Claire Phillips has been working for the Royal Mail for 17 years and is an inspirational example to other women in the industry of how to progress up the career ranks.
Indeed in the past year she has been involved in the Royal Mail’s Springboard programme for women, talking about her own experiences.
The programme, along with a raft of initiatives aimed at getting more women into the organisation, was part of the reason the Royal Mail won the 2013 Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Career Progression.
Claire joined the organisation as a post lady. After one year in the job, she had the opportunity to rise up the career ladder to the level below management as a result of its Agenda for Leadership programme.
She was interviewed for a six-week intense training course for managers. The course included classroom assessments, fieldwork and learning how to run an operational unit.
She did well on the course and was coached by a delivery office manager in a medium-sized unit with two managers. The manager remained her line manager for a few years until she was able to move on to manage a small delivery office of 40 staff on her own.
From there she moved to another office which had a reputation for union militancy. She was in that job when she became pregnant with her first son who is now 12.
She asked for a demotion to a line management job when she returned six months later. “I felt that being a working mum I would not be able to cope, but after six months when I was comfortable with being a working mum I stepped up again to manage another singleton unit,” says Claire.
It was a large unit with three managers underneath one hour’s commute from home. She stayed there for a couple of years through her pregnancy with her second son, now aged six.
She would drop off the children at a childminders at 7am in the morning, communicate with her line managers over the early morning delivery and be in the office for 8am. “As long as I was there for 8am I was fine.
I would ring them as soon as I was on the road,” she says. She then moved to a delivery office in Bournemouth. It was a challenging role since the office had a poor performance record, but she didn’t have to do a one-hour commute as she lives in Bournemouth and her older son’s school was five minutes away. She was on probation for six months and stayed in the job for a year.
Last year she was offered a Delivery Section Manager role looking after nine units from Southampton to Gosport. Despite the travel implications, she was able to manage her own day so did not have to be in a distant office first thing in the morning.
The only time restriction was that she needed to be available for an 8am conference call with area managers. “After that I could manage my own time and my visits to the nine units,” she says, admitting that she did worry over the practicalities involved in doing the job.
On Mondays, for instance, she had a senior leadership team meeting from 1pm until around 7pm and then faced a commute home. Her family pulled together, though.
Her partner was able to pick up and look after the children. Her partner’s mother also helped out and her own family, who live in Wales, help in the school holidays.
She would plan the week ahead at the weekend. She was able to take time off for some school events, like parents evenings, and could work from home on occasion when one of the children is sick. She says she is careful not to “take advantage” of that benefit.
Recently she was offered a temporary two-month development role as a business partner to the South West director who deals with five delivery directors.
The role means she will have to meet with the director twice a week in Bristol and is a promotion. It could be extended past the first months.
Claire’s steady career progression has meant a lot of change for her family over the years, which has been difficult for her partner who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and finds adapting to change hard. Work can sometimes mean calls in the evening or at weekends.
Line managers often ring her at night so she is warned in advance of any potential staffing or other issues and on Saturday mornings there are conference calls to check on how the morning delivery went.
Claire, who is the main breadwinner in her family, says the Post Office is still fairly male dominated, although it is putting in great efforts to change that. When she was delivery office manager at Bournemouth she was the only female manager in the area.
She said she had built up a lot of respect for being a delivery office manager from a young age and for her experience. “You grow up with the job,” she says.
“No one had wanted to take on Bournemouth as it had a poor performance record so that has helped build respect for me. I am seen as having the bottle to take on a difficult unit.”
And then there is her relatively speedy rise up the ranks. When she was appointed DSM, she was younger than many of her managers and she did worry whether they would listen to her. In the end, though, she says she has built up a good relationship with her team.
“I’ve never had a grievance lodged against me and I know I have strong people skills,” she says.
Claire is keen to see other women climb the career ladder at the Royal Mail and has been involved in the organisation’s Springboard programme for female leaders. She leads a one-day workshop every Monday every two weeks which is aimed at giving female frontline staff the confidence to progress up the business.
Claire talks about some of the issues faced by women and answers questions about her own career progression. She says the workshops help identify women who might benefits from being given a chance to act up in a leadership role.
She gets time out from her regular job for her Springboard role. “It’s about giving women an idea of what they have to do to progress and getting over the fear factor,” she says.
Getting over the fear factor is something she has been able to do throughout a career of taking on new challenges and making it all work alongside her family responsibilities.