector has incredibly challenging jobs, dealing with the most complex, difficult questions facing society. We make real change for citizens, and work with some of the most impressive and highly motivated people in the country. If I’d been told when I joined the public sector back in 2000 that one day I’d be Director General of Criminal Justice I wouldn’t have believed it. I think I have one of the best jobs in the UK.
How have you navigated challenges and barriers to career success?
Don’t be put off by challenges, they can almost always be overcome. As I always tell people, you’ve got to be opportunistic. And never be afraid to challenge the status quo. In 2004 I applied for my first SCS role – I was initially told not to apply as it wasn’t doable on a 4 day work pattern (on which I was working after my first child was born). But in the end I did go for it and after I got the job my very supportive director, Andrew McDonald, and I made it work. So it’s always worth taking a bet on yourself.
What advice would you give yourself if you could turn back the clock to the start of your career?
Say what you believe, be positive, and always live your values. And don’t take yourself too seriously!
What are the advantages of being a woman working in the public sector?
In many ways the public sector is more advanced than the private sector at facilitating flexible working. During my time in the public sector I’ve tried many different working patterns in a range of great jobs – allowing me to work three days a week when my kids were young was essential in keeping me in the civil service. Then later I was able to go into a high pressure full time job (Principal Private Secretary) without people having assigned me to the ‘mummy track!’ So the public sector is great at allowing flexibility of working pattern over careers.
How important is it to take responsibility for your own development?
It’s essential! No one else is going to do it for you, although good line managers and mentors will help you. Getting it right for you involves making your own difficult choices – about working patterns, when to go for promotion, how to balance work and life and flexible working. These are personal choices we all need to make for ourselves – the key is not to feel guilty or second-guess your choices too much.
Have you benefited from a coach or mentor in your career?
Hugely. I’ve had the opportunity of working with some incredible leaders and mentors – Lord Browne, Suma Chakrabarti, Ian Davis, Chris Wormald, and Nick Macpherson to name a few. Importantly, they have all stopped me from making the wrong career move on impulse at different points in my career journey!
Who are your female role models and why?
I’m surrounded by fantastic female role models – there are 3 other (very impressive) women on the MoJ Board for a start. Also Rona Fairhead, Chair of the BBC Trust, who has had a very varied and interesting career; and my mum who worked throughout my childhood as a Professor of Biochemistry, but never missed a sports day or prize giving.
What are your plans for future?
I don’t really plan my career – I like to see what opportunities come up. But I hope to carry on doing intellectually challenging jobs in the public sector with real impact on people’s lives. And to keep taking my kids to interesting places – we went to Istanbul last weekend for my birthday – they loved the idea of one country spanning two continents: we woke up in Europe and went to Asia for lunch!