A Woman’s Place: standing up for yourself

A Woman’s Place: standing up for yourself

From site managers on landmark construction projects to employability specialists in the Middle East, at Interserve we have talented and skilled women working in every area of our business. This International Women’s Day, as well supporting the call to give equality of opportunity for all women around the world, and supporting the call to #pledgeforparity, we are showcasing the stories of some of our people who help make Interserve the successful global business it is today.

Stephanie Johnston, Integration Programme Manager

Read about Stephanie who stood up for herself when it counted to prove women are just as entitled to the same opportunities as men.

When I was relatively young in my career I came across a barrier to my career development in a company. Someone left the business, presenting an opportunity for me to move into their role. At the time I was working in a role almost identical to that of a male colleague, and we were the two most suitable internal candidates to fill the vacancy.

Our manager announced that my male colleague would be offered the position, despite neither of us interviewing for it. Confused, I arranged a meeting with him to get an explanation as to why he had been offered the job, and put forward my case for why I was a better candidate.

No official announcement had been made, so we both got the chance to move into the role – my first in management – splitting the responsibilities between us. This coincided with a significant period of change within the company, and in the following six to 12 months my skills developed quickly and I continued to move up the ladder, while my male colleague did not.

The experience proved the value in standing up for yourself and fighting for what you believe in. I was right to back myself and it stood me in good stead for my future career.

I would advise all women to stand up for themselves at work if they feel they’re being unfairly treated, and to always handle their business with honesty and dignity. Don’t back a decision if you’re not sure about it.

Starting your career

When I was starting out I was very fortunate to have an inspirational female role-model in the senior management team. She was well-respected and stayed true to being a woman, despite being in a senior position and sitting on the board as the only female. Most importantly she was there on merit, rather than being given the role as part of a box-ticking process. Seeing her gave me the belief that if she could do it, so could I

My advice to young women preparing to choose a career is to think carefully and choose to do something you enjoy. Your career choices now could shape what you do for the next several decades, so it’s not something you should take lightly. If you really enjoy doing something then the chances are you’ll naturally be better at it anyway, so you needn’t think work has to be a chore or you can’t do something you love.

If you can prove yourself, work hard and improve your abilities, you can go far in whatever you choose to do.

Women in the workplace

I work in a fairly male-dominated environment, but that is just down to the industry and the fact that, traditionally, there are more men in my line of work than women. Saying that, I don’t feel limited or like I’m at a disadvantage being a woman. I’m treated well at Interserve and always have been.

In the last few years I’ve had two children and had to take time off for maternity leave and to look after them. Interserve has treated me respectfully and recognises the fact that now I have a young family my availability to work has changed. I’m trusted to do my job with the time I have available to me, and I’m very appreciative of that.

I think Interserve is really good at encouraging equality for women and I personally have never found it to be an issue. I believe that gender, like race, nationality and orientation is irrelevant, and that people should be selected for roles because they are the best candidates for them. I’m very against the idea of people being given positions or responsibilities to meet a certain quota.

There’s also a great Women’s Network here which isn’t just for women in senior positions, but at all levels. The events they put on are great and I would encourage all our women to attend some if they don’t already.

My career journey

I first had an opportunity to get involved with project management in a role at a previous business, where I was given the chance to reshape how the business delivered its operating model and was instantly interested in undertaking similar projects on a more regular basis.

The role gave me more exposure to different things and varied projects, and was a great opportunity for me to build my skill-set. Now I’ve worked on so many different projects I feel I am capable of tackling anything that is put in front of me.

In my current role I oversee strategic objectives for our support services business. This means I work very closely with our executive director and I’m involved with key projects and changes across the business, including business restructuring and the upcoming refurbishment of  our office building in Waterloo.

I took the role after Interserve acquired Initial Facilities and I was asked to programme manage the integration of the new company. Prior to that I’ve worked on change programmes and key bids and mobilisations to make sure we can operate our services on day one and deliver what we’ve promised, including the recent contract with the BBC.

Stephanie Johnston is Integration Programme Manager at Interserve, working in support services. Find out more about our work to promote gender equality and diversity at: www.interserve.com/a-woman’s-place.

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