Next month I turn 40. Being on the verge of this major birthday milestone has not only given me pause to reflect on the past, but also to look to the future. And if I’m honest, I’ve never looked this far ahead before. But it’s been on my mind a lot recently. Is this the beginning of a mid-life crisis (!) or a normal emotional reaction to a landmark birthday, I wonder?
The story so far
My dad was born in Nigeria in a small village four and a half hours’ drive inland from Lagos, my mum in not-the-nicest area of Manchester. Growing up they both had little – but they were intelligent and motivated and did well for themselves from a standing start. They also made sure to instil the belief in my sister and I that ‘the sky’s the limit’.
During my 20s I avoided thinking about ageing, seeing it as ‘the beginning of the end’. How naïve I was back then, because my 30s were the best decade so far, and I’ve got a funny feeling that my 40s are going to be even better. How so? Well, I have two wonderful little girls who keep me smiling and scolding in equal measure, and a focused and calm husband who is my rock. And I work for a market-leading RPO and MSP provider in Lorien – home to a truly progressive culture.
I work full-time, but with the flexibility I need and on respectful terms. My superb boss David Gettins trusts me to do the right thing – to lead from the front, to ‘dress for my day’, and to work SMART. For a recruitment solutions business that’s been going for more than 40 years, you may expect the culture here to be stuck in the past. Not so – the environment at Lorien is one of trust and collaboration. And it’s fun!
I have the chance to work with and meet different, diverse, and interesting people every day. I get to help them solve their talent-related business problems by listening and devising solutions (sales isn’t about selling in my humble opinion - it’s about trust, relationships, and connecting the dots.) I’m also lucky to be surrounded by a diverse mix of people, and as a BAME female leader within the staffing industry I’m incredibly grateful for that.
I can be myself and there are opportunities to progress. Our CEO Claire Marsh is an inspiration here, as is our Group CEO Julia Robertson. See Claire’s blog from September 2019, 'Influencing the Influencers', where she calls for greater recognition of female leaders within the recruitment industry.
The next ten
I mentioned my upbringing earlier, and whether it’s nature or nurture, I’ve always been ambitious. So, if the sky is STILL the limit, what may the future hold in 10 years’ time? Will I be retired? NO chance, not when I have two little kiddies under six. Plus, we don’t even play the lottery! So – assuming I’ll be working, and if, for example, I aspired to be in the boardroom, what opportunities may there be in the future for people like me (educated, female, BAME)?
A helpful indicator of opportunity and progress can be found in the performance of FTSE companies captured by the Hampton-Alexander Review. The latest report comments: “The drive by British business to address the shortfall of women in leadership has continued in 2019, building on progress made in previous years, but the rate of pace remains disappointing slow”.
Bringing diversity of ethnicity into the conversation, The Parker Review in the UK aims for at least one person of colour on every FTSE 100 board by 2021, which is the same year BAME pay gap reporting requirements will be implemented by the UK government. The 2020 report highlights that while great strides have been made in bringing female leaders into the boardroom, 37 % of FTSE 100 companies still have an all-white boardroom – compared to 69% of FTSE 250 companies.
Things are moving in the right direction, however. And improvements in policy and talent pipeline development have been seen since the prior report in 2018. I’m a huge advocate of these formal initiatives, and long to see a future where boards are balanced across all forms of diversity. The road to success appears long but it’s not impossible. As many point out, the key to changing the FUTURE is to build the pipeline TODAY of diverse candidates in senior roles. We also need to open up certain headhunters’ minds, and to give top talent coming up the ranks something (or someone) to aspire to!
Opening the boardroom door
There also needs to be a demystifying of what actually ‘goes on’ in the boardroom, and proactive training & development to help individuals become ‘board-ready’. This means giving greater access to individuals earlier on in their career, which goes against the tradition of ‘boardroom privilege’. Have you ever worked in a business where access to the boardroom remained a tightly guarded secret, and the conversations on the ‘top floor’ were deemed too important to include those below C-suite level?
Conversely at Lorien, I’m actively encouraged to participate in senior decision-making and to voice my opinion. Together with the other members of our senior leadership team, we have great access to the Impellam Group CEO, Julia, and other Board members. In fact, there is an ongoing initiative within the Group whereby employees are asked to nominate themselves to join a Shadow Board on a rotation lasting six months. The Shadow Board meets regularly with the Group CEO and some of the Leadership Team to play a key role in influencing our strategy and priorities. This gives us a fresh perspective and deeper understanding of the challenges they face.
This is exactly the sort of good practice that encourages ALL candidates - diverse or not - to dream big. The talent is out there; it just needs nurturing.
Having spent almost two decades in the corporate world, I’ve seen first-hand the progress businesses have made in relation to opening themselves up and becoming more balanced. While there’s still much to be done, things were a lot different back when I started! And, in the same way that I’m excited to see what the next decade holds for me, I’m equally excited about how the business world will continue to evolve. Working with technology clients on a daily basis, I already know we will see incredible innovations. Combine this with some of the diversity and inclusion initiatives I touched on earlier, plus an ever-progressive mindset from top to bottom – and the sky truly will be the limit for businesses and individuals everywhere.