Rachel Taylor is one of those rare people who knew what she wanted to do from an early age. Obsessed with music, Rachel’s long-term career goal included studying music performance and qualifying to become a music therapist. What wasn’t part of the original plan, was finding out she was pregnant – six weeks before her university scholarship began.
This unexpected news meant that instead of embarking on a journey to pursue her dream career, Rachel needed to find work, and quickly. Securing an administrative role at her local Building Society, Rachel found an opportunity to gain valuable experience and new skills before finishing for parental leave. On her return to work, Rachel admits feeling lost. She was returning to a position where she’d had as much time off as she’d been employed, and the realisation that she needed to progress in a different field proved daunting. When you don’t know what career options are available to you, what do you do?
At this time, the Building Society was embarking on a continuous improvement programme and assembling a team to drive change. Rachel thought the programme sounded interesting and she joined the team, taking a sideways step as a process analyst. This new role was ideally suited to Rachel’s natural style of working – with an affinity for asking questions about how things worked, a logical brain which helped her in mapping processes, Rachel thrived in her new position.
Rachel describes this move as being the first pivotal moment in her career advancement. With a supportive manager who believed in her potential, Rachel developed her skills and was encouraged to take on more responsibility and she secured two pay rises within 18 months. A job of last resort had turned into an interesting and compelling career, and one where Rachel could achieve more than she ever thought possible – making something for herself and her young daughter.
Fast forward five or six years and Rachel has developed into an inspirational programme manager who loves her work. Constantly re-evaluating her ambitions, Rachel’s career challenge changed, enter pivotal career moment number two: Rachel knew she wanted to advance but didn’t know how.
In 2020, Aldermore Bank nominated Rachel for The Pipeline’s Leadership Summit; a three-day residential programme which helps women stuck in middle management break free from the self-limiting beliefs which can often hold them back. Of Leadership Summit, Rachel says “it really cemented for me what I have the potential to do”. Rather than thinking about competency, Rachel started thinking of capability and what she could achieve if she seized the opportunity, rather than waiting for it to be presented. Cementing her ambitions of progressing to an executive role in Programme Leadership, Rachel recognised that the first part of getting the role you want is to apply for it. Women often fall into what we call the ‘Attainment Trap’ – the process of being inwardly focused on the job, rather than outwardly focused on what you want to achieve. Choosing perfectionism, many women look at the smaller number of things in the job description they can’t do, rather than the things they can.
Throughout Leadership Summit, Rachel learned that to advance her career, she needed to step away from being an individual contributor and move back into a leadership role. Whilst her role required her to be commercial, Rachel wasn’t the P&L holder, so she sought out ways within her company where she could gain this experience. By clarifying her goals, Rachel engineered opportunities to
gain more exposure to the executive team about the company’s process improvement plans and what it meant from a change capability perspective. Rachel learned to consciously change the language she used to bring her stakeholders on the journey with her and think about the presence she had within the most senior leadership teams.
Rachel speaks about putting into place techniques she learned on the programme such as selecting the behaviours which convey her personal brand and values. This is an exercise we run, where women select the most relevant words which describe their leadership style, behaviours and strengths, which is essential for promoting themselves within the workplace. As a naturally quiet and reserved individual, Rachel began to feel more confident that her super power is the ability to find middle ground to get others on board. Another ‘a-ha’ moment came when Rachel realised that her style allows her to challenge others without coming across as antagonistic or difficult and she could back it up with examples where she’d succeeded in moving the company’s goals forward.
To succeed in a leadership role, Rachel learned she needed to display these characteristics more often. Spurred on by the women she met on Leadership Summit, Rachel went on to help set up a women’s employee network at work, encouraging others to have belief in their own potential. Facilitating the network became a way of ‘playing it forward’ and proving her ability to identify high potential, diverse talent like her manager did for her many years ago. Helping support women who were under-utilised or not confident in communicating their skills do an excellent job through coaching and sponsorship has been another benefit of how Rachel became an inclusive leader following the programme.
Rachel is now Head of Continuous Improvement & Change at DF Capital. She was a participant on Leadership Summit and wrote about her experiences as part of International Women’s Day 2022.