What does it take for a woman to get ahead in business? And at Enterprise? Is there a secret handshake to success? Are men truly from Mars and do women emanate from Venus?
We spoke to UK HR director Leigh Lafever-Ayer to take a look at some of the myths of gender diversity to try and bust them, once and for all.
Drive: Leigh, like almost everyone else at Enterprise you started as a management trainee and then you worked your way up from there. As a female director, what do you put your success down to?
Leigh: Success at Enterprise for men and women isn’t down to just one thing. Everyone knows what they are measured on in terms of customer service, employee development, growth and profit. But making a success of those measures requires lots of different factors. My main advice to women is to talk to people, to get help and to have a go. You don’t have to do it all alone and that’s one of the main myths that women carry around with them, that “it’s all down to me.” It really isn’t. Every step of the way, you can get help, whether you need support through a relocation, mentoring, advice on the skills you might need to develop for the next promotion, more flexibility in your role or even a chat about what career options are available to you.
Drive: What do you mean by “talk to people”? Surely at Enterprise we talk all the time?!
Leigh: Yes we do, but we don’t always have the conversations that we need to have! Some of these conversations need to happen outside of the workplace too. For example, talking to your partner or family about how it might be if you chose to relocate. Or suppose you were promoted and suddenly you have to travel a lot. Like the much quoted Sheryl Sandberg says, “is your partner truly a partner?” The stereotype is that women talk a lot but I think we often avoid the questions that we really need to ask. And by the way – at Enterprise we can offer help with that too! If you have a difficult conversation on the horizon and you don’t know how to handle it, reach out to your manager, your mentor, HR – or me. We’re all here to help.
Drive: Talk and get help: that doesn’t sound so hard. But what about the myth that women are too nice and want to be liked too much to push ahead for that promotion? Is that true? Or are women actually much less nice than we think they are?
Leigh: There is nothing wrong with being nice and creating a good team atmosphere, until it gets in the way of women going for that promotion. That is definitely something that we have encountered here at Enterprise. We have an active programme of identifying women that we think are ready for promotion and encouraging them to apply for jobs as we know many capable women won’t have a go unless they think they are 100% ready. But that is also about taking a risk, something else women often resist. I want to encourage women to realise there is no risk in having a go. It doesn’t matter if you apply for a job and don’t get it. There are no repercussions, I promise! On the contrary, women who apply for promotion get exposure to key decision makers in our business. They will eventually get the promotion they want. The experience of going for the job is fantastic training in itself.
Drive: So talk, get help and have a go. Anything else before we wrap up?
Leigh: I want to keep reminding women at Enterprise that we promote from within and that this does make us different from other companies. Everything is focused on nurturing talent and encouraging people to stay and develop their career. We really do need you, and we will do everything that we can to help you to achieve your goals within our organisation. This will require flexibility on all sides. But if we keep the dialogue open and ask the right questions, then I honestly believe that we can create the right conditions for all women to succeed as much as they want.