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25 Insights from Women in Business: Part Two

Part Two of our IWD2021 insights from women in business - this time exploring the views of Mauve's female employees

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Earlier, in celebration of Mauve’s 25 years in business and International Women’s Day 2021, we decided to publish 25 insights from women working and leading today. We spoke with some incredible women in business – the global partners who support our orga

nisation and offer an international perspective on female leadership.

Here in Part Two, we put the questions to members of Mauve Group’s own female-majority workforce. Up for discussion amongst Mauve employees was the intersection of culture and gender, experiences of work-life balance, qualities of successful leadership, and gender inequalities in their professional lives and beyond.

Ann Ellis, CEO – Dubai

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?

I’ve learnt not to be afraid to take calculated risks, and I try to encourage that same confidence and self-belief in my team as well. When people feel that fearlessness and confidence in their own ideas, it leads to innovative responses to situations. Sometimes you might feel you’re at the edge of a metaphorical precipice when making a decision, but with the right support around you, you’ll find the right path.

Has being a female CEO ever created any barriers for you? What did you do to overcome them?

In my 25th year as a CEO, the world has come a long way in attitudes to women in business, but there’s still a lot to do. I can see how women are blocked from leadership positions in part by their disproportionate role as care givers. When my children were small, I was confronted by this but got around it by bringing them with me to meetings! I think I’ve always had the anything-is-possible attitude that I just get on with what I need to do, and ignore any preconceived notions or judgements on how a mother or woman should act.

There have been times when I’ve had to travel away from my family and felt guilty for it, but we communicate constantly which helps. My family grew up around the business and now work in the business, so we’ve been able to make it work!

Many times, I’ve been spoken down to or the only woman in a boardroom full of men. I’ve even visited places where they don’t accept that a company can be run by a woman and only wanted to speak to my husband. However, I am passionate about the business and my role within it, so I’ve always spoken up and held my own.

Mauve Group has a largely female workforce. Why is the company such an attractive employer for women?

On the global HR side, it’s a very female-heavy industry so naturally women are drawn to that. But I think there’s a lot more to it than that. In large part, we’ve always been a very flexible employer, which is a big help if you’re juggling a family with your career. Mauve Group has always been what is recently known as a “hybrid” employer, combining a mixture of remote working with office working, and that is extremely beneficial to working mothers. We placed our employees’ needs at the heart of that decision from the beginning.

This year, many of our team have had to become teachers as well as employees, with their children homeschooled due to COVID. Women have been disproportionately responsible for that job, and as employers we have to find ways to help. I think I am open and approachable, so none of the team feel afraid to come to me with a need – I’m always prepared to accommodate where we can.

Women are also attracted to Mauve Group because of the possibility of responsibility in their role. The majority of our leadership positions are female-occupied – this is abnormal across the majority of organisations, even in the HR industry. Mauve’s people reach heights based on merit, rather than gender. Finally, I think our company culture nurtures and celebrates certain characteristics that are appealing to women – creative thinking, a sense of friendship and community, the ability to travel and work abroad in a safe and secure way. We have amazing men across our workforce too, but we are incredibly lucky to have such fantastic women on the team.

Helen Herrington, Global Account Manager – York, U.K.

What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made in your professional life? And what did you learn from these?

The worst decision was to not go to university at 30 years as I felt I was too old. The best decision was joining Mauve. This gave me the option to stretch myself and work in an area I knew little about. After 17 years, I am still learning but enjoy every day (most days anyway!). Although I can struggle with understanding some aspects of the industry, I am a very conscientious person and I try hard to meet deadlines so I feel I have learnt a great work ethic.  I care about the workers and my clients, and try very hard to accommodate their needs and requirements.

The HR industry has a higher proportion of female leaders and decision-makers than many other sectors. Why do you think this is?

HR is a multi-faceted role – women are better at multi-tasking. Women are generally more sympathetic than men which I feel is necessary in an HR role. We make great leaders in HR and beyond because we are fearless, tough-skinned, and able to show empathy.

Emma Prodromou, Immigration Manager – Paphos, Cyprus

Have you ever experienced resistance when leading or working with men as a woman in business? What happened?

In my role as Immigration Manager, I have experienced a few barriers and brick walls, when it has come to pushing my case – especially when I have dealt with Immigration officers in embassies overseas.

In one particular case, I had to jump through flamed hoops to get the General Consul at the South African Consulate in Pakistan to talk to me directly. Having spoken to possibly every other male worker at the consulate, and after months of calls and emails and supporting paperwork, I finally got one of the contacts to put me through to the main man.

I had to tread carefully, remain respectful, but also stand my ground, not be talked over and state my case confidently. Eventually after two years of back and forth, I finally got the desired result and our worker a Pakistani national finally had his work permit approved.

The important thing is to remain calm, be confident and know your stuff! Research well in advance and prepare for calls that you know are going to be tricky. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

Annette Ord, Global Sales Manager – York, U.K.

What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made in your professional life? And what did you learn from these?

The best decision I have taken in my professional life was to apply for promotion back in 2017. It was a very scary prospect to me at the time and it felt like I was putting myself in a position of vulnerability by expressing my interest in the Global Sales Manager role – that vulnerability didn’t feel comfortable. However, two interviews later I got the position and, while it’s been extremely challenging in some ways, it’s been an experience of personal as well as professional growth and I’ve never looked back!

The worst was when I was a very inexperienced Account Manager in the early 2000s; I was being shouted at by a client, so I told an outright lie just to get him off the phone! As soon as I did it, I knew I shouldn’t have as it was only going to make matters worse. I rang John Ellis (CFO) to confess and he helped get me out of a sticky situation! I remember him telling me that nothing I ever do would bring the company down but if I make a mistake do exactly as I had and own up to it immediately so we can work it through. That is definitely one of the best pieces of advice I have been given. I also learned to stand up for myself more and not be backed into that particular corner again!

Women make up only 14% of the global expatriate workforce. What do you feel are the barriers preventing women in business taking expatriate assignments?

I think the fact that women are often the primary caregiver in a family, whether that be looking after children or other family members such as parents, has a big influence over this figure. In my opinion there are two sides to this. On one side, it can be seen as less socially acceptable for a woman to go and work away Monday to Friday, and come home to the family on a weekend like many males may do who also have family responsibilities. Men going away to work for longer periods are considered the breadwinners, and in the past, women doing the same were sometimes considered to be abandoning those who need them.

On the other side, I think as women, we should choose our own priorities, and it’s often a younger demographic who take expatriate roles. At that time in their life, the focus for a woman may be having a family or buying a home and putting down roots. From my own perspective, now that my son Harry is 16, I am much more open to the opportunity to travel than I was 10 years ago – because my home commitments have changed and I have more flexibility.

I think everyone should be able to look at their own lives and own priorities without having to feel they should fit into some kind of box, whether that box is the family woman or the go-getting business person. We can all have both – perhaps not necessarily all at once, but if we are patient and work to find a balance and decipher our priorities and passions, we can get there!

Jo Hart, Head of Research and Solutions – U.K.

Have you ever experienced resistance when leading or working with men? What happened?

Constantly! Especially in the older generation. Certainly, I would say attitudes to women in the workplace have improved over the years, especially in the last 10 years. However, sexism is still rife. It will never disappear, but I hope that it will continue to be lessened by the continuous positive work of our HR professionals all over the world.

I have experienced this type of resistance in all manner of scenarios. From being almost completely ignored during a meeting where I was the only female sat at the table of 5 other males (I won’t say the company, but it was in the male-dominated recruitment industry!), to being asked to lick the stamp for my then-boss as it was ‘women’s work’. I actually quit that job the same day as I knew it was never going to get any better!

How can we better empower women in business?

Reduce the negativity towards our fellow women on social media. We should be building each other up, not knocking each other down. Who cares if your make-up is awesome – does it matter if you aren’t wearing this year’s current trend in trousers? Does it matter that you’re only 5ft 2inches tall or 25 stone in weight?! Jeez, let’s just be NICE to each other. If we are confident as women, it will carry through to our working behaviour. 

Have you ever experienced unconscious gender bias?

This was so apparent when working at an industry event in the UAE. The majority of male attitudes to women at that event was clear. Visitors to our company stand would ignore me and the other ladies present, and only speak to our one male colleague. This continued to the point there were queues to speak to him, but us girls were left standing alone, unable to do the job we were there to do.

I know this is a sensitive, culturally-nuanced subject, but it actually affected me at the time emotionally as I had previously been unused to this behavior on such a large scale. The men were not actively trying to be rude, and many were not even conscious of the issue – their society has allowed this to become ingrained. It was an example of unconscious gender bias that exists in all societies, but was much more obvious in this one.

Demetra Tofarides, Business Development and Marketing Co-ordinator – London, U.K.

Have you noticed any assumptions that people (male and female) make about women in business? If so, what?

The most common assumptions I’ve experienced in workplaces, as cliché as it sounds, are being mislabelled as ‘bossy’ and ‘angry’ when exerting what I deem to be an appropriate level of sternness in order to reach a certain company goal. However, what is especially shocking about these experiences is that more often than not this labelling comes from other women. And this is when, personally, it is even more disappointing and hurtful. I was raised to expect that sort of reaction from men, but when I realised that it was actually coming more from women is when I ironically began to feel equally intimidated by a table full of only women as I did by a table full of only men.

What’s your advice to women in business on how to hold your ground in male-dominated environments?

Every time I have been faced with a male-dominated environment, and there have been many, I try to separate my mind from my emotions. As a very emotional woman, I naturally find myself to be quite intimidated when I walk into a meeting with only men, and in most cases all superior to me. That is my emotional response. However, my mind tells me that there is nothing I should fear more amongst a group of men than I should amongst a group of women. That is my intellectual response. And when I allow my intellect to guide me in that meeting, I feel more confident.

Thank you so much to all our Mauve contributors for your amazing thoughts and insights. Missed Part One of our International Women’s Day blogs? Click here to read the views of our female partners for our Partner Month X IWD2021 takeover!