Meet the first mentees on Norfolk’s female-focused career coaching scheme

We Can business mentoring scheme. Mentees Izzy Phoenix, left, and Bethan Gill. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

We Can business mentoring scheme. Mentees Izzy Phoenix, left, and Bethan Gill. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Gender pay gap reporting has uncovered the inequality in top jobs across the UK – but the We Can scheme in Norfolk is hoping to coach ambitious women to help their journey up the career ladder. Bethany Whymark met its first two mentees.

• The 'career woman'

Bethan Gill has been in professional services for 10 years. She worked for KPMG, in offices around the country as she and her husband travelled for his job, before moving to Grant Thornton's Norwich office two years ago.

After a recent promotion the 37-year-old senior tax manager is now one of the most senior women in her office – but she says that, while the firm's chief executive is female, all the top jobs in her office are still held by men.

Mother of a four-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, she works three days a week in order to maintain a work-life balance she is satisfied with.

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But she doesn't think her reduced working hours – or those of any other mother – should impede her career progression.

She first got involved with We Can by considering mentoring, but realised there was a lot she could learn from being mentored.

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She said: 'My main challenges are balancing my home and work life, tackling perceptions and barriers in the workplace – because I think there is a lot of unconscious bias out there – and managing my own expectations. My goal is to understand how I can balance that progression with my family life.

'I went full time after my daughter started school, I dropped again to three days a week because I wasn't getting the balance right but I don't want that to scale back my ambition.'

A shift in attitudes would be crucial to helping businesses understand 'that part-time does not mean you are not fully committed', Ms Gill said.

'We need to move to a mindset that is about output, not input or just how much time you spend at your desk,' she said.

'Maybe in our office I can become the role model to show others that is it possible to do both, to not give 100% of your time but to give 100% in effort while you are here.'

She added that supporting women in work 'can only be positive' for men. 'They have a lot of pressure to provide for a family, and if you can share that pressure it will be beneficial.'

• The entrepreneur

Izzy Phoenix made her name as a children's book illustrator, but a course in art therapy led to a change of direction.

The 31-year-old said: 'I feel I am most rewarded by getting other people to share their creativity. That is what I am passionate about, especially with children.'

To this end she started educational business Sprout Studio, through which she gives workshops at her home near North Walsham and also teaches classes in local primary schools.

She found out about We Can through accountancy firm Rostrons, which is coordinating the scheme, and knew immediately that she wanted to apply.

'They explained its goal to empower women in the workplace and I really took to that,' she said.

'It is quite a critical time for Sprout Studio and I want to make the most of the resources that are available. That is the primary focus now – although I still have illustration work I want to focus more on the business.'

But with plans to take Sprout Studio around the UK and possibly further afield – she has already hosted workshops in San Francisco and the Caribbean – she says she'll need a new skill set, which she hopes We Can can help her to develop.

'I want to be able to look at myself as a leader, which I have not done before. Illustration is a very solitary kind of job but for Sprout Studio to reach its full potential and grow the number of workshops, I am going to have to manage staff, to trust other people and give them responsibilities,' she said.

'It is not my natural disposition to put myself in that role, but I'm interested to see what kind of leader I will be.'

She said more businesses needed to appreciate the importance of balance and partnership in parenting. 'There are a lot of stereotypes that no one wants to keep repeating. Being a partnership is important and if workplaces can come on board and understand that is what people want, it will help,' she said.

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