International Women’s Day 2019: Why one senior leader says balance is the key to success

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Kerry Edwards 7th March 2019 5 minute read

International Women’s Day 2019: Why one senior leader says balance is the key to success

Ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow, we spoke with Customer Experience Director Kerry Edwards to find out her views on what businesses need to do to address gender balance, as well as her strategies for success.

Starting her career as a credit controller at Vodafone, Kerry Edwards worked her way up and around a series of technology businesses before joining Capita Customer Management as Customer Experience Director just over a year ago. Here, she answers a series of questions about what balance means to her, the most important thing anyone can do to address gender balance in the workplace, and the support she’s received during her career.

Balance for better

“The most important thing anyone can do to address the gender balance in a business is to make it about capability, not gender. I feel quite strongly about this.

“We really need to be clear about the ways in which we define how an individual is expected to perform, the experience we want to see, and then grow people into roles from there. It’s critical that we broaden awareness that you can be capable in any role regardless of your gender.

“As a leader, I have a responsibility to make sure that I provide a space for the very best people to grow into roles. And more generally as a person in the workplace, I think we need to give ourselves permission to say, ‘Why not me?’ when it comes to our aspirations.”

Balance for life

“I’ve always consciously tried to create balance in my life at work and at home. My husband and I have worked hard to put together our version of balance at home for our family.

“I’ve always worked in demanding jobs, but going home at the end of the day and, when my son was younger, eating a meal together as a family every day were important measures of balance for me.

“I have found that talking honestly with my manager about my needs is a really important part of creating balance. This is something we talk about in my team quite a lot.

“I’m not suggesting that it’s possible to create bespoke working conditions in every organisation for every role, but that both sides being honest about what’s possible and what will help them is the best way to try to achieve balance for everyone. People will have very different definitions of what balance looks like for them personally.

“Making these changes might not be possible now, but it could in the future. Having open conversations about what would help you achieve balance is a great way to work towards it.

“For me, balance also includes devoting a bit of time to an interest or hobby. Otherwise it starts to feel like you’re giving effort away and not getting anything back. You can often find me running at weird times of the day and night, for example. I love to exercise and it’s a critical part of good mental health – which is more important than the physical aspect for me.”

Success is…

“Delivering exceptional outcomes whilst honouring my idea of balance is critical to my definition of success. But it’s also important to know what motivates you so you can play to that.

“As the result of a really tough interview process, I realised that I have a massive need to continue to learn. Looking back at my career it makes sense that I moved sideways as well as up, so that I had worked in every function possible. It meant that I really knew how the whole business worked.

At a previous organisation I was in charge of a large technical team, and made a point of learning how to do some of the things the team did. It was important for me to understand some of that detail for credibility, but it also ticked the ‘always learning’ box.”

Be brave

“When I joined Capita Customer Management, I had no experience working for an outsourcer – I’m usually more comfortable working client-side. I had to have a frank discussion about the practical ways to manage the risk that this presented, as well as taking responsibility for the learning I needed to do. I wasn’t learning everything from scratch because I already had plenty of transferrable skills and experience.

“Having had this discussion meant that I knew my definition of balance had been planned and accounted for, giving me and my manager the confidence that we could make it work.”

The difference support has made

“Mentors are really important. I didn’t know I needed one at first and kind of just accepted the opportunity when it was given to me; I didn’t realise how important it would be.

“I now actively seek out a non-line manager mentor. That they aren’t my manager is really important, as there’s no judgement about my performance and they can be focused on my development and ensure I’m always stretching my capabilities.

“I’ve benefitted from mentors of all levels of seniority. The perspectives of people from different parts of an organisation have created some really powerful moments for me. I try to open myself up to perspectives and opinions regardless of where someone sits on a structure.

“And I also act as a mentor myself. I’ve benefitted from it, so I want to give that back to others too.

“Mentors can often champion their mentees in forums within the organisation that the mentee doesn’t have direct access to, which can really help career progression.

“So for this International Women’s Day, I would encourage everyone to think about what their definition of balance is. It might not be achievable right now, but as with anything if you have identified what it is you want, you can create a plan to bring you closer to getting it.”

In our latest edition of Intelligence, Kerry shares the secrets for business success in a post-GDPR world.  Read 'The Power of Data' here.

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