It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow and the world will be celebrating the achievements of all kinds of women. With this in mind, we thought it would be a perfect time to catch up with some of our delegates and find out what they have been up to post-course, what some of the highlights of their career have been, and what the future might look like for them.
We’ll be running four blogs this week to mark the occasion, so don’t forget to check back through the week if you’d like to read the next piece. It’s been a really inspirational journey for me reading the profiles of these amazing women and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Our first piece is a quick interview with Jacqui White – Programme Director at Research Councils UK:
Jacqui, can you tell us a bit about your current role?
I work for Research Councils UK which is a strategic partnership of the UK’s seven Research Councils. Each year the Research Councils invest around £3 billion in research covering the full spectrum of academic disciplines from the medical and biological sciences to astronomy, physics, chemistry and engineering, social sciences, economics, environmental sciences and the arts and humanities. We support excellent research, as judged by peer review, that has an impact on the growth, prosperity and wellbeing of the UK. The seven Research Councils have agreed to share more business and professional services and I am the Programme Director leading the programme of work that is looking at how we might achieve this.
How did you get to this point in your career? What have been some of the key influences that have helped shape your journey?
Post degree I’d taken jobs in retail since, in the early 1980s in Cornwall where I lived, there were very few alternatives. Within six months I was on a management grade and realised that I enjoyed and had a knack for managing people and services.
After a couple of years, I decided I needed to make the break with retail and moved into local government on a graduate trainee position, which was a drop in salary and responsibility but gave me much better career opportunities. I was ambitious and over the next few years I looked for posts that would broaden my experience (doing another sideways move early in my career to fill knowledge and experience gaps) and was always alert to opportunities. Nothing ever fell into my lap, simply expecting promotion doesn’t work, you have to actively look to see what will further your career and for me, importantly, a job that I would find interesting and a challenge. I hit a ’glass ceiling’ on a number of occasions – most notably when I was told that to go further in my career I had to have an MBA but that there was no funding for one (despite male colleagues having the opportunity) – and I decided to re-examine my priorities, and instead started my family. When I returned 6 months later from maternity leave, I had a different manager and was immediately offered an MBA opportunity. I didn’t take it up; a full time job and a six-month old baby who thought sleeping at night time was optional really didn’t inspire studying!
I have been involved in change for many years and in the years prior to taking voluntary redundancy, led the setting up of a large shared services team (when five councils became a Unitary in 2009) and had to manage the subsequent financial and people challenges that hit as a result of the recession and reduction in funding from government. I knew the improvements I was making would lead to my own post ceasing to be required, but it was the right thing to do and I took the opportunity of voluntary redundancy to take a change in career and move back to the area I enjoy most, which is working with staff on change and improvement.
What are your plans for the future?
A constant theme in my working life has been change. Nothing stays the same for long and we always have to move forward to improve. I enjoy helping people deliver successful change and improvement and I am particularly interested in the people and process aspects of that. I can’t see that I will move away from that in the future and as always, I will look to find roles that are interesting to me.
Do you have heroes and influencers either professionally or personally? And why are they important to you?
There are a number of people in my working life who I have admired and I have learned from, both men and women. They have influenced me to think about how I would like to be seen as a leader, and the values, behaviours and achievements that I want to be recognised and remembered for. Honestly, my biggest heroes and influencers have been the many staff and colleagues I have worked with over the years – together we have delivered incredible change and results.
What hints/tips/advice would you give others in your field?
You will need to be tenacious and look for opportunities. Follow up on network leads and make sure your reputation is as someone who delivers in the right way. Change is always happening and is a way of life for both public and private sectors. Experience is essential and I have found a blend of management, project management and improvement (lean CI systems thinking etc.) skills helps to make a good change manager or leader. Work with your staff and listen to them – they are your greatest critic but also your biggest ally.
What makes you really happy? Your children? Cats or other quirky pets? Walks on the beach? A lovely cup of coffee or maybe just a really well organised spreadsheet! We’d love to know a bit more about YOU.
My family makes me happy and spending the day on a family activity is always a great day for me. We are currently renovating our house so much of our time is spent on that but, when I get time, I love walking (particularly in the mountains of Scotland), reading a good novel, and travelling.
Thank you Jacqui, it’s been a real pleasure catching up and you are so right about it being important to actively look for the next opportunity and stay ‘one step ahead’!