I am 38 years old, married to Geoff and I have 3 children. From an early age, I worried about how I’d pay the bills and it wasn’t until I was 9 or 10 that I realised I could get a job and earn money. I’m not sure what drove me to think like this, but it instilled a profound need in me to never have to worry about money.
Accountancy seemed like a sensible job. I loved numbers and by the age of 12 my fate was sealed – accountancy was the profession for me.
My parents were great believers in education. I studied hard, got a degree, a master’s in accountancy and qualified as a chartered accountant with Deloitte. I then moved into financial roles within listed companies.
The pivotal role for me was when I left Deloitte and moved to NTR plc at the age of 27 as the CFO of one of their divisions. For the past ten years I’ve been building on that career move and at 37 I was appointed Chief Financial Officer of Cpl Resources plc.
It was a long, hard-fought interview process and I still remember the day I found out I got the job. I had collected my eldest boy, Ollie, to treat him to a box of Lego for his last day of junior infants.
We were sitting in a café, him eating a bowl of spaghetti and me chatting away about the things that are important to him in his little life. The phone rang, and I knew it was news about the job. I didn’t answer the call expecting the worst as I couldn’t bring myself to break this rare moment together.
I found out the job was mine through a voicemail – and I’ll never forget that feeling of joy for achieving something I wanted so badly. This was a role that I initially hesitated on, wondering did I really have the experience for it – well I’m in there now and more than able for it.
Tips for leadership & life
There are certain lessons that I have picked up along the way, in life and in leadership, that I will share with you now, in the hope that they might resonate with you in some small way:
Don’t deny your core
You will always come back to this point, no matter how hard you might try to be someone you’re not. You don’t need to! In the past, I wondered whether I should be sterner or less approachable, but I’ve realised that the key to my success has been my softer side.
The days of managing people through fear are over. You won’t get the best from people this way, I know myself that I thrive in respectful, engaging organisations. People follow authentic leaders, so just focus on being the very best version of ‘you’.
Embrace being a woman
Women have a unique set of qualities that contribute to leadership roles. There is no compensation needed for not being a man. Women, in general, are more social than men and often rank high in the competencies that leaders exemplify such as communication skills, empowerment and decision-making skills.
A mix of both male and female views ensures a wider range of ideas and better decision making. Gender diversity in organisations is not ‘the right thing to do’, it’s not even about being ‘fair’ to women – it makes good business sense.
Never put your career ahead of having a family (if a family is what you want)
Having a family is a very personal decision but the one piece of advice I’d give, from my own experience, is this: most women will have 40+ years to make their professional mark.
There is plenty of time to accommodate career ambition and have a family. Interests outside of work (be they children or otherwise) will enrich your life in a way work never can.
Regardless of your choice, always have compassion and understand that most people need a degree of flexibility in their working lives, be they male or female. I feel very grateful to ‘have it all’ – a fulfilling career that I love and a family that give me great perspective, each and every day.
Trust in your ability
If a company isn’t fulfilling your career ambitions – move jobs. There are lots of great companies in the world, so don’t let familiarity and a sense of fear hold you back. Be brave and have no regrets.
If someone reaches out to you about an opportunity take it that you are qualified for it. A job description is a wish-list, you don’t need to tick every box to be a credible candidate.
If you’re called to an interview take it that you’ve met their requirements in terms of experience. Don’t bring your own misgivings into the interview room.
If you have successfully passed the screening process, you are there to showcase that experience for sure, but their priority will be to get a sense of who you are and whether you are a cultural fit for their organisation.
My age has at times proven to be more of a challenge to me than my gender. Young people, irrespective of their lack of career or life experience, have valuable contributions to make both to society and in the workplace. Don’t fall into the trap of dismissing youth – listen to them, better still mentor them.
Overall in life and in business don’t be afraid to make mistakes. This is where most of our learning will come from, the key is to acknowledge you’ve made the mistake and to deal with it swiftly. A true measure of someone is how they conduct themselves in times of adversity.