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Senior women in business - Interview with our HR Director, Kate Turner

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Nicola Lawler

A 2018 report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that a third of employers believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are ‘generally less interested in career progression’ compared to other employees and that 51% of employers believe that there is sometimes resentment amongst employees towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave.

In this interview, we explore issues around senior women in the workplace with our HR Director, Kate Turner. We look at getting promoted to board level while working part-time and alleviating the fear that some women (and some employers) have on the impact of having children on their careers. 

You’re a HR Director now. Walk us through the process you went through to get to where you are today.

I joined JCW in 2010 as a Support Associate. Our CEO Jamie, needed a career-driven person at junior level who was going to train to grow the Business Support team from the ground up. JCW was only six people then so I was really part of something new. JCW started off with a few sales consultants who were doing enough to get by without any operational structure which ultimately isn’t enough to scale up. I started off doing the administration for the business, payroll and invoices. Jamie immediately created a career development plan for me with set goals, and with hard work and regular development meetings I was promoted to a Support Consultant within three months. By 2011, I was promoted to Senior Support Consultant and we made our first hire to begin the team buildout process. Between 2012 and 2014 the Support team began to grow considerably and during that time I was promoted to Principal Support Consultant.

In 2015 I went on maternity leave with my first son. When I returned in spring 2016, I began to specialise in Human Resources and JCW paid for me to enroll in a CIPD Level 3 course which I completed nine months later. By early 2018, we had managed to successfully grow the Support team to nine people. After being promoted to HR Director in 2018, I discovered that I was pregnant with my second son. When I return from maternity leave this time, I plan on studying CIPD Level 5. It's important for women who go on maternity leave to know what the work plan is for their return because going back to work after a long period of time often causes anxiety in women.  

What was the biggest challenge in your career?

My biggest challenge was growing the business support team in a young recruitment company when the focus was naturally on growing strong recruitment teams. This further drove my ambition to get to senior level to put weight behind the support team and give it a presence. Another challenge for me was hiring skilled people who were the right team fit. In a start-up you have to deal with a roller-coaster of people coming and going. Not only does that take its toll on workstreams, it’s also emotionally draining. It takes a while for desks to settle and get into the steady rhythm of staff retention. I think the key is to learn from each hire and to apply what went wrong to become a key criterion in the interview process moving forward.

What advice would you give to ambitious women starting out in their careers?

Getting into a role that was multifaceted like mine at entry-level is a great way to figure out where your passion lies. It gives you the foundation skills to progress into a more specialist role which is much harder to get into without any previous experience.

Having ambition is a great start but if you don’t join the right business to help you develop your career then you’re going to feel like you are running on the spot. Whatever role you start in, ensure the company has a clear development plan for you. When researching a company and during the interview process, pay attention to how much employee development is at the heart of the company values. Ask for examples of how they would develop you and where they have helped other members of staff progress in their careers.                 

What are you most proud of in your career?

Using a start-up environment to successfully drive my career and nine successful years under my belt in a fast-growing business! Another big achievement for me was becoming a qualified HR Director and helping to build the business support function in JCW to where it is today.  In 2017, the company turnover and support team had got to the size where we were ready to hire a Finance Director. With high-level experience in the team, we were then able to make other senior hires including management accountants and marketing and ops professionals as part of our overall business strategy to increase our market share and take JCW to the next level. 

Our business support team today. Laxmi, Nicola, Caitlin, Kate, Simon, Gemma, Hannah, Oliver and Ricky 

How has the business supported you throughout your maternity leave?

A core value at JCW is that parents should never have to choose between their children and work. Flexi working is offered to parents as is working from home when there are issues with childcare. I decided to have ‘return to work’ meetings before each time I went on maternity leave. Having a plan in place before I’d even left was really reassuring for me. I also had ‘keep in touch’ meetings where I would hear about developments within the business and have my say on them. I was also invited to team events which provided a great opportunity to keep up with new faces in the business which made my return far less overwhelming.  

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a mum working part-time?  

Completing everything in the time frame that I have! The challenge is leading on projects and not being able to cut your workload to part-time in your mind. I was overcommitting and finding it difficult to clock off especially when HR ‘emergencies’ would occur on my days off. I think it’s important to sit with your team and work together to ensure that your job function is ticking over when you aren’t there.

It’s important for people to know exactly what they are responsible for by way of delegation and that employees know who to go to in your absence. Otherwise, it builds up and your job function becomes too stressful or non-functioning. Get a senior level employee behind you and work with them to make quick senior decisions on your behalf. I’m lucky to have our Finance Director, Simon, to do that for me.

Kate, baby Charlie, big brother Alfie and husband Brad. 

What advice would you give to women in business who are thinking of having kids or about to go on maternity leave?

The workplace isn’t what it used to be and nowadays women shouldn’t feel forced to settle for working for a company that is put off by that. When choosing a company to work for, learn about the company culture.  Has the business demonstrated that they support women? At your current business, find out what the pay policy is for maternity cover early so you can prepare financially way ahead of time.

What advice would you give to managers who are worried about managing maternity leave and new mothers changing to part-time hours?

I believe that parents return from maternity leave and work harder because they now have children and other businesses out there can sometimes overlook that. Work and income have more purpose and this is a passion which is very useful for a business to take advantage of. There’s also the option of a job share. Getting maternity cover can be really beneficial because it can offer a fresh perspective from an interim hire in enough time to make positive changes. Overall, I’d say maternity cover and part-time working mums is actually something to take advantage of rather than fear.

Thank you, Kate! Your impressive career journey has been really insightful, and we hope stories like yours will inspire more women into leadership roles.

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