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Joanne Morrison is a regional managing director at Bovis. She speaks about her career and the importance of shaping a caring culture at work.
As a regional managing director at Bovis, Joanne Morrison is one of a small number of senior women in the construction industry and is aware of her role as a role model for other women in the sector and for the business generally.
At Bovis she has taken two periods of maternity leave which have not impacted on her ability to progress up the career ladder. Her operations director covered her most recent leave, which followed her promotion, and then stepped down when she returned. “It was all very smooth,” says Joanne, “and this has helped change views. Construction is a very male-dominated industry and it makes a big difference for people to see for themselves that it is not a problem.”
Joanne is a lawyer by training. She worked at Bovis from 2006 to 2007 as an assistant solicitor before moving back to private practice, but returned in 2014 as divisional legal director and was promoted in August 2015 to regional managing director in Mercia – a division that sells about 500 private and affordable houses a year and makes £18m profit.
Joanne returned to Bovis because of the people. She had stayed in touch with ex-colleagues during the interim period, including her current boss. They encouraged her to return.
She says she had no plan at the time for being promoted to a managerial role, but her manager was instrumental in putting her forward for the role and encouraging her to go for it. Joanne says he has always been very supportive and adds that she has always been very upfront with employers about her desire to have a family so both employer and employee can shape their career path around that.
“If they are a good employer they will want you to succeed,” she says. “Bovis is very much like that. They want you to succeed. It is a real strength of the business and I am really proud of that and of helping to shape it,” she says. “As a manager it can be difficult if a key person takes time out, but you can manage that more successfully if you are able to plan for it.”
Joanne has taken three lots of maternity leave in total: one with her previous employer when her son Thomas was born six years ago. She returned part time for nine months before moving back to full time. At Bovis she took one maternity leave in 2016 during which time her baby died and then another three-month period of maternity leave in 2017 when she was managing director.
She works full time with some flexibility. She generally gets into work at around 9.30am. Her husband doesn’t work so does pick-ups and when she gets home around 7pm Joanne switches off her phone until her sons are in bed. She sometimes works in the evenings after they are asleep, but will only work at the weekend if there is an emergency. She says this is true for most of the management team. Joanne says she is also lucky that both sets of grandparents are nearby too.
Many in her team are managing family and work life, including dads who increasingly share childcare duties, so there is a need for a certain degree of flexibility. Despite being outnumbered by men in the industry, Joanne says she has never faced discrimination or intimidation. She is keen to encourage more women to climb the career ladder and to find their voice. “I think it is the responsibility of women at higher levels to give more junior women that voice, to be a role model and mentor,” she says while recognising that the kind of support she has at home is not the norm.
She adds that the team at Bovis have been very supportive, particularly when she returned from her second bout of maternity leave after her baby died. It was more about individuals at that point as there was not the HR infrastructure there is now, which includes counselling and signposting to relevant bodies.
Joanne says the culture of an organisation is built on individual interactions between people and she hopes that she has helped to shape the sort of business Bovis now is – one where there is a family feel. She cites, for example, the fact that her CEO remembers the anniversary of her baby’s death. That kind of culture, where people are not afraid to address grief, is vitally important, she says, because it means people can speak about difficult personal experiences.
By talking about her experience, she says, it helps others who might be going through or who will go through similar situations in the future. “It’s important to be open as it gives people a voice,” says Joanne. “The worst thing you can do is not to speak about it. Talking about it helps you to process it.”
That openness has led to others coming up to her to speak about experiences they have been through. “I think it has made me a more rounded leader. I am able to empathise with people better. That is how I have dealt with it,” she says.
Now this is all embedded in policy as well as practice at Bovis and the company has put a big emphasis on wellbeing. Joanne says: “There is real awareness around mental health issues and it’s very important for everyone, men and women, to talk about them. Bovis is a very caring employer and I am very proud to work for them.”