Celebrating International Women’s Day
We all know that creating effective working relationships is essential to the success of any business. Even more so when that business is in a period of transition. Realia has been in its new home at the digital:glassworks for just under one month. A move that happened seamlessly, with little business interruption to our clients, thanks in part to the forging of a positive relationship between two key players. And these two people happen to be women. So, to mark International Women’s Day and to celebrate our new surroundings, we thought it would be great to highlight the female duo. The two ladies in question are Sharon Wanstall from Creative Folkestone (digital:glassworks) and Nicola Williamson, our Director of Quality Assurance.
In this short Q&A we ask Sharon and Nicola about their biggest female influences, if they’ve faced any barriers in business and what their advice would be to young women who aspire to work in creative industries.
Who is your biggest female influence or icon?
Nicola: I am fortunate that I have a wide circle of women in my life who have influenced where I am today. A mix of family, friends and colleagues, I have witnessed these women responding to a multitude of challenges. Whether that has been their unwavering determination to succeed in their area of expertise professionally, whether they have coped with loss, or whether they have been fighting their own health battles. It is not only observing their challenging situations that provide inspiration and influence my life, but their general outlook. There are too many to name here, but as this is for Realia, I will focus on a prominent professional influence, Melanie (Sroczynski) Stonier.
Mel and I worked together at McArthurGlen Designer Outlets for several years. Mel was the Regional Marketing Manager and I was the Marketing Co-ordinator, just starting out in my marketing career. Mel became not only my boss, but my mentor and champion. She obviously taught me practical skills such as excel budget management (!) and marketing planning, but more importantly she taught me strength of character and demonstrated daily how to be a strong player in a corporate environment, whilst maintaining softer values such as respect and kindness. Mel was (and still is) an absolute whizz in the marketing world. She is passionate, productive and always looking for a challenge. She has since moved on to work for brands such as Mazda, Expedia, made.com and now Moneysupermarket. It would appear that she has influenced and inspired many over the years, looking through her numerous LinkedIn recommendations.
Back in 2009 I also contributed to her profile: “Mel is one of the most inspiring people I have worked with. In our time at McArthurGlen she proved to be an enthusiastic and motivational manager, encouraging me every day to put myself forward and achieve my best. I felt that my development and success was as important to Mel as her own. Together we created a winning team!”. Eleven years later and I still remember our time working together and the lessons learnt.
Sharon: I have 3 women who have been great influences (none of them famous other than to me), my paternal great-grandmother was my first, she was such a strong woman born in 1900 and saw so many changes in her lifetime. She taught me so much, how to cook, play piano, play cards and knit – I spent a lot of time with her growing up!
The next is my paternal grandmother, she gave me my love of music and the arts, she ran a working men’s club up in Yorkshire with my grandfather for over 25 years, not the easiest of jobs and would also get up on stage and play the piano accordion each week. She had a fantastic sense of humour but would also take no rubbish from anyone, she was plain speaking, overcame cancer twice, losing her youngest son and her husband and at the ripe old age of 90 fulfilled a lifelong wish to visit Rome and the Vatican City.
My final influence is my mum, she has always been there for me, regardless of what has happened in her life or mine. She has taught me how to be strong, independent and caring. She has worked hard all her life and instilled that same work ethic into me. She can sometimes be very outspoken and sometimes embarrassing, but that’s what mums do, and I would be lost without her and her no-nonsense approach to life.
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome them?
Nicola: My barrier has always been self-made and is my confidence. This most probably stems from my lack of ‘university education’, even though I believe that ‘night school’ was an equally committed and valuable experience for me. My belief was that there was a perception that to be ‘any good’, you needed a degree. This was reinforced through several unfortunate interview experiences. Luckily, I feel this perception is changing now, and I know that I for one, recruit as much for attitude and passion, as for academic achievement.
Sharon: From leaving school at 16 I worked for the local authority in Housing Improvements which was a very male dominated environment, I soon learnt to stand my ground and not to be easily offended and perhaps be more like “one of the boys” especially when working on building sites. I was soon accepted as one of them rather than being seen as a female and them having to watch what they said around me! I moved away from my home in Yorkshire to Kent when I turned 21 and thankfully because of my upbringing and being around strong, independent women, all my life stood me in good stead when I started working on the Channel Tunnel site and again in a very male heavy environment. I soon went from running the office to having a team of all male commissioners working for me, which was great fun!
I think I’ve probably been lucky that for most of my career I have not faced any real barriers, and if there were, I’ve faced them head on and conquered them, I’ve always tried not to let people take advantage of me. In each position I have held I have constantly studied to make sure I have the knowledge needed, I always try to keep a positive outlook, even when something is stressful and could get me down, I try to find the positive.
Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing a career in your industry?
Nicola: I always believe that mistakes are inevitable but learning from them is a choice. So, do not be afraid to test things out and try new ways, but when things do not go quite to plan, be sure to hold your hand up and learn from the experience. And, if you promise to deliver, then deliver on that promise. Building yourself a reputation for reliability and having a ‘can do’ attitude will get you everywhere – that, and kindness.
Sharon: Don’t take things to heart, be strong, always strive to improve your knowledge and give 100%. Don’t be afraid to admit if you’re wrong. If you’re not happy with someone or something then speak out to the right person, don’t be afraid. It’s only a job!
To say thank you to both Nicola and Sharon for making our office move as pain-free and simple as it could be, we awarded them both with a sweet surprise!