In this blog, we interview Jenna Alexander, CEO of JoinedTo. JoinedTo aims to bring together people and business through Diversity and Inclusion. Specifically, bringing people with disabilities into the workplace. Jenna explains more about her inspirational role at JoinedTo, who inspires her, and the challenges that she has faced along the way.
There’s a bit of inspiration for everyone in this blog, whether you aim to become a female CEO or just want to read some invaluable life lessons...
Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?
I started my corporate career 18 years ago and worked for global brands such as Hays and Gartner in the UK and Australia. My career to date has been focused on recruitment, people development and leadership. My career has taken me all over the world, supported my education, and allowed me to engage with people from different cultures and demographics.
Very recently, my career has taken a different direction from the corporate world, and I have joined a startup. Working in a start-up means there’s no typical day, which I love!
No two days are the same - some days everything runs perfectly, and other days I’m busy finding solutions to challenges!
What made you choose this career?
I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the corporate world and in global brands. The learning experience has been invaluable but now I am ready to challenge my learning and experience by moving to a start-up venture. I see this as a life challenge and one I am very excited to take on.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I have faced challenges every day as I think most people do. Some of the challenges I have faced are minor like my tube being delayed and me being at risk of missing an engagement. Others have been much more significant like having to learn a new global business and processes from scratch while running a large European team who looked to me for guidance and knowledge.
How did you get to where you are now?
Sheer determination, grit and a smile! I believe that I am the master (or mistress) of my own destiny and I enjoy that. I know that if I want something I have to go and get it for myself. I know if I am not happy with a situation I am faced with, I can fix it. I use my independence and ambition as my strength and I do not shy away from challenges because ultimately I will learn from them and each challenge makes me stronger, more skilled and more aware of the world around me.
‘I believe that I am the master (or mistress) of my own destiny and I enjoy that.’
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
I am incredibly proud of the business and initiatives I spearhead at JoinedTo because we aim to bring together people and business through Diversity and Inclusion. Specifically, bringing people with disabilities into the workplace. We believe that conversations about disabled people in the workplace have been hamstrung by fear – fear of offending, of being politically incorrect or of being misunderstood. It’s time to move on because Diversity and Inclusion is the heartbeat of a productive workplace and has the power to unleash the full potential of people within a business. At JoinedTo, we believe that bringing disabled people and business together will change the conversation from one of disadvantage and inequality to one about potential and true value. If that’s not an initiative to be immensely passionate about, I don’t know what is.
‘Diversity and Inclusion is the heartbeat of a productive workplace and has the power to unleash the full potential of people within a business.’
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
In short, my Dad. My Dad taught me to be grounded and work hard for what I wanted. He pushed me to my limits in sports and school and taught me to be determined, passionate, respectful and kind. My dad was a successful rally driver and MD of a multi-national company before he died when I was 10 years old. Even after his death, he continues to drive my determination for success every day. I want to be as successful, I want to make him proud.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
Good question! I think there are several great reasons to hire senior women in business, not just in my role.
Firstly I think women are not only competitive but, we also value collaboration. Our emotional intelligence means we can work in a variety of different office environments with ease, and we’re strong communicators.
I think women in the workplace tend to work harder as (unfortunately) the business world is still on a journey of equality between men and women (gender pay gap as an example). Women are also fantastic multi-taskers and we generally defy the odds!
What is your biggest achievement in life?
Becoming CEO of a company with a great initiative while I am still in my 30s!
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
I have learnt a lot of lessons along the way, but if forced to limit my answer I would say I have learnt to be kind and to treat others as you’d like to be treated. This lesson has powered my people leadership approach for many years, and I am very proud to still be in touch with a lot of people who I used to lead, manage and mentor.
‘I have learnt to be kind and to treat others as you’d like to be treated.’
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
No. I think I am one of the lucky ones. Hays is a very forward-thinking business and have been on a journey of equality for many years. Their mindfulness of women in the workplace supported the success of my career both while I worked for the business and after I departed.
Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
I love being outside and exploring somewhere new. Travel is a huge passion of mine and I always make sure I don’t visit the same place twice. There are too many magical places in this world to stick to one location (that’s my opinion at least!)
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
Yes! If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me!
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
Be bold, be brave.
Learn from all experiences (good and bad).
Always look forward.
‘Be bold, be brave.’
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
The best advice I have been given is to enjoy it because it will only last a moment.
The reason why I think this is the best advice I have been given is because we all fall victim to moving through life too quickly, to jump into the next adventure without enjoying the adventure we’re currently on. Life can be incredible if you stop, take stock and enjoy the moment.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Many women have inspired me from the stay at home mums who are running a busy household to the corporate woman climbing her career ladder. Women who do it for themselves inspire me.
What are your key motivators?
I’m motivated by a sense of pride and by praise/recognition of a job well done.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
I think it depends on the company in question. Many businesses today are on a journey of equality but many still have a very long way to go as per gender pay gap findings. More women in senior roles in business is a good thing and should be supported and embraced.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?
Firstly, promotion and leadership come from proven success so, strategy number one is to be exceptional at your job. From there, everything should fall into place.
‘Strategy number one is to be exceptional at your job.’
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
1. Demonstrate your worth through your individual contribution.
2. Demonstrate your leadership qualities and followership from others.
3. Be willing to have challenging conversations and challenge the status quo.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Treat your teams well. Listen to them, support their initiative, fuel their independent thinking and implement their ideas.
A great business is not grown from one person’s strategy - it’s a team effort so take the team you lead on the journey with you. Their followership will put you in a very strong position in the future.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Don’t sweat the small stuff!
Caught your interest? Read more inspirational stories with our blog post on Ula Howlett, CEO UlaSuperConnector.