In this blog, we speak with Fran Bexley, Operations Director for Civils and Lintels (Grafton Group). She talks with us about inspiring the next generation of leaders and being qualified by experience!
A day in my career involves me doing whatever needs to be done but it’s always varied and always interesting, I get to work with some great people and characters in this industry, but I really enjoy my varied role and helping others in our team deliver on their ambition and our results.
I didn’t choose this industry it fell upon me I guess…. out of a necessity to pay my rent at a very young age. I walked out of job selling a highly unhealthy drink called Captain Bubble working in the FMCG grocery sector it wasn’t for me. I applied for a job the next day out of the local paper (No LinkedIn in those days) working for Redland Aggregates a local but International firm close to me in Barrow upon Soar.
I had to ask my Landlord at the time- a Quantity Surveyor what are aggregates? I think he helped because he wanted his rent-paying! However, I did go on to marry him later so he must have been genuine in his efforts to explain what aggregates were.
How did you get to where you are now, and did you face any challenges along the way?
I had my first break in this industry from an Internally advertised position with Redlands, it meant relocation to London, but I was determined to knock that door, Redland had invested in me on a five-year Training program with Mecuri International, and I was determined to take the lessons learnt out of the classroom and into my career.
This is where I first encountered the diversity question? The gentleman who interviewed me all those years ago… who went on to be one of the biggest positive influencers in my career who was my mentor and teacher and no 1 supporter asked me at my interview “ The last woman Personnel asked me to employ used to knit in my customer’s waiting room what do you have to say to that? I responded most honestly, Innocently and in hindsight, bravely- I can’t knit! He laughed and I got my dream job, and it was one of the biggest win lines I have ever passed in my career. I was one of two female external sales staff in the country!
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
I can’t knit.. turn your setbacks into an opportunity but above all be yourself, be brave and be honest. I wouldn’t be honest to you all If I didn’t admit I have had many other setbacks in my career but by being your true self, anything is achievable both in your professional career and your personal life. Setbacks to me are holdbacks so I suppose I would in hindsight say don’t let others hold you back, move on and deliver your potential. However, if your passionate enough challenge those setbacks then rely on your ability and knowledge and make a calm considered a challenge to a setback but don’t flog a dead horse too long!
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
I at school was extremely bright and always got top results, however, personal circumstances and the loss of my mother at 16 sent me to a very insular place at a very critical time in my life, so although I could have easily gone to University I chose not to (I was scared). I suppose what’s spurred me on is to prove my natural intelligence & ability plus QBE (Qualified by Experience) regardless of my personnel setbacks should mean just as much in the workplace, and I have learnt something every day since I took my first paycheck at NatWest Bank as a Management trainee, plus I needed to pay the rent and keep a roof over my head!
To those that know me I have gone a little too far on that roof count! But being homeless is and has always been my biggest fear in life! So, I kept moving forward determined to have the chocolate box house and the roses around the door from my childhood dreams, and this industry has given me that and so much more despite me being scared to go to university.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
Having been in the industry for circa 25 years the massive leaps it taken and just being able to write this blog is what’s great about being a female in this role. Also, I get to work with some great people who just see me as Fran, not a female… just Fran. Some of my closest colleges both male and female respect that I can sometimes have a different perspective, am prepared to do the detail and don’t let my ego stand in the way of being honest.
However what is exceptionally great about being a female in my role is to inspire the next generation of female leaders not to make the mistakes I made, and it’s a huge privilege to now be in a position to offer encouragement and support and my hindsight to the next generation of female leaders In this industry, who I hope will be plentiful as we get stuff done together with both male and female… we are better together!
What is your biggest achievement in life?
MAKING DECENT RETURNS
I am the proud owner of a Travis Perkins Cornerstone for making Decent Returns they don’t give many away!
I know I made a lot of money still not sure how much but it was a lot, I asked the senior leadership team measuring it to never tell me whilst I did the project for them as I probably would have had to take a deep intake of breath and would have wobbled on the enormity of risk and £ notes involved!
I just focused on the activity and boy did the results come in.. but the word DECENT is what means the most to ME and them I hope. I am still so proud they listened and backed me as we did go against the grain but it paid off for us all!
Don’t let your star shine dimmer by others who can only make their star shine brighter by making your star shine dimmer! Don’t let others inadequacy become your insecurity both male and female… you will encounter a lot of these people in business trust me! Just don’t join in and let your results and hard work be your answer!
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Absolutely too many to mention and It’s my failing because perhaps most of them I never noticed at the time it was the norm for me and just the way it was. However, hindsight is a brilliant thing and the world continues to turn. Now I feel a lot of the barriers from protocol have gone, through policy and directives, however attitudes and unconscious bias remain throughout many businesses and colleagues. It is, however, human nature and we all know how long that can takes to change that! We need a diversity revolution as Dramatic as the Industrial revolution to make real change to this issue for all. Please remember our for fathers and mothers once thought that electricity, railroads, the abolition movement and racial equality were a bad thing to our economy!
I live and die by “Cheats will never Prosper” hard to continually believe in as often they can, but really they won’t you just have to be patient.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
BE YOURSELF, BE CONFIDENT, BE HONEST (and if I’m allowed Four be your BEST)
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
Oh, this one goes undoubtedly to Nicky Adams she is amazing but sadly retired now, and I have had to edit her exact words to be polite but I hope you get hers and my meaning.
She once told me “ I get that you notice a challenge in the room far quicker than others but don’t be the first to pick it out …the others in the room will soon notice if you just shut up and let them all catch up “
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Simple for me … it must be MY NAN she was amazing, she dealt with so much change in her life and one of my most treasured possessions is a text message from someone who grew up in gaslight in a London Slum, who had to borrow shoes for the only picture I have of her as a child from 1910.. and you can tell they just don’t fit her!
She tackled both social and gender equality during a lifetime following the British Army through the world, through many uprisings in South East Asia and then the horrifying reality of WW2.
As Nan was the wife of a noncommissioned officer overseas and I knew her so well the story below is most amusing to me, but it shows really to me how women shouldn’t react with other women who only want to help and have the advice to offer, we sometimes don’t help ourselves do we? You may have seen it recently in a prominent Channel 4 Production but honestly, it’s my Nan who did this.
I have another amazing person to thank for this story which is my Cousin Lorraine Standing the keeper of most things I can’t remember but I am glad she told me this one!
Elsie May Lavender is travelling in one of the only two best dresses she owned, down a Jungle Road in Burma (Myanmar) as it is known now, with 12 other privileged commissioned officers’ wives, all of which had many best dresses to parade on such a road. In the 1920s the most prestigious accessory a woman could own other than a man in such climates was a parasol, to be used only to shade the sun from your face and avoid the tropical downfalls that often sprang upon them… the parasol that is not the man!
All the women were travelling in an open-top one level bus down a Jungle road.
Elsie May Lavender, however, put up her parasol, it was neither sunny nor rainy on this occasion the other women laughed sniggered and whispered at her social inadequacy and inappropriate behaviour to the norm they were used to.
Elsie May, however, had looked further down the road and saw the Monkeys (Baboons’) urinating from the trees, the open-top bus obviously continued past the trees with the monkeys in, on its journey down the Jungle road.
The other women’s sniggers and whispers soon turned to screams and outburst of the utmost rage whilst they got wet from the trees above … But Elsie May Never Got wet from the trees above despite the other women laughing at her, she’d just looked further down the road then they had.!
She then after journeying down the Jungle road, politely put her parasol away once passed the monkeys and smiled at all on the bus, while still admiring one of the two best dresses she still owned and was comforted by the foresight she had had to avoid getting wet from above.
She was proud that she had found another use for a tool/gift she had other than the norm it was intended for.
However, it was her father that had made the parasol as a gift for her as she had left London for the Jungle.
My guess and hope in this story are that the greatest gifts her father gave her, was to teach her to look further down the road, rather than the parasol he had made for her with love and kindest as the norm!
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
Oh, that is a tough one!
There is so much being talked about in the Press, Social Media and Board Rooms, but the key to all the activity is landing the right message,
I have to be honest I have seen firsthand the message being taken out of context sometimes having an adverse effect on both Female and Male Leaders, all for no other reason other than fear ignorance or they only heard and had time to read the headlines and got the wrong message.
The reality of the message just needs to be we are just striving for an equal chance regardless of ….
Gender / Ethnicity / Age / Social Class / Sexual Orientation etc. ..We are just people trying to do our best for the best outcome for our people.. which is the Human Race whatever package we come in on this amazing planet we are privileged to live on.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
Put yourself forward and ask for want you want, whether it be a promotion, development or just plain help, make every day a learning day and always remember to thank those that helped you
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Learn everything, be interested even in the smallest of things as they do make a difference, listen more than you talk, give your soul but never sell it, and above all be the best you can and never give up
Above all, do what you enjoy and play to your strengths don’t try to be something that you’re not, be you! Know exactly what your good at and exactly what you’re not so good at, also be sure you do exactly what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do because others say you should.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Treat everyone you meet on the way up the same way you would if you were on the way down, and above all listen to those that work the hardest for the smallest return as they are the ones that make the difference to any organization and never forget anyone one that helped you on your journey.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Never Give Up on a good thing!
And from my favourite primary school teacher Mr Curry I took these words of advice as I put my chair up every night at the age of 8
This great world is a trouble where all must our burdens share.
Take not out of the rumble or you’ll get but a neighbours fare
Let not jealously tease ye, think of naught but will please ye
For what is past is but in fain to wish for the time again
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Go to University you Idiot! It’s not that scary
It’s been a roller coaster but I enjoyed the ride with all its ups and downs
Thanks so much to Fran for her blog! If you would like to read some more, you can here!