Choose to Challenge. Recognising International Women's Day 2021
International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements or rally for women's equality.
Marked annually on March 8th, International Women's Day (IWD) is one of the most important days of the year to:
- Celebrate women's achievements
- Raise awareness about women's equality
- Lobby for accelerated gender parity
- Fundraise for female-focused charities
The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2021 is 'Choose To Challenge'. A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So, let's all #ChooseToChallenge
We have lined up a selection of powerful, passionate women who we are lucky enough to have working for Sigma and we have asked them to share their career stories. While this is just a handful of the amazing women who work for Sigma, we hope their stories inspire you and reflect the work of all of the women in our company.
- Name – Sarah Hunter
- Job Title – Head of Projects, ACC
- Description of Job Role - To manage and oversee all customer facing departments within the ACC. Overlooking the smooth delivery of all projects and the execution of ACC processes and strategies in line with Sigma and client expectations.
What did you dream of doing when you were a little girl? When I was younger I always wanted to be a police officer. Without realising it at the time, but looking back now, I always visualised myself climbing the ranks, achieving a position of something like Chief Inspector. At the time, I think my desire to do this came from something that I hate to see to this day, injustice. Granted very different to how my career ended up!
Describe the 3 characteristics about yourself that you believe led to your success in business. Resilient, loyal and persistent. There have been times I have felt overlooked and experienced knockbacks, but I have remained positive and shown that I had what it took and that usually saw me through to the next level in my career.
Was it always part of your plan to become a leader? Looking back, I think this partly happened naturally. As people came and left I had a good understanding of processes and operation and naturally new employees were teamed up with me for training. However, I used to look at other people within the business holding more senior positions and aspired to one day reach their level. I was very young when I started my career with Sigma, initially my priorities were probably more around living for the weekend and seeing friends but there were some influential people I worked with and I quickly learned that to get to where they were, I had to work hard and soon found myself in that headspace and paired with the fact that I loved what I was doing and who I was working with, I was given opportunities that led me to where I am now.
Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess? To me a great leader listens to the people around them, operates with honesty and encourages openness. A great leader doesn’t dictate and is willing to call upon the strengths and knowledge of others in order to get the best outcome.
What are you most proud of doing/achieving? My most proud achievement is my son. I always had a plan of when I wanted to start a family and my career played a big part in how I hoped the two would entwine. I had a goal position I wanted to reach before I became a mother as I knew my priorities and ambitions would change afterwards. I reached that goal and I think when returning to work I managed to keep a good balance (most of the time) on work and family life. I still give work my all whilst allowing extra time for family by slightly adjusting my hours of work.
What does International Woman's Day mean to you? I actually find the fact that there is a need in 2021 to have an IWD quite sad. That women still aren’t always seen as an equal is pretty shocking to me. Women to me are amazing; we tend to be the main caregiver to our children, whilst balancing a household and still able to thrive in our career. The fact that we have more than one focus I believe is the reason that men generally occupy corporate titles. If this wasn’t biologically the case, women would in my opinion, outnumber men in director and CEO positions!
What did you dream of doing when you were a little girl? I’ve always been creative, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I’ve always been creative, with the desire to express myself through the way I dress or the way I style my home. Architecture and Interior Design is about helping your customers do that, so it was a natural step for me.
Which powerful woman do you admire the most? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democrat who is the youngest woman ever to serve in the US Congress. I admire her ability to challenge the norms of US politics and her strength in expressing her opinions. She knows her stuff and delivers powerful speeches in a calm, insightful way.
What is something interesting you’re currently working on? Personal or professional. Personally I’ve been studying Spanish for a long time now. I’m currently attempting to read Don Quixote in the original language. Professionally I’ve loved working on a complete redesign of an industrial building to form office accommodation. The client was really open to ideas and I’ve loved having that creative freedom.
Describe the 3 characteristics about yourself that you believe led to your success in business.
Passionate. I care very deeply about what I do.
Determined. I want to get it right and I don’t give up until I’ve achieved what I set out to do.
Ability to form relationships. I enjoy getting to know people and finding out what makes them tick. It’s essential when working with clients to establish a brief or working on long term frameworks and also with the broad spectrum of people involved in getting a project delivered to the standard you desire.
What’s helped you build confidence? When I came to Sigma to establish the Design department there was a lot of faith put in me. The people around me believed that I would do a fantastic job. That really built my confidence and helped me to believe it too.
What have been some of biggest struggles and triumphs as a woman in business? The return to work after maternity leave has been my biggest challenge. Not because I didn’t want to, but when you have (small) children your priorities change, your sense of identity changes. You can be perceived differently by colleagues.
How do you balance your career, personal life and passions? Is there such a thing as balance? A partner who supports me in everything I do and a 4 day working week allows me greater balance. The struggle for balance is real!
What role or impact would you like to play in relation to women's rights, today? Being a good role model for my kids. Raising a daughter who knows she can achieve anything and a son that respects men and women equally.
Throughout your career, who were your biggest inspirations? Throughout my career I have been fortunate to encounter many characters who have provided inspiration and shaped my approach. I have to put my Dad at the top of the list. He developed his own career from a design apprentice to leading one of the largest Shopfitting companies of its time. He taught me to seize opportunities and not be afraid to take a risk. Sigma was founded in 2007 on what many would consider a high-risk opportunity. Embracing challenges and innovation are still at the core of Sigma’s DNA today – it is an inspirational, creative and exciting place to work.
Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess? I think a great leader can eloquently define the direction of the business and create a culture in a simple, easily understandable way that inspires everyone within the business to embrace, implement and achieve the strategy. They also recognise their weakness and take steps to counteract it. Ben Francis, founder of Gymshark, for example has succeeded in motivating a team through the vision of “we exist to create the tools that help people unlock their full, incredible potential and put their ideas into action. We exist to unite the conditioning community”, Gymshark has not grown from the teenager screen printing in his garage to a $1.5bn USD company operating in 131 countries globally in a space of 8 years by Ben Francis trying to do everything himself. He is a visionary who recognises the aspects of the business in which he makes an impact and has surrounded himself with a team, expert in their own particular field of operation to counteract his weaknesses. Ben has also gone beyond sharing his vision within the business- he has inspired a “conditioning community” of over 5.1 million followers. A truly modern commerce retail business.
What are some of the traits that you admire the most amongst the leaders you’ve worked with? I think the trait I admire most in the leaders I have worked with is honesty. I think you should always be open to receiving honest feedback and take comments onboard without perceiving them as a personal afront, How else can you develop, learn and grow?
How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader? What are some steps to build that type of relationship? I believe it is very important to have a mentor to support your growth as a leader. In my early career mentoring was more a case of imitating leaders I admired. As my career has progressed I have learned to seek mentors. Time is a pressure for most people, so it is important to be specific about what you are looking to achieve from a particular mentor relationship. Mutual trust is key, coupled with the confidence to share your struggle or dilemma – more often than not you will find this is a shared experience your mentor has previously had to try and overcome. Sigma introduced a Talent programme in 2020, part of which includes mentoring. I think it is really positive that more and more companies are now recognising the benefit mentoring can bring to colleague development.
What is something interesting you’re currently working on? Personal or professional. We have a number of interesting retail projects we are currently working on at Sigma but confidentially bounds I cannot share! Outside of work, I am actively involved in Ski MK Race Team, providing Alpine race training at our local indoor ski slope to athletes between 6 and …. well there is no upper age limit! Unfortunately, many girls give up participating in sport around the age of 12. Studies have shown that this is due to the competitive direction sporting activities take at this point, moving away from the fun and social aspects, girls, in particular enjoy. When we can get back on the slope (currently April 12th) the club will resume its focus on encouraging girls to continue taking part in sport with the support of our Childrens’ Representatives and initiatives such as “This Girl Can”.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations? Be yourself, not “one of the boys”. A good leader will always recognise people within a business who make a positive impact. As workplace studies have shown, men will typically interact more with senior leaders about their work and are more visible in sharing their achievements. If women want to achieve a more prominent role, celebrating success needs to be a focus.
- Name – Kate Goodyear
- Job Title – Key Account Manager
- Description of Job Role - To work with the client taking requests to carry out work and turning them into supply chain plans. Covering all aspects of client management and integrating into Sigma feeding back to customer and exec progress updates
When you began your career, did you ever imagine that you would be a leader in a male-dominated profession? Not at all, I saw myself working in an office-based environment in a typical administration role. At that time, the leadership teams were typically male dominated within the workplace.
What’s helped you build confidence? Throughout my early career I was very quiet and subdued, I did not tend to speak up in large groups and certainly was not one to put myself and ideas forward. As I started to gain confidence in my profession and began to pave a career in logistics and supply chain, I began to open up more and would listen to others in meetings and take advice from colleagues and leaders. Having the confidence to speak up more meant I could push my thoughts and ideas forward and be heard, this absolutely helped me to progress to the role I am in today.
What are you most proud of doing/achieving? Whilst focusing on my career I also complete a Diploma in Principles of Leadership and Management. I had to balance my studies with my working days over an 18-month period. This was a key milestone for me to aid in my career progression.
What advice do you have for women looking to grow within the company they work for? Know your subject and don’t be afraid to speak up, and listen. It's advice I would give to anyone - be confident in your approach and be yourself.
Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.? Walking with my 9-year-old daughter, I like to invest my time outside of work with my daughter. I want to be able to give her the chances I did not get as a youngster and guide her in life learning from my mistakes but also giving her the inspiration to want to succeed. I see a lot of myself in my daughter when I was a child, subdued and quiet, I hope to give her the advice I never had to help her become confident and be successful.
What does International Woman's Day mean to you? It’s very important to me, women have struggled throughout the years to balance home life, family life and work life. My own mum struggled with this and spent most of her time at home and when she did work it was in a very male dominating environment picking up menial low paid jobs. I feel so proud now seeing so many successful women and being able to show my mum that I have become a leader with confidence.
- Name – Sarah Hicks
- Job Title – Key Account Manager
- Description of Job Role - I am responsible for the team of Project Managers that we have looking after the installation of fixtures within the Sainsbury’s store estate. I oversee the process from inception through to completion with the team and ensure that all milestones are achieved and we accomplish a smooth delivery on site.
What did you dream of doing when you were a little girl? I dreamed of becoming a Vet when I was a little girl, part of a little plan my Dad had as we had horses growing up. Clearly, my role today is very different, but still very rewarding.
Was it always part of your plan to become a leader? I’m not too sure that it was, however, it seems to have come naturally as I have managed to progress my career.
Define a great leader—what are some traits you think great leaders possess? A great leader is someone who can create a vision for their team and encourage all to follow on a journey to realising it. I think important qualities for a leader is honesty, courage and being able to build relationships with ease.
Over the years, have you encountered any barriers to your success or growth as a female leader? I think that being fairly young and in a position of authority can be challenging at times, especially in this male-dominated profession. It can be hard to gain the respect required, but I think demonstrating that you have worked hard to get to where you are and showing your skills and knowledge can go a long way to earning it.
What advice do you have for women looking to grow within the company they work for? Never give up! Sometimes you can have setbacks, but you should look upon these as opportunities. If you are determined, driven and passionate about what you want to achieve, then don’t let anything stop you.
How do you balance your career, personal life and passions? Is there such a thing as balance? This is always a constant work in progress! Over the last year with the pandemic, this is something that I have really had to face into. I do have a very supportive partner and lots of help from my Mum, so this really does make things a lot more manageable.
What advice would you give to women trying to break into a career in your field? With H&S I believe knowledge is power. Constantly developing your understanding of best working practices within safety by undertaking training and attending webinars is my single piece of greatest advice . You may be challenged on site and being able to hold your own on both your knowledge and competency will earn you respect and equality.
What is some of the advice you share with young women entering a male-dominated profession? At the end of the day, you want people to get home to their families safely, your female nurturing side and how you care for people is an important trait, but try to ensure you aren't typecast in the stereotypical "female mould". Secondly, listen, ask lots of questions and get lots of different perspectives on all sorts of scenarios.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? The current global pandemic was a significant challenge in my career to date. Professionally, as a health and safety advisor, our workload significantly increased and our priorities were to ensure that all of our colleagues could work safely during the national lockdowns. Personally. the unfortunate closures of schools and nurseries meant that I found myself having to be a full-time mum to my little boy - learning to juggle responsibilities of being a mum balanced with my SHEQ role.
What’s helped you build confidence? I have always been fortunate to have strong mentors who encourage me to develop and challenge me. I have been very fortunate that Sigma have given me the platform to build my confidence playing a key role within the construction division.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders? Have faith in your own knowledge and ability.
- Name – Emma Brookes
- Job Title – Project Manager
- Description of Job Role - Project management of construction schemes right from the pre-development stage through to delivery and post-handover, ensuring delivery is on time and within budget, whilst ensuring the client’s expectations are met if not exceeded.
Describe the 3 characteristics about yourself that you believe led to your success in business.
Determined – never give up, with hard work and determination you can be successful
Passionate – I am very passionate about what I do and always give 100%
Resilient – No matter how many knockbacks I have received, it has inspired me to work even harder to achieve my ambitions
What advice would you give to women trying to break into a career in your field? The most important piece of advice I would give is to never give up, with determination you can achieve your goals. After graduating from university back in 1996, despite studying a construction-related course with excellent grades and having numerous job interviews within the construction industry which went really well and feedback was always positive, I never was offered the roles which I always felt may have been partly due to me being female as at that time there weren’t many women in the industry. Instead of quitting and seeking another career route, I persevered as I was so determined I would achieve my goal, and tried an alternative, indirect route into the industry and went into HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) which wasn’t my career of choice but saw it as a step to ‘get in the back door’ to the construction industry. After 8 years working in HVAC, working closely with main contractors on construction sites, the General Manager of one of the main contractors I had built up a rapport with said he felt I would be an asset to their team and offered me a role as a Project Manager. Finally, I had made it and have never looked back.
What is some of the advice you share with young women entering a male-dominated profession? Even to this day the industry is very much male-dominated, and it can be a challenge as a female to make your voice heard, your opinion count and for you to ‘prove’ yourself. From experience I have had to work twice as hard as a man to demonstrate that I can do the job, which in this day and age is rather disappointing given that some individuals (not all I am pleased to say) opinions to women in the industry are out-dated. My advice would be to work hard, prove that women can be successful, and the sense of satisfaction as you progress through your career will be worth the while.
What are some of the traits that you admire the most amongst the leaders you’ve worked with? Over my 16 years as a project manager I have worked with numerous managers and leaders, and the traits I admire the most in them is being driven and passionate about what we do, being fair to everyone and having an understanding and empathy of getting that work-life balance right whilst still putting in 100%. All of which are traits that I consider myself to have.
How do you balance your career, personal life and passions? Is there such a thing as balance? My decision to become a Mum was later in life as I have always been very career-minded, and it wasn’t until I had my career well-established that I felt the time was right. Juggling having two young children with a demanding career which involves working away from home and long hours is a challenge, and trying to get a good work-life balance has always been tricky. The feelings of guilt missing out on things with the children can be overwhelming, but the way I see it I am hopefully a role model for my two Daughters who understand how hard I work, and that there are benefits of hard work. This as well as juggling the family and trying to have some ‘me-time’ is difficult, but it is essential to make some time for yourself and my passion for running allows me to have some headspace for the duration I am pounding the streets, trails or treadmill.
Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.? Running, my long runs are sacred on a weekend to allow me some time for ‘me’. I am currently training for my first marathon, something I never thought I would ever be capable of. But again, if you put your mind to it you can achieve things you never thought were possible.
What is some of the advice you share with young women entering a male-dominated profession? Don’t think of yourself as being different or in a minority – just be the best you can be and be yourself, you are then more likely to be judged on your merits rather than for being a man or a woman.
Have you ever been in a situation that made you think that ‘women’ and ‘power’ are two incompatible concepts? No never. Growing up in Norway in a society very much founded on the notion that everyone “is equal” it never really entered into my sub-conscience that just because I was not a man I could not become “powerful”. I was brought up to believe that if you get your head down, work hard and believe in yourself you can achieve your dreams and you will be judged on what you do not for who you are. That has largely stood me in good stead through my career. Power can also be exerted in so many different ways, you just need to find your way that works for you.
What are some of the traits that you admire the most amongst the leaders you’ve worked with? I have been lucky to work with and for some great leaders over the years. What I have admired the most about these individuals has been their honesty and authenticity, but also the ability to enthuse and inspire those around them and to genuinely engage with and have time for people at all levels across the business. A good leader needs to also act decisively and be consistent, and show accountability and leadership when things are down as well as up. Last but not least, they have all had a good sense of humour and the ability to not take themselves too seriously, but at the same time demand respect.
What’s helped you build confidence? Working for managers and leaders who believed in me, empowered and encouraged me to push myself and get out of my comfort zone and take some risks. I was made redundant many years ago, an experience which in itself completely undermines your confidence, but I subsequently navigated my way through it, found new paths and came out the other end feeling stronger. It made me realise that if you are patient, open minded and you believe in yourself, others will too.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve undertaken? Leaving home and moving to England at the age of 20. It was a calculated risk which has paid off, although not without its sacrifices.
Describe the 3 characteristics about yourself that you believe led to your success in business. I try to be honest, respectful to others and true to my values. I work hard, set high standards of myself and always try to be the best I can be. I strive to behave in a professional manner at all times. Last but not least – I try to “never stop learning”.
Over 20 Years Experience
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