10 years of choosing to challenge…sort of!

about 1 month ago Angharad Kenward

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​As I celebrate my 10-year anniversary at Investigo and think about recognising International Women’s Day, I thought I would take some time to reflect on what has been a really challenging (in a good way) and rewarding journey.

First of all – 10 years! Wow! In that time I’ve had countless new roles, bought my first house, got engaged, got married, bought my second house, had my children, lost some loved ones and had some amazing experiences. I feel incredibly grateful for all of it, and so happy that I found Investigo all those years ago. Whilst it’s not a lifetime, I wouldn’t consider myself someone who would be a natural fit for 10 years plus (let’s hope) in one organisation. I’d consider myself the type of individual that needs consistent challenge, someone who probably gets bored easily, and who likes an ever-changing environment. Luckily for me I was both right and wrong. Investigo has managed to give me many of those things; I have been pushed and taken out of my comfort zone, but more importantly I’ve also learnt that I am loyal and committed, and in actual fact I am probably more of a “lifer” than I ever realised. They both go hand in hand, and in truth the last 10 years have flown by. So here we go, some learning to share with all of you. Whilst being a woman has been connected to some of the challenges I have faced, I hope this is relevant to everyone.

Finding my voice (but not in the usual sense)

​One of my biggest lessons has been around finding my voice. I am no shrinking violet, so it’s not that I’ve struggled to be heard, but more the style of communication that best reflects me and how I want to be perceived. There have been many times in my career where I have said the right thing, but the way I’ve said it hasn’t reflected who I am. I have most certainly been overbearing and dominant at times, and my passion has been misplaced for aggression. Taking a step back and developing my style of communication has been a long 15-year journey, and there is still work to be done here, but taking ownership of this is something I would encourage everyone to do. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to ensure we are perceived in the right way and it took me way too long to realise that.

Being my authentic self

​I have found this difficult. I am sure many women will have experienced something similar, but I have on occasions been called emotional, sensitive, and many other stereotypical names. Honestly, I am all those things. I cry at MasterChef, I well up at the thought of my children, and I get emotional when I talk about the business that I work for. In the words of The Greatest Showman, “this is me”. So, when someone outside of my organisation said to me a few years ago, “never cry in the workplace”, this really confused my concept of being the authentic me. I think there is work to be done here, and I think the concept itself is unclear for many women. Our natural tendencies aren’t always welcome in the boardroom, and often make others uncomfortable. So how do we achieve the balance? I have concluded that being authentic is really important to me. However, I believe for me personally, there is a time and place to bring my whole self. I can still be me, but still be in control of how much I give. On many occasions being genuine has created huge opportunities for me, but it’s also made me too vulnerable. Understanding when that time is right has been one of my biggest learnings.

Changing my life

​Taking the decision to have children and putting my career on hold (or so I thought) was a defining moment for me. It was, and still is, one of the toughest challenges I face. I owe this decision and my children a great debt because there is no doubt being a mother has made me a better version of myself. It has also been a journey made easier by a fantastic boss and a great business, whose whole ethos is “family first”. This is something I now take on and share with my own people because it is so important and very true. In hindsight, I wish I’d have done things slightly differently and hopefully some of this will resonate with you. During my pregnancy with twins, I refused to acknowledge that anything was different. I commuted into London until two weeks before I gave birth, suffering from all sorts of health problems because of my size (my son and daughter were fairly large for twins). I was terrified that people would judge me and that I would be seen as just a pregnant woman rather than for who I really was. In fact, I got daily comments, often from complete strangers, such as “wow you’re huge” and people would do a doubletake as I walked through the door. I wish I had just stopped and listened to my body, and to the supportive colleagues and friends around me that were telling me to slow down.

​I also then rushed back to work after five and a half months, sharing the parental leave with my husband. Whilst that is an experience I would encourage everyone to consider, I missed out on almost seven months of time with my babies because I was scared about my career, and I really shouldn’t have been. At the time, we did not have the support and flexibility we have now, and honestly, it was tough. Things have changed so much in the last five years, and the industry is far better set up for you to be a fantastic leader, recruiter and fully-fledged awesome mother. To this day it’s still different being a senior woman with children to being a senior man with children (I appreciate this is a generalisation but I’m drawing from my own experience). Running a house and running your career is a tough balance, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, and the juggling we inevitably do as women is made so much easier by the amazing people I work with every day. If you are worried about your career, please feel free to reach out. I have without doubt been more successful since.

Working in a man’s world

​I am pleased to say that things have improved in our industry and I hope it continues. Women make fantastic recruiters and it is a shame to see so many people leave before they realise their potential. I have, for most of my career, been a minority around the table, however. There were far more female role models earlier on in my career, but as I progressed, they started to diminish. I have learnt a huge amount from the successful men around me, and some of my male colleagues are friends for life. However, it is not always easy, and there is often a marked difference in our style and priorities. I have also been guilty of trying to be one of the boys, and it never ends well. I think allyship is so important for gender inclusion, and I’d like to see more people calling out unacceptable behaviour as well as stereotyping. There is no excuse for some of the comments and questions I have received during my career. Thankfully they are few and far between now, but if I had my time again, I would actively encourage my male allies to step up and be more vocal.

Supporting women

​I’ve spent the last five years leading our Diversity and Inclusion committee. This in itself has been very rewarding and challenging in equal measure. I learnt very quickly that this topic is huge, and no matter how hard you work, you physically cannot please everyone. Our experiences are all unique, and education and building awareness are really of the utmost importance. Our strategy is about creating a culture where all talent can thrive, and this really drives me. Investigo for me is exactly that; I feel able to be me and reach my potential, which makes it a very special place to work. However, naturally I have more relevant experience in the topic of gender, working mothers and senior women operating in male environments, and therefore I have chosen to speak openly and share my personal experience through blogs, events and mentoring. I didn’t expect to receive as much negativity and criticism, but I have. So rightly or wrongly I’ve tempered how vocal I am and it’s allowed me to build a knowledge and understanding for other areas of inclusion, which I’m very grateful for. Whilst I remain a true advocate for women, my breadth has increased and through the negativity I found a slightly different voice.

​So to summarise, I’m proud of myself for reaching this marker, and I thank Investigo and Nick Baxter especially for supporting me on this incredible journey. I’d also like to say a thank you to my husband who has supported me through all the highs and lows. At times I’ve “chosen to challenge”, but I’ve also been challenged by the people and the world around me, and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learnt along the way. Here’s to the next 10 years!