“Be bold in your competence” Janet Thomas and Ghislaine Boddington in conversation


A discussion between two women sharing views from their in-depth experience in the fields of public sector and banking for Janet Thomas, and arts & creative industries for Ghislaine Boddington, at Women Shift Digital Conference at Level39 on 26 November 2013.

Ghislaine Boddington is Co-founder and Creative Director, body>data>space and Women Shift Digital.

Janet Thomas is President of Women in Banking and Finance, one of the few national organisation in the UK that assists women in banking and finance sector to exploit their career potential.

Janet’s career commenced in the public sector, where she focused on housing policies and parliamentary roles. Whilst in this sector she was responsible for one of the first and largest joint public and private finance initiatives of £500m.

From 2011 for two years she was Head of Sales in Foreign Exchange Prime Broker covering Europe Middle East and Africa for Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Ghislaine kicked off the conversation asking Janet: ‘Why do you think we are not still in a truly healthy gender balance position?’

Public or Private Sectors?

Janet first referred to the history of women’s work, making the point that women have only started to be a truly active and responsible part of the workforce during and after the WWII, therefore women are still relative newcomers on the market place.

Mentioning her prior experience in the public sector, Janet cleared up a common stereotype: although many think the public sector is the best place for women to develop their careers, the key executive positions are still in the hands of men.

On the contrary, she found banking environment was more favourable to women and acknowledged the great role of her mentors in the sector.

“Momentum is on its way and the gender balance train left the station”

It is a fact that in times of austerity and recession, workplace environments tend gets more competitive and professionals tend to stick with their gender peers, leading to the decline of women professionals at key management and executive positions. This is a catch 22, as women are already highly under-represented at executive positions.

Ghislaine made a parallel with her dance/arts background, a sector that is predominantly female, although here too the leadership is still predominately male. She did not envision in the first place the issues she would have to face as a woman when entering the creative industries/tech world.

Ghislaine and Janet agreed on the fact that in a period of crisis, organisations are less likely to take risk in their employment strategies and give chances to women.

Janet placed herself on the optimistic side, stating that momentum is on its way and that the gender balance train left the station.

A 50% gender balance is certainly not there yet, but she believes we will experience significant increase in women into CEO positions and/or owning their own business in the future.

“Sponsors will stick their neck on the line for you”

According to Janet, women are now getting more aware of their career opportunities and are starting to truly exercise their choices. She also emphasized the necessity to have more mentoring programme for women. Role models are also key and we need more of them.

Answering to Ghislaine on the difference between mentors and sponsors, Janet explained that mentors are here to address and help on very specific requests about skills and careers development. On the contrary, sponsors are harder to find, as they will stick their neck on the line for you and will be advocating for you your skills and supporting you constantly. We need more sponsors for women to really support each other.

Be bold in your competence and allow people to see what you are capable of doing”

Ghislaine then interrogated Janet on women and networking. Are we really using our networks to our best advantage? Networking is very natural practice in the arts and she started to be part of some networks in 80’s, as they are a key good place to debate, exchange and find the next job!

For Janet, networks and sponsorship go together.

Women need to build a trustful and privileged relationship with their sponsors, so an effective network is crucial. Having access to sponsor and then having access to their network is the kind of support women should seek for, so acting intelligently and strategically in making a support network is particularly important for women.

Janet addressed the audience with this strong advice: ‘you cannot have people believing in you if you don’t believe in yourself’.

It is therefore essential to build a deep, trustful relationship with your sponsors and keep this trust alive on the long term, so that your sponsors can back you up in any situations. ‘Be bold in your competence and allow people to see what you are capable of doing’ argued Janet adding that women need to take a risk on themselves.