Tapping into female potential
Katerina Gould knows well the issues facing working mums. After a corporate career in finance, marketing and strategy in FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies, an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Master’s degree in Law from Cambridge University, she decided to set up her own coaching business after having children.
She was working in marketing and strategy at Reuters HQ when she had her first child in the 1990s. She returned part time, but her mum was sick at the time. “It didn’t work for me or the company,” she says. “I could not do the job and raise a family and look after my mum. I became a full-time mum for six years.”
During this time she had her second child and her mother died. She started thinking about going back to work. When her children were little she had done a foundation course in counselling and psychotherapy. She was keen to continue with this interest, but wanted to keep a foothold in the world of business. She started exploring coaching after attending a coaching skills training event. She realised that coaching fit her skills and experience and interests so she set up an executive coach and career consultancy business called Thinking Potential. One of her overriding interests was in helping women negotiating the kind of career challenges she herself had faced, women who were facing big transitions in their lives.
She was accredited by the Go MAD [Make A Difference] consultancy and later by the Association for Coaching. She used her network of contacts to build up work and attended industry fairs. She spread the word about her services through school gate conversations, friends, relations and other coaches.
Gould, who has also set up an employment agency for interim managers, says things have changed a lot since she returned to work after having her first child. “Women are now becoming the main breadwinners. It’s no longer about earning pocket money or having something to do. They are also the main carers too so balancing work and family life is essential. Employers’ attitudes are changing too and they are much more willing to embrace flexible working patterns than they were. Women tell me their employer would rather have a part of them than none of them. They are also looking more creatively about how they deploy staff in the recession. For instance, if they are normally quiet in July and August it may work well to hire a working mum with school-aged kids.”
Gould has worked for the big corporates. She worked, for instance, on KPMG’s Retaining Talented Women programme. She says many companies are more enlightened about how retaining women means they cut costs incurred from women leaving and their having to hire and train new staff.
Gould also works with individual women and says one of the main concerns she hears from women remains how they can manage work and family life. She admits her work with companies fell for about a year at the start of the recession and she did more work with individuals, but the corporate work is now coming back.
In the past year, she says, her work has been less with people who have lost their jobs than with women returning from maternity leave, many of whom may want to change job, and with people who want to move on from where they are now. Many people are interested, she says, in how they can progress their careers while working flexibly.
Women returners, and others, often lack confidence, she says. She counsels them to build this up by doing the things they think they are good at. If you have been out of work for a while she says, volunteering is a good way to expand your skills and do something you like doing.
Gould herself does voluntary work with a Jewish-funded NGO dedicated to sustainable development and humanitarian aid. She says she finds it very valuable feeling that she has some input into something so important.
On career progression, Gould agrees that women often find it hard to negotiate higher salaries and promotion, but she says this is all about how you present yourself. She suggests rehearsing how to start conversations about this with your manager. “Often the problems are in your own head and it is more straightforward than you think. It’s not that women don’t know their own value so much as that they are worried othe rs don’t see it. Men have the same problems. They are uncertain about how to put themselves forward. It’s more to do with childhood experiences and how we talk to ourselves than to do with gender.”
Working from home
Gould, whose children are now aged 15 and 12, works from home, but meets clients in a variety of settings, including their offices or a neutral space. She also does coaching by telephone.
She says now that her children are older she is freer to work during term time, but says that, on the other hand, she feels less comfortable delegating the time that she does have with them to others. “I like to be around to ensure they do their homework and are not playing computer games and to help out with things like choosing A Levels and work experience. You cannot delegate these things. They have more of their own social life now so time with the family becomes something you have to carve out space for.”
If you have any questions for Katerina, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Katerina will be joining our expert panel and will be writing occasional articles for working mums.co.uk on careers advice. We will be relaunching our Q & A section in the next weeks and plan to answer questions from different perspectives rather than just give one expert answer.