Guest Blog By Sian Rowsell
One in 40
“Hi, I’m Sarah!”
“Hi, I’m Sian”
Sarah pointed at the 200 headshots of our Physics undergraduate class – standing out amongst them were five women, of which we were two…
Daring to be different
In the coming years, I continued to stick out. My pink Ballroom dancing costume hung on the back of the door to our office in the BioPhysics department, complete with rhinestones and feathers – much to the amusement of my fellow PhD students.
That feeling of being the minority continued throughout my corporate career as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. As I progressed up the career ladder, I started to notice that very few of my colleagues looked like me.
Not long after I started, I attended a training course and discussed with one of the other women, how all five of the women we knew in the company at senior levels (at the time called ‘black book’) were single and/or had no children.
Soon I progressed to leading a team of scientists. While pregnant and then having two young children, I trained and qualified as a Ballroom and Latin American dance teacher in my ‘spare’ time.
On corporate training courses, we would have to take turns to share a little bit about ourselves – my introduction was that I was a research scientist by day, and a dance teacher by night. It worked to make me memorable. On future courses the trainer would say, introduce a bit about yourselves, for instance on our last course, we had someone who is a research scientist by day…
Bucking the trend
A few years later as my career was progressing, I was asked about my ambitions. My most pressing ambition at that time was to spend more time with my two young children, but I didn’t know anyone in the organisation who was at my level and also worked part time. It wasn’t the conversation they were expecting, but HR agreed to help, in order to keep me.
Our HR business partner found me someone in a different part of the organisation who was successfully managing to lead a team, working 80% and having one day at home with her children each week. I was encouraged to do the same.
My partner was concerned I’d never get promoted again; my line manager was concerned that my development would stall. However, my team embraced the change, and some took the opportunity to take on additional responsibility as I ensured I cut down my workload by 20%.
It was also important for me to reduce the time spent away from home for work, to cut down on my travel to Sweden or to the US. I was the only woman on my leadership team and when we had leadership team meetings overseas, I was the only person to join remotely by video.
I wasn’t the only parent; I was just the only one who didn’t have a wife at home to look after the children. But I made it work.
Doing it my way
Two years after starting to work part time, I was promoted to a role with a much wider remit. I had reached ‘black book’. I remained working four days a week, with Fridays focused on my children. My son, when he was 4, would say that Fridays are the best days of the week!
Fast forward six years and I made the decision to leave my corporate role and set up my own coaching business, helping women in STEM to progress their careers, realise their full potential, and enjoy a fulfilling life inside and outside of work.
Working for myself meant that when my children were of school age, I could work during term-time only. As my client base consisted mainly of mums, this suited them too. And yes, I continue to meet my need for variety in life with my side passion of Ballroom dancing, spending one day a week teaching dancers from 3-93.
What about you?
Do you feel you stick out at work for being different? Are there few people in your workplace like you? How can you turn this to your advantage, use it to make you memorable, make it your superpower?
What workplace norms can you challenge? Who can help to champion you?
Dr Sian Rowsell is an award-winning coach, helping women who are leaders in science forge ahead in their careers, realise their full potential and achieve the perfect work/life balance. Following a PhD at Imperial College, and a post-doc at the University of Leeds, Sian enjoyed a very successful and varied career in pharmaceuticals before moving into her new career, coaching and facilitating others to find their passion and direction.