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I come from a working class background; one of my grandfathers was a grocer and the other was an illiterate plumber. I was educated through the UK state school system; didn’t go to university and if that wasn’t tough enough I am also female and gay!! It’s perhaps not the obvious recipe for success in a financial services environment, but I am now a member of EY’s UK leadership team so something worked!
As Managing Partner for Talent in the UK & Ireland, it’s my job to ensure that EY’s 12,000 employees are able to achieve their potential. I am passionate about diversity and much of my day is spent developing our employer brand strategy to ensure we are recruiting, developing and retaining the best talent, from all walks of life. We are striving to create an environment where all our people, regardless of background, sexuality, gender, or ethnicity, are able to be themselves and succeed in the workplace.
However I wear a number a hats. Before taking on my current role, I previously led EY’s £100m turnover restructuring practice of 500 people and am now also the President of the UK’s restructuring industry body, R3.
I would also encourage women to think of their career as a climbing wall rather than a ladder. Some of the holds might appear out of reach and sometimes you have to go sideways before you can go up, but there is always a path that will lead to the top.
What has been your greatest achievement?
I was lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the 2014 BBC Woman’s Hour Power List, unveiled this month, which sought to find the UK’s biggest ‘game changers’ – women who have been catalysts for change. Meeting Jenni Murray was a real thrill, but hearing the stories of so many incredible women was truly inspiring and a privilege to have been a part of.
However, picking up EY’s ‘Employer of the Year’ award from Stonewall has to be one of the biggest highlights of my career to date. Stonewall benchmark 100 of the UK’s best employers for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender staff and the award was partly based on what our people say about us through anonymous surveys, so it was a testament to how far we have come as a firm.
. . . and your biggest challenge?
When I reflect on my career, I can see that my biggest challenges have arisen when I haven’t used my networks either inside or outside of the office. The barriers I faced have only ever been internal blockers I created for myself. They weren’t imposed by an organisation or individual.
In contrast, when I have reached out, I have always been overwhelmed by support and encouragement. Rather than feeling the need to boil the ocean single-handedly, we all need to get better at both asking for help and actively offering it to others.
What would be your advice to other women climbing the corporate career ladder?
The best piece of advice I have ever received was from my Mum, who said that ‘if you aim for the moon then you might hit the top of a tree’. Whilst I have undoubtedly picked up a few bruises along the way, it taught me that we shouldn’t ever be defined by our own self-limiting beliefs or other peoples. I would also encourage women to think of their career as a climbing wall rather than a ladder. Some of the holds might appear out of reach and sometimes you have to go sideways before you can go up, but there is always a path that will lead to the top.
Linked to this, I would also encourage more women to be active role models. There’s often a huge misconception that we need to be perfect before we can pass on our pearls of wisdom. Whereas the reality is that we all have skills and experiences that would be useful to share with others.
What would be your advice to other companies looking to improve their diversity credentials?
Progress on gender diversity continues to be painfully slow and there is still a long way to go before the UK can declare victory. Culture change inevitably takes time as does building talent pipelines.
However, in our experience, diversity needs constant, close attention for any sustainable change to take place. It needs to be on the board’s agenda on a daily basis, rather than once in a blue moon on International Women’s Day. Setting targets with teeth and holding ourselves accountable for those targets is the only way to keep this agenda front of mind.
Where do you hope to be in five years’ time – what does the future hold for you?
My career with EY started nearly 30 years ago, but I still feel like I’m learning and facing new challenges on a daily basis. One of the things that has kept me in the firm so long is the many different opportunities that have come my way for personal development – whether it’s is from working overseas or with a variety of new clients. I’m hopeful that the future will be filled with more of the same. Some of the best advice I have received is not leave your employer until you have exhausted all opportunities for career and personal advancement. I am happy to say that I still haven’t exhausted that well of opportunity.