To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we interviewed some of our senior women to discuss their careers. In this interview, we talk to Gemma Sarjeant.
Gemma joined Gate One in November 2016 and was promoted to Principal last year. She’s passionate about gender equality and thinks that every little girl should be able to grow up believing they can do whatever they want to do.
1. Who or what has influenced your career?
I think the thing that has influenced my career the most is the variety of opportunities and different people that come with a consulting job. From the good and the bad, there’s been a lot of chances to learn from people and work out who I want to be as a colleague and a leader. In the last two years at Gate One, I’ve felt a huge focus on personal development, as well as having a senior sponsor who believes in me and has championed me to others. This has made a big difference to my confidence and belief in what I can achieve.
2. Have you taken a career break? How do you think it has affected your career?
I took a 4-month sabbatical in my previous company to go travelling. Having followed quite a standard path from A-levels straight to university and then onto a graduate programme, after 5 years at work I felt like I needed some time out to work out who I was outside of the label of “management consultant” and see a bit of the world. After travelling alone through Australia, New Zealand and South America I gained a lot of confidence and came back with a renewed enthusiasm for work (and travel, whenever I can fit it in!).
3. What would be one piece of advice you’d give someone who is beginning their career?
Do not underestimate the power of consciously building your network from an early stage. Make connecting with people, knowledge sharing, learning from and mentoring others part of your day to day habits. The people who you work shoulder to shoulder with at the beginning of your career are the leaders of the future and will be good people to stay in touch with. As consultants, our breadth of experience across clients and projects means that we are good people to stay in touch with too!
4. What do you think are the key challenges facing women in the workforce today?
In certain industries, there are still too few visible female senior role models. Like Purl in the Pixar short, it can be difficult to thrive in a workplace where you feel like you have little in common with colleagues whether it be gender, race, interests or working style. The more women we can bring into senior roles who actively encourage other women to take steps up, then the better we can all be together. Another thing I think can disproportionately affect women is our own ambitions to be great at everything. Social media doesn’t help this – and a lot of women feel like they need to be brilliant at work, have a full social life, find time to keep fit, run their household and be a full time “perfect” mother. When we learn to share responsibilities for work at home with others and let go of some of the perfectionism that is ingrained in us from an early age, then we can feel less guilty about not doing it all!
5. How do you think we can advance gender equity?
In my experience, I see one of the reasons that there are not more senior women in certain industries is that women leave work or change jobs when they become mothers, and don’t come back. To advance gender equity I’d like to see shared parental leave becoming the norm, encouraged by businesses and colleagues, normalising men taking a primary child-carer role early on. Secondly, I’d like to see more visibility of flexible working and output-based objectives rather than presenteeism. Where women do take on a primary child care role, this can help them keep a full-time job whilst negotiating childcare pick-ups and other caring responsibilities. I recently read about a “leave loudly” policy which encourages senior leaders to announce that they’re leaving early in the hope that a positive example is set around work-life balance and the flexible approach that can be taken to address this.
6. Have you noticed a change in the challenges that women face throughout the span of your career?
Yes, definitely. I think people are a lot more clued up about different personality types, working styles and options for building a career than when I started work 12 years ago. Diversity has become a topic on the agenda more regularly, but I’ve also seen conscious efforts of companies and colleagues to be more inclusive. As an example, when I first started work in the mid-2000s, a key project I worked on had been code-named after the gentlemen’s club that the senior (male) leaders attended the night before the pitch. I like to hope that things like that are confined to the past and that we can move towards a more equal future where we harness the combined power of everyone regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, race or religion.