International Women’s Day 2018: A word with Helen Jackson

By Bush & Company

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. To mark the occasion, we’re focusing on celebrating women in leadership and grabbed our managing director, Helen Jackson (who’s delivering year on year growth, launching industry changing joint ventures and successfully managing her work-life balance) for a quick chat about women in the workplace and her experiences.

“As a female in a senior leadership role, I’m very appreciative of the fact that I have never felt ‘held back’ or had fewer opportunities presented to me because of my gender. That doesn’t mean however that it doesn’t happen and many more conversations need to be had, and action taken, to level the playing field in a number of sectors; particularly at the c-suite level.

The early stages of my career in senior HR roles were in predominantly male dominated industries. I think traditionally, HR as a function is accepted as a majority female specialism with a perception that senior female roles are more the ‘norm’. Saying that, I worked for strategic, commercial leaders and still had to push myself the same way any senior leader would at Board level!

Whilst I’ve never felt at a disadvantage in the workplace, I guess I’ve had an internal drive to push myself which has helped. I’ve made it a priority in any role to immerse myself in the numbers, strategy and commercial projects because commercial acumen is key; whether you’re male or female. An example was studying for an MBA which gave me that inner confidence to back up what I already brought to the table.

Always be curious and know your numbers!

Becoming an MD has been the most exciting yet challenging role in my career to date. In fulfilling this, it’s important to me to be credible as a person, not credible as a woman. Gender differences are real and happen every day but as women, we shouldn’t let it define us. My advice to women is to always be curious; not just about the numbers (which you absolutely have to know) but about the wider business. Curiosity opens the mind and helps you challenge the status quo and through being curious you ultimately become fearless and find an inner strength. Focus on your career plans and establish what you need to do – you don’t need to let your gender shape those plans and if you put yourself forward and you’re faced with a ‘no’, don’t consume yourself with why it’s a no; only build on any feedback obtained for next time.

On a daily basis I witness women bring humour, humility, creativity and drive to the workplace, and it is abundantly clear that men and women share multiple common traits with some being carried and expressed to different degrees. On the other hand, some traits are more closely associated with a particular gender. As an organisational leader, I don’t consider it necessary to enter into great debates over exceptions nor making sweeping generalisations as to who can do what; its about tapping into these strengths regardless of gender – I find this helps to shape a business, achieve success and continuously improve.

The ‘guilt wrestle’

In business, there is one type of woman I admire and that’s a senior woman with a great work life balance. As a woman in a senior role who is also a parent, the regular ‘guilt wrestle’ is probably one of the biggest challenges. It’s a guilt that you fight in your efforts to do a great job at both work and home and focus on putting the same into each part of your life – an impossible task! It’s about remembering I can’t be all things to all people at all times. I don’t think this is as prevalent an issue amongst men in senior roles; and that is probably as much to do with societal expectation as it is the individuals but I may be wrong.

It can be done though. I remember reading about the CEO of YouTube back in 2015. She is a senior executive with four children and seemed to have the balance. As a new mum at the time, in a Board level position myself, it felt like she’d cracked it and when questioned about how she maintains a work-life balance her answer was simple “success is not based on the number of hours that you’ve worked. If you are working 24/7, you’re not going to have any interesting ideas.” Around the same time I read about a number of other senior women (all with children) who also got the balance right and as well as tips around prioritising, flexibility and being organised the reoccurring theme from all women was acceptance that it’s ok to juggle work and home life and its ok to not be all things to all people.

This week feels fitting to talk about women in business as on Monday afternoon I stood beside Lisa Turan, CEO of the Child Brain Injury Trust (and previous shortlisted woman in the Sue Ryder Women of Achievements Awards) and we launched a UK-wide, leading case management service focused solely on childhood brain injury – the Child Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service. I’m super proud of the drive and commitment both mine and Lisa’s teams have demonstrated to bring our idea to fruition. Lisa is an inspiring woman to work alongside and this new venture feels like we can achieve great things…and of course I made sure I knew my numbers!”

Just for fun, we put some of the most challenging questions to Helen before we let her go…

Galaxy or Cadbury’s? Cadbury’s
Beach holiday or active holiday? Active
Favourite TV programme? Silent Witness
Favourite season? Summer
Tell us something others may not know about you: I’m a rower!

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