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Spotlight Series: 10 inspiring women (#IWD2019 special)

To mark International Women’s Day this 8th March 2019, we spoke to a group of inspirational women from around Wellington Place who share their stories of perseverance, progression and overcoming challenges throughout their careers, as well as offering advice to the next generation, all towards a #balanceforbetter

International Women's Day women from around the Wellington Place Leeds development
Top (left to right): Beth Gildersleve, Rachelle Mahapatra, Tanja Lichtensteiger, Flora Mewies Middle (left to right): Natalie Harris, Natalie Wright Bottom (left to right): Julia Rangecroft, Dominique Simcox, Jane Brodie, Rachael Morgan

 

Tanja Lichtensteiger, Engineering Manager, Sky Betting & Gaming

Tanja started coding at 8 years old and now works as an Engineering Manager for Sky Betting & Gaming. Tanja has not only had to deal with racism throughout her career, but sexism in what was once a very male dominated industry. Tanja gives straight forward advice on what to do when facing such barriers,

“Although we’ve come a long way, racism and sexism is still present in our industry, but don’t let that stop you. Shout at the unfairness, but also be resilient and be present. It’s about getting up, showing up and being so damn good that they can’t ignore you.”

Routes to the tech careers have changed significantly in Tanja’s two decades in the sector, which presents better opportunities for young people, “Employers need to realise that hiring those only from traditional paths such as university degrees isn’t wise, as it excludes the amazing talent that comes with transferrable skills and from other walks of life.”

Stating her biggest motivation as being proving those wrong that said she couldn’t achieve something, Tanja shares some top tips on getting ahead. “It’s really important to establish a good work-life balance and be able to switch off when you leave the office. I enjoy Brazilian Jiujitsu, travelling and dining out – all of which help me relax. In the workplace it’s also important to consider your team’s wellbeing, in addition to embracing people’s unique qualities, enhancing a dynamic working environment.”

 

Natalie Harris, Apprentice, Wates Construction

Natalie Harris is an apprentice for Wates at the Wellington Place development in Leeds city centre, working as a Commercial Management Trainee for the one of the UK’s largest privately-owned construction, development and property services companies.

According to recent figures, only 620 women opted for apprenticeships in construction, compared with more 20,000+ men. However, there’s definitely a shift in perceptions of the industry, and this International Women’s Day Natalie shares some advice to young women considering their career options:

“Take the plunge! To put it simply, things won’t change in this industry unless women have the courage to go for it. Don’t get me wrong, this job isn’t for everyone, but the idea that a role is more or less suited to someone based on their gender is completely wrong and I hope that this sentiment will be commonplace for future generations.”

When asked about the best bits of her job, Harris added: “This probably sounds like a cliché, but for me I would have to say the people and the community spirit at the development. Within the job we meet people from a variety of backgrounds and specialisms, which really helps us become well-rounded and informed employees. Outside of the job, there’s also lots going on that we can be part of, such as a workplace choir, knitting club and exercise classes. At these community events we get to meet co-workers from Wates, the development team and people from the many businesses already settled at Wellington Place.”

 

Dominique Simcox, Head of Customer Experience, Marketing & Office Manager, MEPC Limited

Having spent over a decade of her career at MEPC, a prominent name in UK commercial property, Dominique Simcox has committed her time to delivering outstanding experiences for her customers at Wellington Place and cementing herself as an integral part in the Leeds business community.

“Commercial property was a male dominated sector when I first began, but as a very driven individual, I didn’t let it phase me. Over the years, I’ve seen shifts from women in construction roles to women taking those high-powered positions within the businesses we’ve welcomed on site, but there is still a way to go.

“I think passion that women can bring to a role can separate them from the rest. Opening up conversations has helped me to continue to progress at MEPC and I’m lucky to have had a solid support system over the years.”

Dominique has been able to create a platform showcasing women in business through events, training courses, groups and panel events and as Head of Customer Experience, cares about a people-first approach – but it doesn’t stop there.

“I’ve worked extremely hard and stand up for what I believe in. Whether it’s equality, mental health, diversity…it’s important to combat taboos and it’s essential that we do all we can to improve it. That’s why I’m passionate about the importance of the ongoing initiatives at Wellington Place – seeing them so well received by our customers shows just how invaluable they are in the workplace.”

 

Flora Mewies, Employment Associate, Ward Hadaway

Flora Mewies is an immigration specialist at the Leeds office of Ward Hadaway, something that has helped her gain a unique insight on the importance of International Women’s Day. In addition to advising firms from across the region on employment law relating to international staff, Mewies works with individuals seeking the right to remain in the UK.

Flora said: “Firstly, there’s a misconception that immigration is bad for the UK, fuelled by the fear that people from foreign countries are coming to Britain to take jobs away from UK citizens – to clarify, in my experience this is rarely the case.

“In some countries there’s a much greater lack of opportunity for women, where attitudes are far less progressive than here in the UK, which ultimately means that those skills are going to waste, purely on the basis that they’ve been honed by a woman.

“As a country that champions equality, we should be taking advantage of this, creating a welcoming environment to women that not only helps boost our economy, but improves our overall wellbeing; with the proactive attraction of doctors, healthcare specialists, scientists and entrepreneurs.”

When it comes to offering advice to women wanting to get ahead, Flora adds: “I was very lucky to grow up in a supportive family where I had strong female role models to look up to. However, I am aware that not everyone is so lucky. To all those young women out there unsure of what they’re capable of, I would tell them that the world is full of limitless possibilities for those willing to put the work in, just be sure to take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to you to learn and develop – and remember to not fear asking for help along the way.”

 

Julia Rangecroft, Head of Private Wealth and Partner, Shulmans LLP

Head of Private Wealth and Partner at Shulmans LLP, Julia Rangecroft, discusses the benefits that come with being a woman within a male-led industry.

“In my early career, I was often the only woman in meetings, but you need to look at this as an advantage. See it as an opportunity to make an impression more easily. As women I think we run the risk of being self-limiting – if we are constantly looking for the barriers that come with being women in a male-dominated profession and sector, we are more likely to get stuck behind them.

“Law and trends are constantly changing, and that makes our job exciting. We’re always able to learn, and providing you’re willing to work hard, and know your stuff, your gender shouldn’t play a role in your success.”

When asked if she was a role model to others, Julia’s answer was simple – “If I am a role model, I would want it to be because I’ve earnt it, not just because I’m a woman. If I get to inspire others, of course that’s fantastic, but I don’t want this to be driven by my gender, instead by my success.”

 

Beth Gildersleve, Head of Technology, Bet, Sky Betting & Gaming

Centred in a competitive working environment, Beth Gildersleve is no stranger to the world of tech. Following 12 years of working at NHS Digital, including on mobile health apps, she reveals how being open and approachable were essential steps to success.

“In my first proper job after university, my second line manager was a super woman! She was organised, a great communicator, honest and loyal to her team. She taught me a lot about being a great manager and leader, ensuring I had the honest and tough conversations and showed me that caring about and supporting your people is what gets results.”

It’s this kind of attention that keeps her motivated, too, “Delivering great things for customers, users and the business is a big driver for me! Also, seeing people you’ve worked with and those you manage develop, progress and thrive in their careers is very rewarding.” But a high-pressured role has meant setting boundaries when it comes to family time, which Beth believes is important in striking a successful work-life balance, “I have two primary school-aged children and I’ve grappled with the guilt of being a full-time working mum. It’s a juggling act and you have to be super organised, flexible and know when to switch off from work. I’m lucky to have a great support system and flexibility at work but being disciplined about family or even my own time is important. It has taken a long time for me to get to this place, but it is possible.”

Beth has picked up many lessons throughout her career and her message is clear;

“Believe in yourself and do what you think is right. Be ready for a rollercoaster ride – working life has big highs and lows and be ready to step out of your comfort zone – it really is how you grow as a person.”

 

Jane Brodie, HR Business Partner, Equifax

As a HR Business Partner within Equifax’s Leeds office, ensuring the company is best placed to deliver its digital transformational change programme, Jane has seen, first-hand, how recruitment within professional services has changed over the years since entering the profession.

Jane considered herself to be incredibly fortunate throughout her career, having the opportunity to work with a number of inspirational women, many of whom influenced her own approaches to work.

“My main challenge was having my son in 2012. It’s such a shame that maternity leave continues to cause an issue for the progression of women when in fact, this should be celebrated. Becoming a mother brings with it a whole different skillset and it’s important this is recognised. Diversity of all kinds lends itself well in allowing an organisation to be its most successful, bringing fresh and varied ideas to the table.”

Despite professional services being a stereotypically male-driven sector, Jane believes we are seeing a shift with more women entering the field. “It’s no longer a one size fits all rule and women are more openly themselves, not being forced to overcompensate in order to compete with the opposite gender.”

In life, both within and outside of work, Jane believes the key to success is to “trust your gut instinct. You’ll often think you need more life experience or confidence, but the truth is that you’re more capable than you think you are. You’re not expected to know everything and it’s alright to feel that way, but it shouldn’t result in you passing on an opportunity.”

 

Natalie Wright, Chartered Financial Planner, Mazars

As a Director and Chartered Financial Planner in the Mazars Leeds office, acting on behalf of clients to provide them with sound financial advice, Natalie Wright shares her thoughts on how to overcome stereotyping within professional services.

The no-barrier mentality was something which was instilled in Natalie from an early age, “I attended an all-girls school and the strapline was – ‘every girl is an individual and every individual is a girl’ – a sentiment, which has always stuck with me.

“I believe as women, we often focus on things we don’t think we are good at, instead of focusing on our strengths – we should focus on our power and spend less time on what we perceive to be the problem. Always say yes to opportunities, you can figure out the rest as you go. Being comfortable being uncomfortable is a really great trait to have.”

Natalie also stresses the importance of a strong support network and open communication, both at home and work, in ensuring you meet your career progression. “You need to make your intentions known – people might not be aware of your goals and this can often be self-limiting. Here at Mazars, we have a very strong open-door policy and prior to me going on maternity leave, it was discussed how I’d phase back into work, minimising uncertainty and any worries I had over having a child preventing my development.”

 

Rachelle Mahapatra, Head of Clinical Negligence, Irwin Mitchell

As Head of Clinical Negligence at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, acting for patients in claims against doctors and hospitals, Rachelle Mahapatra has seen huge development in the diversity of the legal profession since qualifying as a Solicitor 25 years ago.

Seeing success in a male-dominant industry, a strong, hard-working ethic, gaining a good client following, building her own name and profile, Rachelle’s commitment to her role stood her above the rest, especially as the only female in her year as a trainee, “I just thought to prove myself through my work. I did and I got the job. I think the difference between men and women is very different in their approach. In our trainee population, we see the men exude more confidence than the women by being more vocal but neither way is wrong or right.”

25 years later, Rachelle’s role is a great example to the future women coming through Irwin Mitchell;

“Jane Wright, my previous boss who retired a couple of years ago, was a huge inspiration to me. She recruited me as an associate in 2002 and I have been able to progress through the firm to an Equity Partner. We need to help people progress and seeing others who have achieved goals in the business is really good for the next generation. They are of course the future of the business.”

Aside from work, Rachelle also believes you don’t need to have a plan in your life, “I still feel young enough to go back and do things…I love horse riding, I was Trustee of the Dog’s Trust for 17 years as I have a huge interest in animal welfare and I love the arts – you should enjoy life and I think flexibility to do these things is the way the workplace has to go. It’s okay to work hard but there has to be something else too.”

 

Rachael Morgan, Engineering Manager in Tech, Sky Betting & Gaming

Just seven months in as Engineering Manager in Tech Infrastructure, Rachael Morgan is in the throes of a demanding role at one of Yorkshire’s best companies to work for. Though a very progressive business and feeling strongly supported in her role leading a male-dominated team, this hasn’t always been the case for Rachael in the workplace.

“I have experienced a different take on working women. In my last role, the question on most people’s lips was ‘when are you going to have a family?’. I’ve even been told that I should ‘speed up’ with it, but it shouldn’t be a thing.” Though an inherently male industry, Rachael believes things are beginning to change in tech;

“Infrastructure has very few women, there’s two others in a similar role to me, however our next cohort is probably 80% women. It shows that things are changing, women are growing in confidence for these roles and, in a few years, we hopefully won’t be focusing on gender.”

Mentoring has played a huge part in her personal and professional development too, “I really admire those who make time to talk and inspire – I have a huge interest in people and mentoring was one of the ways to find out even more about how people work. I’ve had mentors for over 10 years, getting some great guidance, building friendships and networking, too.

“I think a positive mentality is the way forward, so by being a bit fearless with it, you have nothing to lose. It’s empowering and by having the confidence to just ask people how they’ve done it and asking for some time with them, you never know what you could learn.”

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