To celebrate International Women’s Day which is held every year on 8th March, we interviewed four of AVADO’s female leaders to find out their experiences of being a woman in leadership.
On the panel we have Amy Crawford, Managing Director of AVADO Professional, Sam Sawyer, Chief Operating Officer at Arch Apprentices, Claire Whittingham who is the New Ventures Director and finally Sue Bradshaw, Chief People Officer.
Q: Please tell us who you are, what you do and how you came to be in your role?
Amy: I’m Amy Crawford, I’m the Managing Director for AVADO Professional, I’ve been with the business for the past 7 years. I started in a managing consultancy and was made redundant after a while. I decided to go travelling and thereafter joined a fast track graduate scheme at Lloyds TSB. In 2007 my career changed, and I was working in corporate adventure racing events. I eventually joined Home Learning College (now AVADO), where I have had various roles and for the last 18 months I have been the MD of AVADO Professional.
Sue: I’m Sue Bradshaw, I am the CPO for AVADO and Arch. My journey was not linear. Originally, I was a nurse at Middlesex Hospital, I then went into Haematology and Blood transfusion and then moved into pharmaceuticals where I was a Sales Representative, Sales Coach and Sales Manager. I then decided to move into the world of HR. I moved from HR into training, commercial excellence and then for five years I was the Head of Learning Centre of Excellence at GSK. I went back into education as a mature student after my NHS qualifications and attained a degree in education and a masters in lifelong learning. I really describe myself as a lifelong learner. I love working with people and that’s what interested me – growing people, supporting people and making everybody have fun and become successful.
Sam: My name is Sam, I’ve been the Chief Operating Officer at Arch for 6 years. Prior to that I worked for a national training provider for 15 years, during which I was promoted 9 times! I started as an Area Manager and quickly realised there were opportunities to grow within the company. I became the CEO for 3 years and decided to take a break. During my break I was head-hunted by one of the non-exec’s at the Arch Board and was asked if I wanted to join as an Operations Director. At first, I declined the offer as I was comfortable in my current situation. I then met Ben Rowland, founder of Arch, who convinced me to join Arch and here I am 6 years on. Arch recently achieved a Grade 1 Ofsted inspection, that is one of my proudest achievements.
Claire: I’m Claire, I’m the New Ventures Director, I have just come back from my second maternity leave. I previously did a PHD in Mineral Physics and then moved into Commercial due diligence at Deloitte for a few years, which was interesting. My husband and I moved to India with Blenheim Chalcot for 6 months which ended up being 3 years. India was an amazing experience. I then worked with Mike Curry (founder of AVADO) in the Corporate Pay sector, looking into travel money cards as Indian rupees is a restricted currency with a huge amount of regulations, so it was interesting to work in that. I came back to the UK 5 years ago and started working in AVADO, I did a range of roles in the company such as looking at reports and marketing innovation. In 2013, I set up and launched Squared Online. After returning from maternity leave, I started a new role as the New Ventures Director.
Q: What advice would you give young ambitious women starting out in the industry?
Amy: If I reflect on how I got to where I am today, you can see I’ve done different things. Think about the next couple of steps you want to take in your career, what skills do you need in your toolbox that you have not yet achieved. Your career path may take you sideways but think outside of the line and gain the skills and experience you need to get to where you want to be. I’m all for cross pollination.
Claire: Do something that you enjoy doing and don’t be afraid to take a risk and step outside your comfort zone. If you are doing something you enjoy you are more likely to do it better and be happy. Challenge yourself and make sure you’re learning, that is how you can develop yourself.
Sam: Don’t be scared to ask questions. Make sure to be nosy and network with the right people because lifelong learning is key and it may not always be through a textbook. Learning can be done by listening, talking to people and by networking. Don’t be scared to take on the next opportunity in your career.
Q: What did you find challenging during your career, moving from one job to another? How did you get your way through multi-tasking?
Sue: Be brave. Sometimes it is important to take a leap of faith, for example, taking on a job that may not be your ideal but gives you the skills you need, taking time off for your children, doing part time or even taking time off to travel. This applies to everyone, not just women. Challenge yourself because sometimes as women we can be less brave and less likely to promote ourselves but think about what it is that is holding you back and what is stopping you? Take the decisions that will take you into the direction you want to go.
Amy: Following up on the theme of being brave, some roles, especially general management roles can be somewhat anxiety inducing, especially when you are coming back from maternity leave trying to figure out how to work full time whilst having children as well as getting to grips with how the business functions and people are judging you because you may not be achieving the numbers and it is really scary. Trust yourself and back yourself up that you will learn and figure out the role and within 3 to 6 months’ time.
Sam: Evaluate yourself, question yourself and don’t be scared to identify the gaps that you may have in your career. Throughout my career, I’ve had some great mentors such as my Line Manager, but it can also be someone who is outside of your remit of what you do daily. This is the person you can have a coffee with discuss questions you may have such as “Hey I have this problem and I’m not quite sure how to handle it, can you help me?”. Equally, review yourself when you’re going home “What went well? What could have been better? What is my contribution to the business? Am I still contributing?” Keep the reflection consistent and logging it is key. Don’t be scared to question yourself.
Q: How do you balance your work and family life as you climb up the career ladder?
Sam: Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong. This is what I say to my team members who have children, schedule time in your diaries to go see your children at various events. There is nothing wrong with leaving the office early if you have planned it in advance. Sometimes I could not attend all my children’s events, but I made sure majority of the time I attended all the events. You must feel valued in your job and your manager should value that you’re an asset to the business but equally you are a mother and that you have responsibilities. Time goes by so quickly and I don’t know how I have a 21 and 28-year-old. I was able to be a part of their upbringing as their mother, a part time mum in most cases but when I spent time with them my focus was on them and my laptop and phone were closed.
Sue: I think it is important to agree on what your boundaries are and who supports you. Don’t feel guilty and make sure to plan things ahead of time. It should be give and take from both sides, between your partner and yourself when it comes to taking time off. I do sense a change in the last 30 years as it is more acceptable for men and women to take time off from work to support their families. Cherish your children because they grow up so quickly. You don’t want to look back in 10 years’ time wishing you could have attended their events.
Claire: I have recently come back from maternity leave, having had my second child. As Sam said, I think it is important to really stay focused on the time that you have with your children and resist using your phone. It’s both the men and women’s role and responsibility to look after the children. Responsibilities should be shared.
Amy: There is no silver bullet when your children are young. Make sure to stay organised in your work and family life.
Sue: Consider the options on what you would like to do for your work-life balance, you don’t have to work full time for the whole entirety of your career because if you are financially able to then consider part time work too. Speak to your manager about the options available.
Q: What does it take to get into the Board of Directors and what advice would you give any woman from more diverse backgrounds who would like to get there?
Sue: Don’t put your own barriers up in the way. Be brave, confident and good at your job. As Amy said previously, are there any gaps in your skills that may help you achieve the next role up the career ladder? The company and the management team must believe that it is possible, attaining more diversity etc. I think the first step is speaking out.
Q: Whilst navigating in the working world, have you ever felt that you have been treated differently because you are a woman? Do you have any advice for this?
Amy: I am not sure if I have any examples, but I am picky about who I work with. I feel that I can learn from my colleagues as well as trust them to look after me to some extent. It’s a strategic choice of you choosing them. Try to avoid putting yourself in a position where that would be the case.
Sue: Have you ever been in a meeting where there is tea to be made, plates to be cleared? The men assume you will carry out these tasks. Sometimes it is an assumption that we, as women will do it. It’s the little things that we all need to change our perception on.
Sam: An example of this would be when I have walked into a boardroom with all men. You must make sure that you are confident with your body language. Be organised and be prepared. You have earned your place in that boardroom and within the business, so make sure to maintain your place.
Claire: I personally believe that it is important to be confident within yourself. I think it is perceived as a female trait that we tend to be less confident or that we won’t speak our minds with as much confidence as a male counterpart. Within a previous role, I was asked to change my accent because I had a strong northern accent and I was shocked because I was asked to change the way I speak. I didn’t change the way I speak.
Thank you to the lovely panel for giving us an insight into their careers and what it takes to become a leading lady in the working world. As the world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist, Gloria Steinem has stated “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”. Here is to making a difference within society and our communities, achieving our ambitions and goals as strong and powerful women.