Fantastic Female – author Gill Whitty-Collins

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

Gill WhittyCollins spent 26 years with Procter & Gamble (P&G), latterly as Vice-President, running leading global brands such as Olay, Clairol, Always, Tampax and Pantene. She was born near Liverpool, to a Scouse Catholic family, the youngest of 3 sisters.

How did you balance being a mother and professional? 

My son Joe was born when I was at University (just after my second year exams, I had to sit them in a special room because I couldn’t fit into the exam hall desk with my bump!) So when I started my career at Procter & Gamble he was already a year old and I needed to find a way to fit my work into a 9-6 day (his nursery hours). I’m actually really glad of that because it meant that, from day 1, I had to work this way – most people there were working 12+ hour days (because they could) and it was very tough to adjust later when they became parents. I admit I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to compete with my peers who were working such long hours, but in fact I could and it didn’t hold me back from being promoted quickly to Brand Manager, Marketing Director, General Manager and ultimately Vice President. I actually believe that being a mum from the start and having a hard ‘nursery closing’ deadline every day forced me to identify and focus on the key priorities and make sure I got them done. I think we are all guilty of being less efficient when we have more time to play with.

What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career? 

I don’t feel that it was working per se that led to me having to make personal sacrifices. As long as you have a reasonable, flexible employer who understands that there are key moments in your life you cannot miss or compromise on then you can avoid sacrificing them. No it’s not the 9-6 that gets you, it’s the travel. As I became more senior, I spent more and more days on planes and evenings and nights away from home as we visited the markets to discuss business issues, or conducted consumer research on brand launches or communications. I know I was too absent from home and this affected my son in his teenage years – they may not want to talk to you or even sit with you but they like to know you are there! It was always when I was away that he got into trouble. I also think it’s very hard to have a career like that and sustain a healthy relationship – as I say in my book, successful women have a supportive, non-emasculated man or no man at all! If I could have my time again, I would refuse to do a lot of the travel (which is also physically exhausting by the way). I think the past few months have shown us that most things can be done virtually.

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

Lauren Grieve

In terms of professional sacrifices, it sounds rather dramatic but in the end you could say I sacrificed my career for my life. I looked at the people at the next level (President) and I didn’t see a single one who wasn’t in meetings or on email or calls 7am to 11pm (including weekends and holidays). Up to Vice President level I had been able to avoid this but it seemed the road had run out on that – these were brilliant, highly efficient people and they were working this way so there was no reason to believe I could avoid it. This wasn’t the life I wanted, and especially not as I wasn’t saving lives, I was selling soap and moisturiser! I didn’t want to give every hour of every day to work at the expense of life – and ultimately I wanted to use the hours I have every day for work to do something more meaningful I could be proud of: the gender equality mission.

Who inspired you and why?

I’m inspired by people who see things differently from the crowd and can find a way to communicate this effectively without people thinking they are mad. In a big, global company people largely think and say the same things, which can be very dull. I love new and fresh thinking and thinkers, whatever their field, whatever their gender.

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?

I have so much advice to give, I could go on for days and there are pages on this in the To Do lists section of the book! The first thing to say is that I get very irritated when people push the gender equality problem onto women’s shoulders and suggest that they just need to ‘Lean In’ and it will be fine – it won’t, we need men to embrace this issue and the solutions or we will get nowhere, because they have virtually all of the decision-making power today. But having said that, women do have some things they can do and some of my top tips would be:

  1. Remember ‘The umbrella theory’. Remember that meritocracy is a myth and stop waiting for your boss to notice all the great work you are doing ‘under the umbrella’. Accept that your manager isn’t going to spend his whole day thinking about you and your work.  Help him out, help him to see you. And networking isn’t a crime, get comfortable with it – ‘relationship currency’ is as important as ‘performance currency’.
  2. Take ownership of your career – it’s yours to own, nobody else’s. Lay out what you would like from your career and do protest if you don’t get the job or promotion you feel you deserve – if necessary, show you value yourself and vote with your feet and leave (this is what men do and it shows they value themselves and makes others value them). And get yourself out of a role or place if it is not for you and into one that is: find a place that fits you, not a place you have to fit into. Being in a place where you feel you belong and can be your authentic self is everything and you will not ultimately succeed without this.
  3. Be proud to say you are a feminist and to support gender equality and other women. Don’t collude with anyone who tries to silence you – remember that wherever you look, over 90% of the leadership roles are held by men and we will never make progress if we don’t stand up and fight for ourselves and for other women. We are equal in intelligence, competence and leadership ability – but we are not equal in society. We need to change this and we won’t do that by staying quiet or separated.
  1. FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

Do you think women feel intimidated in business?

I don’t believe that women are intimidated by business itself – we are as intelligent and competent as men, as we know from the data. But I do think many (most, even) women are intimidated when they find themselves in a male-dominant culture, for example an Executive or Board meeting full of men. They may be decent men with good intentions but, more often than not, they will monopolize the air time, make it difficult to get a word in edgeways, interrupt a woman mid-way through her point, ignore what she said and maybe even repeat it later. Some women have a thick enough skin to keep persevering, but many do not – and that means they become more and more reluctant over time to try to contribute. Being interrupted, ignored and not valued is not enjoyable and it is intimidating. And the business loses out, because it misses out on the contribution she has to make.

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?  

In summer – in a sunny spot with my coffee and something (ideally vacuous) to read. I still never work evenings, weekends or holidays.

In winter – on the ski slopes in La Clusaz (or, more realistically, on the way to them – my intentions to be on the chair lift by 10am never quite turn into reality!)

What do you love about your job?

I used to lead and build brands for 25 years – Pantene, Olay, Head & Shoulders, Always, Tampax – and I absolutely loved it. They are amazing, leading brands and it was a privilege to contribute to see them getting stronger based on the business decisions we were making and our communication plans.

Now my job is to help organizations, businesses and individuals (men and women) with the ultimate goal of driving gender equality and this is hugely rewarding. I loved writing the book (WHY MEN WIN AT WORK) and I really enjoy the speeches, discussions, consulting and coaching work it leads to – every time I see the ‘penny drop moment’ happen for someone it feels brilliant and I know we are going to make a change happen.

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?

Moving to Geneva in 2004 to work on global businesses with global teams. I had worked on the UK Beauty Care business until then, which I loved, but it was amazing to experience the power of diversity in those teams, with people from every country, origin and culture. It taught me so much about business, about people, about the world – and about the gender equality issue.

What’s the worst career decision you’ve ever made?

My worst career decision was not making the decision  to change my career sooner. I wish I had read my own book 10 years ago! If you’re not in the right place or culture for you, you need to get out and into the right one. I spent too long trying to change the culture I was in, and trying to find a way to fit in. It doesn’t work and I should have realized that sooner and focused my time and energy elsewhere.

What would you be doing if you were me now?

I would be trying to reach as many people as you can with your work – I’m sure you are doing that. You are already reaching thousands and every tip, every piece of advice, every word of support makes such a difference.

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

How do you organise your time?

I am famously well organized, too much so I think. I always start the day with some exercise (a run, or Pilates) and I have a clear plan every day of what I need to achieve and deliver. I can’t stop and relax until I’m done, but I always aim to be there by 6pm so the evening can start. I often wish I was less disciplined and organized and a bit more chilled and flexible, but then I guess I wouldn’t be me!

What do you think is your greatest strength?

Strategic thinking is my biggest strength I think. It is the thing that comes completely naturally to me, in any situation  (work or personal) I cannot stop myself from anaylyzing, simplifying and coming up with a strategy and plan. I’m always giving people my strategic point of view on what they should do, whether they ask for it or not!

What do you think is your greatest weakness?

I always have a clear plan on what to do and how and there are times when it would be good to be more agile and flexible – I get there when needed but sometimes it is hard for me to let go of something I had in my mind. My son is brilliant at being agile this and I really admire and envy it, but it means we make a great team.

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

How do you make decisions?

Always strategically. I refuse to make a decision until I have heard all the input and assessed all the options. I can’t bear bad decisions that don’t stick because people didn’t listen and learn enough before they made them – we’ve seen a lot of examples of that recently haven’t we? My decisions take a bit longer but I think they are good ones.

What do you read?

Obviously I read a lot of books about feminism and gender equality (or the lack of it). But when I relax, I relax and I will devour anything enjoyable – even if it’s not intellectually very cool! I love the escapism of a magazine or something that makes me laugh – during lockdown I read ‘I’m Absolutely Fine! A manual for imperfect women’ and absolutely loved it. My favourite author of all time is Jane Austen though, she’s the only author whose books I can read over and over again.

What do you think are the secrets behind getting to where you’ve got to?

I have always been focused and worked hard. This meant I got good exam grades, which got me to Cambridge University, which helped me get a job with Procter & Gamble. It meant I did a good job for my brands and businesses, which meant I got promoted. But I think above all else, my focus and strategic thinking means I can deliver things well and quickly – so I get a lot done in the time I have and am willing to give to work. Maybe I could have achieved more in my career if I was willing to give more time, but I don’t believe we should give all of our time and our selves to work. It’s a job – it’s not your friend, it’s not your family. Life first, work second has always been my motto.

More Fantastic Females here

FANTASTIC FEMALE – AUTHOR GILL WHITTY-COLLINS

You can purchase Gill’s lastest book “Why Men Win At Work” – HERE

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