On Friday 8 March 2019, I hosted our annual conference (my third as CEO of Lorien and sister company Onezeero) which coincided with International Women's Day. With that in mind, I wanted to reflect on my career, not only as a female leader, but as someone who recognises the opportunities that I’ve been given in my organisation, and that other women need too. It’s easy to forget that female leaders aren’t simply created as they are – they’re the product of hard work, support, and opportunity. Here’s where I found mine.
It is pretty frightening sometimes to think that I have been with this business for longer than some of our employees have been alive. I joined Lorien in 1998, fresh out of university. At the time, recruitment wasn’t really recognised as a “career” choice, so I assumed it was a short-term option to pay off my student debts. And now here I am, running the company 21 years later!
Unsurprisingly, the business has changed significantly in that time. We’ve adapted in line with the needs of our customers and that has presented lots of opportunities for me along the way. Coming through the ranks, I performed almost every operational role in the business to give me a fantastic grounding in recruitment. I have constantly been challenged, inspired, and driven by the people around me – who have also ensured we had fun along the way. My opportunities at Lorien as a female have been varied and numerous – from helping to shape client solutions to leading high impact initiatives, through to our many incentives and ways to be recognised.
One of my recent highlights was being privileged enough to host a group of exceptional females at an evening with Michelle Obama - one of my personal heroes - and getting to meet her!
Almost five years ago, some research came out that showed that women were unlikely to apply for a role unless they met 100% of the requirements. I have definitely been guilty of that in the past, but I have been lucky to work with some really supportive leaders who always gave me a push at the right time. They encouraged me to move beyond my comfort zone to fulfil my potential. Without them I wouldn’t have made it to CEO. My advice is to not let self-doubt or perfectionism stop you from moving forward. Sometimes, you won’t have all the answers. But in the right organisation, with the right people, you should always feel encouraged to ask for help. At Lorien and Onezeero, we are a huge support network for each other.
My advice to women, in recruitment or otherwise, is therefore: "Don’t be silent." If you have an idea or an opinion, then make sure that you voice it. We can’t expect to be heard or listened to if we don’t speak up. My job is to create an environment and culture where everyone is encouraged and empowered to voice their opinion and contribute to our thinking. You may be challenged, of course, but the right environment will value and support your contribution regardless. No one person can have all the answers and having multiple opinions from diverse groups can unlock something quite unique, in my experience.
Working for a company where I can count many of our employees as friends, and some of them almost as family, is amazing. Watching people develop and grow in their careers, while also raising families and dealing with whatever life generally throws at them, is a constant source of inspiration for me.
It goes without saying that I had to put in a lot of hard work into getting to where I am now! But the good news is, hard work is achievable for everyone. Recruitment can be viewed as high pressure and competitive and that plays to all of the gender stereotypes that it is an environment that is better suited to men. In my view, that is such an outdated image. Confidence, competitiveness, and ambition are not solely male traits, and the sooner we realise that, the better. People need to understand that the achievements of others do not come at the expense of their own. Gender equality can be just that.
Regardless of the role or your gender, my advice is the same: recruitment is a specialist career and you are ultimately responsible for other people’s careers, so you need to take the time and care to understand your market, candidates, and customer needs. It’s an industry centred on trust, expertise, and relationships, and, contrary to popular belief, a team mentality. The people that do the best are those that are fully committed, work hard, and take as much guidance as they can from other people’s experience. Take inspiration from those around you and, if you can, take others along on the journey with you!
As a technology recruiter, we work in a sector that is notoriously short on female talent, which forms part of the overall STEM gap in the UK. At Lorien and Onezeero, we work closely with our customers and a number of external bodies to share thoughts and initiatives on how to close the gender gap in technology. Last year, we signed the Tech Talent Charter to demonstrate our commitment to improving gender balance within the tech industry. But I understand that we need to do more – as we all do.
I am proud that our executive team has a 50/50 gender split, and that this is also reflected across our employee population. Last year, we established Cohesion – our internal diversity and inclusion group, with nominated representatives for all protected characteristics – which will help us to continue to improve our diversity and inclusion as a business. This, in turn, I hope will help our clients. My hope for the year ahead is to continue to cultivate an environment which is welcoming and inclusive to people from all walks of life. With the opportunity and support I can provide, and the hard work of the individual, we can all thrive.