I grew-up in a London suburb where the adults around me worked ‘up town’.
Andrea Webb, People Director, reflects on how the patterns in life positively influenced her rise to the top!
I grew-up in a London suburb where the adults around me worked ‘up town’. This was during the 1980’s, the Thatcher era, dominated by yuppie high-flyers who worked hard, played harder and made lots of money. There was a real sense of infinite possibility for anyone willing to work hard enough for it. Success was down to you and you alone. I loved that. And whilst I never aspired to be a yuppie (nobody ever admitted to being one of those!), growing up at this time has undoubtedly shaped the way I am today.
My first ‘career conversation’ was with my Dad, I was 10. He told me that the only place women got into management was in Personnel. I didn’t know what that was, but ‘management’ meant working ‘up town’, so off I went in pursuit. Little did I know that that conversation would form the foundation of my career.
My Dad worked in engineering and his observations back then were spot on. Nearly 30 years on from that conversation, the then brick sized mobile phones favoured by the yuppies have transformed to such an extent that we now struggle to survive without our smartphones. Conversely gender diversity in the workplace has barely moved on. Engineering is still dominated by men (by more than 90%) and ‘Personnel’ (or ‘HR’ as it’s been reframed and renamed) by women (roughly 70% of CIPD members are female). And whilst women dominate the HR profession as a whole, as with other professions, HR is male-dominated at the higher end. The reasons for this are complicated.
So I got the management job ‘up town’ in HR, and of course we eventually saw the dark side of capitalism, the yuppie demise making way for the evolution of the urbanites. By the age of 37 I achieved a significant career milestone by becoming People Director at Morgan McKinley, a senior leadership role within a global professional services recruitment consultancy, which is where I work (and sometimes play) today. But how did I make it happen? I won’t reel off the bio; experience aside there were three simple factors:
At this time of reflection, I realise I have spent most of my career never acknowledging that I am a woman. Now that I am in a senior leadership role, this has changed. I am much more observant of the regular patterns in life; like when travelling on business, I am one of very few women on a flight or having dinner solo in the hotel bar.
Looking back there is one thing I would do differently, and that is self promotion. I’m not one for the limelight, I never will be, but I believe you create your success, which means putting yourself out there, raising your hand and being prepared to take a few knocks. It’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized. More women need to grab these opportunities, so we can change the patterns of life and positively influence those around us.