We joined Kirsty and Sophia, our fantastic Mutual Managers, to discuss their experiences of working in business.

Sitting round the boardroom table on a beautiful Spring morning, Sophia and Kirsty noted the significant changes that had occurred in the workplace in the last ten years, triggered, they felt, by an increase in a general demand for greater flexibility. When they first entered the job market, requesting flexible working hours, working from home, or leaving early to pick up the children would have been frowned upon, but both agreed that companies that do not offer these benefits are now seen as rather archaic and lagging behind the competition.

This positive change has enabled greater work-life-balance and has supported women, and men, who are responsible for balancing childcare and work priorities. They concurred that more could be done to achieve greater wellbeing and work-life balance through implementing simple changes such as, turning off your phones, dedicating times to their families and partners and keeping fit and healthy. All these changes also have positive impact on men in the workplace.

The conversation progressed towards what makes a great leader and the characteristics they looked for in role models. Kirsty commented that, “leadership is about being strong enough to create an environment in which your team feels heard and respected, you don’t need to be the only voice. It’s about showing your personal strengths but also your weaknesses. A good leader must have vulnerability, humility but also lead by example”. Sophia agreed and remarked that, “a leader is about being able to create a culture of understanding and being available, listening to your team. Great leaders must be able to connect with people.”

Reflecting on their personal role models they agreed they were inspired by women who had reinvented an approach; who hadn’t said no to challenges but had embraced change and shown innovation. Sophia highlighted some of the women she has met in the outdoors industry over the past 2 years who display innovation and progression, and as a result have transformed the various sectors within this industry.

When challenged to consider their own achievements they hesitated, finding it hard to shout about their accomplishments – something they both acknowledged as something of a female attribute. When pushed, Kirsty conceded, “completing my MBA whilst working in a full-time job, commuting and planning a wedding is my greatest achievement.” She laughed as she recalled the mammoth task she had overcome, which had at times seemed impossible. Since her MBA she had been promoted to Mutual Manager of The Retail Mutual, something she is rightly immensely proud of. For Sophia, her greatest achievement, outside of raising her family, was successfully changing careers when she moved from being a partner of a leading London law firm to taking the helm as AIM’s Mutual Manager. “I stepped outside my comfort zone and what I was used to, to embrace an exciting role – but you need to challenge yourself!”

“My proudest moments are when we help Members and make a difference. It is always a joy to receive lovely comments and feedback from the Members about how well the team look after them and their businesses; how they listen and help them. It’s really crucial, and important that the team know they are valued.”

Finally, they reflected on what advice they would give to any aspiring business manager and agreed that having a good mentor is key. “Find someone who will listen to you, who wants you to grow, someone who will support you. You can find a mentor within the workplace or outside; try using free channels like LinkedIn to find someone who can offer support and guidance.”

Both Sophia and Kirsty recommend trying new things, being bold and learning from what other people have done to excel. “Step out of your comfort zone, strive to do things differently. Innovate. Be motivated by a challenge,” advises Sophia. Kirsty agrees, “Don’t put limitations on yourself. It’s OK to fail, in fact failing is part of the journey, just do it!”

For new entrants into the workplace Sophia adds, “respect the hierarchy, work hard, earn respect and be known for high standards,” while Kirsty concludes; “keep your integrity and be true to yourself, remember you are unique and special. Most importantly, back yourself – you can do it.”

Sophia and Kirsty shine the torch as female leaders in business. Regis proudly supports women in business and offers a range of benefits including flexible working options to enable all staff, regardless of gender, to achieve a work-life balance.