Today (8th March 2016) it is International Women’s Day. This is a celebration of the achievements of women around the world. I therefore took the opportunity to interview two very important women in my life – my mother (Philippa) and grandmother (Sandy). In this interview we chatted about their careers, family lives and the challenges women face every day.
I wanted to begin my interview write up with a brief overview of the lives of Sandy and Philippa:
Sandy Aldrich grew up in a working class family in Hull. Through her school years she worked in the local vets every night as an assistant and receptionist. Despite her ambitions to be a vet, she decided science wasn’t for her and went to Art College to do photography. When Sandy tried to apply for her first job as a photographer she was told “we don’t employ girls. This led her to get a job at the World Record Club as she saved up to marry her then fiancé who at the time was finishing his History degree. Sandy got married and had 4 children. Aged 29 she began training to become a magistrate adjudicating in criminal, juvenile and domestic courts. However after 10 years, Sandy decided she wanted to do more to help people, so joined the CAB (Citizens Advice Bureau) and became an advisor; as well as continuing in the courts. Aged 55 she decided to retire so that she could enjoy her grandchildren – Sandy has 8 in total.
Philippa Aldrich, Sandy’s daughter, is an Oxford University graduate who entered the male dominated world of law in the City. The wife and mother of 2 worked her way to the top before a massive career change. Leaving the legal world, Philippa set out to establish herself as an expert in the field of ageing and inclusive design. She started her own business (The Future Perfect Company) and launched a competition that encourages young designers to consider the challenges of ageing (Designing for the Future).
Question 1: What is your biggest achievement or proudest moment in your career and personally?
Sandy: “My biggest achievement was the first time I felt able to take the Chair as magistrate chairman. It was scary and I had to build my confidence, Michael (her husband/ my grandpa) used to give me tips to help me project my voice. My proudest moment personally was all of my children getting their degrees and of course having my 8 grandchildren”.
Philippa: “When I was in the City, my biggest achievement was leading a team acquiring a £1 billion property portfolio – the biggest deal in the West End. After my career change, when I was about 5 years in to DFF at a launch event, I looked around and saw that I had brought together experts, students and tutors. I had created something and my idea had become a reality”.
Question 2: Who was your role model growing up & why?
Sandy: “I didn’t have a role model growing up. Being born in a working class family who had no aspirations, I had to make it up! I think they wanted me to marry a local boy and work in an office, they thought I was a bit odd!”
Philippa: “There weren’t many inspiring female role models in senior positions in the legal world, it was very competitive. I did look up to my father who was an entrepreneur, innovator and successful business man. I also had a very supportive boss for many years. Ronnie Fox, himself a leading lawyer, always believed in developing people’s potential. He was also one of my biggest supporters post law – and my first customer!”.
Question 3: Let’s talk about Work/life balance; how did you juggle work and family responsibilities?
Sandy: “I always put the children first. Although my jobs were voluntary, they were just as demanding. If you didn’t turn up, you let your team down. It was much easier to juggle work and family responsibilities when the children were at school. They did have to cooperate, older ones looking after younger ones and so on. Sometimes it was difficult, but we managed.”
Philippa: “I was an early adopter of flexiworking which was then unheard of in the City (supported by Ronnie). It was very difficult and in the unenlightened 1990s included a certain amount of dissembling so the clients did not find out I was working from home. The key to my success was having a husband who supported my career and was prepared to stay at home and look after the children. This was at a time where he was the only dad in the playground, which he did whilst training for his own career. The alternatives didn’t suit us so we managed all the child care between ourselves”.
Question 4: How do you think women’s position in society has changed over your lifetime?
Sandy: “Women are more educated and assertive now. But they are also expected to do much more, juggling family and careers”.
Philippa: “There is a tension between the confident young women we’re creating and the opportunities that are available to them. There are more women training for professions but there are very few at the top of them. Women in senior positions are still the exception”.
Question 5: What challenges and inequalities for women would you like to see being tackled next?
Sandy: “I am appalled by sexism that still exists in the workplace and unequal pay. I think women are more confident to speak out, but more needs to be done.”.
Philippa: “The workplace needs to be redesigned to be inclusive and flexible. There is a huge challenge ahead with our ageing population as families’ caring responsibilities increase. Often, not always, it is women who are the primary care givers and organisers. We need more flexibility in our workplace without penalties on career progression.”.
Question 6: Any advice for the next generation of women?
Sandy: “If you would like to have children, don’t put it off. Put your family first and make sure you educate daughters as much as sons- give them the same opportunities.”.
Philippa: “Be brave and challenge the norms. You have to be resilient and stand up for yourselves with confidence. We need to get rid of the “imposter syndrome” that so many women feel every day. Believe that you’re good enough.”.