Being a Woman in Leadership
STEM industries, like the life sciences industry, have a long-standing reputation of being male-dominated, as does recruitment. Whilst these industries are evolving and embracing more diversity, particularly in leadership, it is important to hear the voices and experiences of women to drive impactful change.
This International Women’s Day, we spoke with Nicola Biddlecombe, Hobson Prior’s European Compliance and Contracts Director and member of the Hobson Prior Board, about her experiences as a woman in senior leadership in a stereotypically male-dominated field.
What is your role at Hobson Prior?
NB: I feel incredibly proud of the position that I have achieved in my time at Hobson Prior. I started as an interim accounts administrator and have worked my way up to European Contracts & Compliance Director and am excited to be the first woman on the Hobson Prior Board.
What does being a woman in leadership mean to you?
I have never considered myself as someone intentionally looking to break barriers, but I’ve worked hard to build the contracts and compliance team. Knowing that I have achieved what I have through my hardworking and professional demeanour means more to me than anything.
The one thing I’ve made sure I do as a woman in the business, alongside my merits and commercial knowledge from my role, is to be a representative for voices in the office.
I believe that women, in general, bring a unique experience and perspective to various workplace situations. Particularly in a traditionally male-dominated industry like recruitment, women bring an empathy and open-mindedness which can be a real benefit.
Our company is pretty evenly split across gender, so if we had a room full of men just making all the important decisions, it would cut out 50% of the general workplace perspective. That’s the importance of representation - there are some issues people seem more comfortable speaking to me or other female managers about than perhaps their male managers. It’s important that these viewpoints are recognised, and we have voices in leadership that reflect the diversity of our team.
Have you faced challenges being a woman in the workplace?
I had just been promoted and I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. I was the first woman at Hobson Prior to become pregnant and there wasn’t a woman in a leadership position at the time, so I wasn’t sure how my manager was going to react. I remember feeling guilty for getting pregnant, like they’d think that I’d tricked them into giving me a promotion and was now leaving them in the lurch. I know some women will feel the same pressure I did and worry about how pregnancy will affect their career progression.
It turned out that my worries were completely unfounded and my manager at the time and the wider business were incredibly supportive. I’m thankful that Hobson Prior supported me throughout the highs and lows of my pregnancy. Even when it came to my maternity leave, they were so flexible with my return as well as my working hours – for which I’m grateful.
We’re still fighting the stigma around working mothers, despite how common they are. Work is such a huge part of my life; I’m not just a mother, but a leader too. It’s so important that workplaces create a safe space for women who become pregnant - ensuring that their job is secured when they return, as well as that support throughout the pregnancy and maternity leave.
What advice would you have for women moving into senior roles and for companies looking to embrace more diversity in their leadership teams?
My advice to other women would be to remember that your work speaks for itself. You need to be confident in your abilities if you are hardworking, dedicated, and professional that there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a chance to go for a senior role.
If you are in a male-dominated organisation, remember you have a lot more facets that can bring a whole new dynamic to the company. I think we also need to remember that we bring a unique perspective and to use this to our benefit and not as a roadblock.
For companies, it is important that representation goes beyond simply adding people to boards – they need to feel supported and empowered in these roles. I think a lot of women are worried or intimated by the thought of pushing for progression in male-dominated spaces. It’s hard to pinpoint if this “imposter syndrome” is just a women’s issue as I’m sure other men feel the same, but when talking to my peers, I have noticed a lot of women struggle with this. It is really important that we create platforms for these voices to be heard and actually have an impact rather than be a tick box exercise.
I hope to see more female members of management in recruitment and life sciences – we have some amazingly talented women in the business already that I believe could grow into management roles. I’m lucky to have witnessed the changes and growth in Hobson Prior – I’m so proud of what we have achieved since I joined 12 years ago. I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next few years!