Collette Huckle, Divisional Director at Reed Accountancy
Throughout my career I have always found that the key to getting into an industry and then seeking promotion has been mentoring, learning from others and collaborating with people to find the best way to carry out a task. As a woman in leadership I have learned from as many men as I have women, and I have then repaid that to the next generation by mentoring others too. Women have always had the power and skills to be in leadership but with mentoring, role models and companies setting the trend we can accelerate the process of achieving more diversity at the top.
When I started out in my career as a recruitment consultant there were many female recruiters at entry level and the immediate team leader roles. However, the number of women in management roles was low. That has changed noticeably in the past few years with women such as myself and Claire Harvey, Managing Director at REED, setting an example that gender is not prohibitive at this company.
Mentoring is key to development
As I settled into my role and into the industry I found that I was comfortable with what I was doing and had a passion for the job. But never one to stand still, I wanted to progress. So I started to seek the support of women outside the industry, joining a ‘Women in Leadership’ network who were looking to share tips and advice as well as offering to become mentors to the next generation just starting out in their careers. It was a really positive environment with proactive advice. It’s something which I am still part of today and I would advise anyone entering any career to join. Personally, I found some incredibly influential women that have played a massive role in my career and now I look to do the same. As such I’m currently mentoring five fantastic talents, all in different industries and with their own ambitions to fulfil.
Another key part of the Women in Leadership network was that it helped me realise the barriers to my own progression. For instance, I noticed that within myself I would have to tackle such issues as imposter syndrome – which I feel holds a lot of people, not just women, back from fulfilling their potential. It can be crippling, but once it is confronted it can be tackled. There are also differences between genders. Especially in recruitment we notice that men are more likely to take a leap and apply for roles where they don’t meet the criteria exactly, or they fall short on one or two of the skillsets to tick. For women, there is often a reluctance to apply for roles unless they fit it completely. Again this comes down to confidence. And it needs to change, as part of a new role is always learning new skills. With the right attitude and mental ability, which so many people have, skills can be developed. After all, a career is always about development, otherwise we would end up standing still. The ambition to apply for roles where there are still areas to learn is something that employers often want to see.
However, it’s not just Women in Leadership that offers this kind of help. There are many groups that the next generation of leaders can turn to for mentoring and it’s worth looking into local groups in the area. They don’t just stop at mentoring. Roundtable discussions, best practice sharing and general networking to build a brilliant support network are so useful to have.
Getting help from REED
My personal experience at REED has also been a major part of development. In fact, it was Sir Alec Reed, our company founder and my most recent mentor, who recommended I seek out an executive coach to continue my development. At REED the support levels to progress are fantastic, and this executive coaching was funded as part of the company’s personal development fund – which has been vital to rounding off my management skillsets. Again, this executive coaching assisted me with my confidence, leadership and ability to manage people.
I have always thought that a good leader is someone who takes a 360 degree view of what they are doing and has the ability to communicate well as well as being transparent, honest and decisive. And the more I learn about mentoring the more I feel it is also crucial that leaders stretch people and develop the skills of those under their management, because I have learned just as much from those I am mentoring as those mentoring me.
A case in point is the bravery that we need to show in order to put ourselves forward for roles. This next generation have such fearlessness in so many areas of their lives, and they are showing a confidence to let their management know that they want to progress or want to develop and move into a new role. When I was at the beginning of my career and was looking to move up I applied for a role to progress, and when my manager saw the application they were almost surprised. They had no idea that I was looking to progress. I had shown that I was very good at my job, and as far as they were concerned I was prime for a promotion, but because I hadn’t vocalised my desire to progress I wasn’t moving nearly as quickly as I could. I do wonder that if we were more willing to be louder about our ambitions whether we could see more women at the top already.
What companies need to do
However, we cannot place the blame at the employee’s doorstep due to a lack of confidence, knowledge of support through mentoring or vocalising ambition. We cannot ask people to be something they are not in order to get ahead. The purpose of increasing diversity at the top is to have many different perspectives to talk for those that may not fit one mould. It is important to put into place company practices that recognise the whole person applying for a role, or the strengths and weaknesses of all the employees and how they can be developed.
An essential part of knowing about the people at your organisation is understanding how to get the best from them and how to facilitate their growth. So often for women, flexibility is important as many are still the primary carer of their children and – as I have done – need the time to work the school run into their schedule. Far too often in the past it has been seen that having young kids slows down a career, but there is no reason why this should happen. Why can’t we have both? If there is a level of trust between employer and employee that the job will still get done then career progression can, and should, continue.
We have to have lives, and a balance between private and professional is absolutely essential to being happy. There should never be a moment where we put too much pressure on ourselves and feel overwhelmed. Throughout my career, whether at REED or through Women in Leadership, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a network of strong people. I believe that if we are to take steps towards greater diversity at the top then this is what we need – whichever company we work for, and wherever we work.
My appointment to Divisional Director at REED has been a journey of progression, learning and development, which I would have never been able to do without the network of mentors and managers that have given me the support I needed. But it’s also given me a unique perspective on how more women can get into leadership positions. We know that it has never been a case of lacking the skill or leadership talent. If we can help each other give confidence and guidance, be a bit louder in our ambitions and have willing companies that fit work to life then we can increase the number of women at the top and provide more mentors for women in the next generation. Diversity at the top can be increased – we just have to all work together to achieve it.