There’s still huge inequality between the number of male and female leaders in UK business, however there are some women who are breaking through that ‘glass ceiling’ and showing the men how it should be done!  In September’s GBWN meeting we were lucky enough to hear from one of these women, Alison Ward, CEO of Torfaen County Borough Council.

Alison gave an inspirational and honest talk to the group, sharing with us her highs and lows, that many of us could relate to, both personally and from a business perspective.

From an early age, Alison took on two of the traditional roles of women, carer and wife, but although at this stage of her life she put her career aspirations in second place she still managed to forge her way in a very male dominated environment, working as a Criminal Lawyer in Sheffield.  Alison admitted her fear at having to move to Sheffield and work in criminal law but said that it taught her a lot, which led to her sharing her first tip with us – the more it scares you, the better it is for learning!

After a few years Alison came back to work in Wales taking a variety of roles in what was then West Glamorgan Council, a legal firm in Neath  and  Neath County Council.  This breadth of experience made Alison realise that money is not as important as what you love to do which led her to work back in a local council environment, and was really the start of her journey to becoming CEO of Torfaen County Borough Council.

Alison started in Torfaen Council as Vice CEO, looking for a more strategic role, but being the only female member of the board she had a lot of work to do to change the mind sets in this male dominated environment!  Her hard work paid off and with the support of her colleagues and peers Alison became CEO after only 2 years with the council.

Alison shared with us her fears of being a leader and the power that brings, but also what she believes creates great places to work – culture!  Alison believes that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” and that to grow your business and be a good leader you need to empower the people at the grass roots.

Alison also shared some great tips that she learnt on her way up the ladder:

  1. Authenticity - always be yourself
  2. Gravitas – have self assurance and believe in yourself
  3. Know your business – know the basics of what makes your business tick
  4. Ditch the guilt – you can’t be perfect all the time, good is ok and sometimes bad is excusable!
  5. Be nice – but don’t be overly responsive!
  6. Value yourself – your time is as important as everyone elses