At #YesWeCan we interviewed Samantha Preece who after being made redundant three times is now a successful business owner. A really honest account of working in the corporate world and the impact of the job being part of your identity.
Give us a bit of a career history….
I have enjoyed a successful corporate career, working for some wonderful brands and organisations. I actually have a Law degree and was planning to follow that path but I gradually felt myself being pulled towards the marketing department. Eventually I made the leap into Marketing as a Product Manager for Halfords. I was incredibly happy there and worked extremely hard to progress, which over time I did. After holding a number of different senior roles I was headhunted by a very successful manufacturing company to be their Head of Marketing, a fantastic role which presented huge opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed it but unfortunately it ended in redundancy.
It was unexpected and unsettling and made me reflect on my career to date and the working life ahead of me – and it was then that I made the (at the time, very scary!) decision to start my own business and set up my own marketing agency. I have now been working for myself for almost two years.
I love the power of communication.
What made you choose this career/industry?
I love the power of communication. The ability to engage, interact with and influence. I am very much a people person and the psychology of marketing has always appealed to me. The fact that I am now helping smaller business make an impact and reach out to their customers is a real positive for me.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I guess I got where I am through hard work. Lots of it. I was the first to volunteer for any new projects and regularly the last to leave the office. I constantly sought out new opportunities, training courses and voluntary projects. Often to the detriment of my home life and personal relationships.
Like many women in business I suffered from chronic Imposter Syndrome
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Like many women in business I suffered from chronic Imposter Syndrome, lacking in confidence and reluctant to share my achievements. I sat and watched many of the male managers I worked with move on to bigger and better roles because they had no such qualms. I am the first to admit I made many mistakes in my career – hindsight is a wonderful thing! However, although are many things I would do differently now, I am glad that I retained a sense of integrity throughout my working life and am genuinely proud of the things I did achieve.
I decided to turn the experience into something positive
Can you tell us more about your redundancies?
The first time was early in my career when I was young and resilient enough for it to not have much impact. The second time was harder. It was at a company that I had devoted my life to for 10 years – it felt like a bereavement and I think my reaction was very similar to the way in which we handle grief. However after the initial anger and despair subsided I decided to turn the experience into something positive. I used my redundancy payment to fund a PGCE teaching course in Business Studies and 12 months later I was teaching GCSE and A-levels in a Worcestershire school. Now that was hard work!
The final time, again I tried to see it as something positive and used it to create my own business – to finally be in control of my own destiny. And that is where I am now!
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
Outside of my working life, I am a volunteer for Young Enterprise UK. I have been involved with them for many years as I feel they do a wonderful job is providing an insight into the world of business that is lacking in many schools. I have seen students utterly transform as they develop their business ideas into reality and experience all of the challenges that come with that. They develop confidence, communication and teamwork skills, as well as an understanding of finance that is invaluable. It is a great mechanism for developing life skills and I am a passionate advocate for the charity.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
My mum always worked part-time, then full-time as my sister and I got older and I always knew that I wanted to work. Being financially independent was very important to me from an early age and I had numerous jobs as a teenager. I was the first in my family to go to University so experienced new opportunities that broadened my horizons even further.
Then when I became a mum myself it was very important for me to set an example to my two daughters and show them that work wasn’t just a something that had to be endured. It was an opportunity for self-fulfillment, to achieve your ambitions, meet great people - and have fun!
I am guilty of applying unnecessary pressure to myself
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Absolutely. I experienced quite shocking sexism in the early stage of my career that I would never stand for today. Yet at the same time I am also guilty of applying unnecessary pressure to myself to conform to what I thought was expected of me.
My first maternity break was four months. Way too short. I cried in the car park every day for 6 months before applying my make-up and entering the office. I genuinely thought I would be sidelined if I took any longer. I watched male counterparts take time off for school plays and sports day – yet I didn’t in case I looked like the ‘uncommitted mum’.
‘It’s nice to be important. But it’s more important to be nice.’
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
‘It’s nice to be important. But it’s more important to be nice.’
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
- Support each other.Creating a network of colleagues you can trust at work is incredibly important. Surround yourself with supportive women and help them in return. When women support other women amazing things happen.
- Be yourself.Don’t feel pressurised to change who you are to conform. Personality is important. Make sure yours shines through.
- Retain your integrity.Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right don’t do it. You’ll never regret doing the right thing.
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
It sounds trivial but many years ago a female director told me off for the way I introduced myself on the phone. ‘It’s only Samantha,’ I said. She told me to stop minimising myself. I was not ‘only’ Samantha, I had as much right to be there as anyone else. So I stopped!
I felt I had lost my identity along with job.
What are your key motivators?
My motivators have changed. For a long time I saw who I was at work as being integral to who I was in general. It was important that I had status and a good salary. My job title was my identity. It also helped me justify the sacrifices I had made to get there. However, this made things very difficult when I was made redundant – I felt I had lost my identity along with job.
However I am not just a manager. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. And all of these things are so much more important.
So my motivators now are:
- A greater work/life balance
- Financial freedom to do the things I want with my family (I’m still not there yet!)
- A sense of fulfillment in the work that I do.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
I think things have changed a lot for the better, however I am still amazed at the pay gap that remains and the inflexible attitude to working parents. Creating an environment where mothers can return to work and are allowed flexible working patterns would do much to help address the imbalance.
‘You can’t be what you can’t see’
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.
To motivate and inspire female employees, organisations need to have women in leadership roles. They should operate family friendly policies (not just pay lip-service to them) and promote internally.
In addition, senior women managers have a responsibility to encourage other females. I have witnessed female leaders who have struggled to get where they are, making it difficult for younger females to achieve the same thing. Female mentors – both inside and outside work – can be a big help, as can training courses targeted specifically at the issues that affect women at work.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Be yourself. Don’t try to emulate your male colleagues. Women can bring real strengths to the boardroom – female characteristics such as empathy, problem solving and relationship building can provide businesses with a real competitive advantage.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
It’s not just about what happens in the meeting room. Most of the work is doing beforehand, behind the scenes, through building alliances and influencing. I was naïve and felt I was above office politics. I wasn’t!