Elixirr Partner Clare Filby on how getting ahead is a two-way street

03 October 2018 Consultancy.uk 6 min. read

With UK businesses still grappling with a persistent gender divide, despite generations of struggle to deliver workplace equality, many companies are exploring ways to promote the talents of women within their organisation. Elixirr Partner Clare Filby sat with Consultancy.uk to suggest which practical steps employers can take to help women rise through their organisations.

Clare Filby arrived at Elixirr in 2014, following more than 17 years with Accenture. Having become a Senior Executive at the global professional services firm, she had decided the time was right to pursue her own interests.

“I wanted new opportunities, dynamism and the ability to manage my own workload – work that I created for myself to fit around the other priorities in my life, such as investing time and money working with start-ups and charity ventures,” she explained. “Perhaps that was the entrepreneur in me! I wanted to branch out into new areas, new industries and not be siloed into any one function. Little did I know that I could have the best of both worlds – I just had to find somewhere where I could make it happen.”

Having arrived at Elixirr, Filby quickly learned one of the most important lessons of her career in this regard. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” She explained that working at Elixirr has enabled her to have the balance she was seeking, as when a consultant works is less important than what they deliver, thanks to the firm’s corporate culture.

Elixirr Partner Clare Filby on how getting ahead is a two-way street

“As a firm of entrepreneurs, it’s the value that you deliver that’s important, not hours. And this doesn’t affect client work at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Even if I’m physically ‘at work’ 50% of the time, I’m putting in 100% of my effort whenever I’m there. This kind of flexibility is highly valued at a results-based business like ours, a trend I hope will become more commonplace as executives begin to understand that presenteeism does not equate to increased productivity. Output always trumps hours.”

Flexible working hours have increasingly been spoken of as a method of increasing productivity within a business, in recent times. This is particularly the case in regards of improving a business’ engagement of women in its structure, and a recent study suggested that working mothers lost as much as £1.3 trillion to inflexible UK employers last year alone. By addressing gender divides such as this, companies could tap into a neglected wealth of talent and productivity. When it comes to addressing how to best diversify their workforce, Filby asserted than there a multitude of tactics managers can leverage.

“The role of management is fundamental and can play a huge part in catalysing career development, especially for women in an organisation. Rather than expecting individuals to conduct business-as-usual day by day, executives should be encouraging their entire team to explore new disciplines and opportunities. Championing workforce versatility is a tried and tested method to help get the most out of individuals and propel business growth. Yet, why is it that we still see a lot of ‘talk’ amongst leadership around this topic but very few seem to be walking the ‘walk’, leading the way and proactively making the difference?”

Walking the walk

Proactive management behaviour can also be used to help encourage a greater diversity further up a firm. Many women involved in businesses remain reluctant to seek a promotion at work, unless they feel they are already adequately trained for it. This could be seeing valuable potential going to waste, and is something Filby believes can be challenged by management behaviours.

“As you get more senior, for both men and women, transitioning into better roles with more responsibilities is encouraged and will shape your development – if not, you risk being left behind. However, it is often said that women won’t put themselves forward for a new role until they are sure they can do 100% of it – and I think that’s true. Senior management must actively own their responsibility to encourage high potential women to apply for that next role at the same time as their male counterparts may apply – often when they can do just 20% of the role.”

“I was challenged to take on a really difficult project – way beyond my comfort zone, but with the promise of support and opportunity should I succeed. The result was incredible - it was one of the best experiences in my career.”
– Clare Filby, Partner at Elixirr

Filby elaborated using her own experience, recalling, “Given the right environment, which you can co-create with those around you, women will undoubtedly demonstrate their potential and shine. That’s what happened to me – I was challenged to take on a really difficult project – way beyond my comfort zone, but with the promise of support and opportunity should I succeed. The result was incredible - it was one of the best experiences in my career. I learnt so much and was tested constantly but we delivered for our client. Shortly afterwards I was promoted to Partner and there is unquestionably a correlation between the two events. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that with the right support there’s a directly proportional relationship between professional success and self-confidence, tenacity and resilience.”

She was keen to stress that individuals also need to believe in themselves as well though. Filby expanded, “It’s a two-way street however. Everyone, regardless of gender, should be proactive when it comes to their own confidence-building efforts – but don’t do this as an island. Instead, build up a network of mentors and leaders around you who support and inspire you. This has proven to be an invaluable exercise on my journey. I made sure I weaved my own safety net whilst ensuring I championed the talent around me…and I would encourage you to do the same. Contrary to popular opinion, achieving success need not be a lonely endeavour.”

In line with that, Filby concluded, “My final advice? Push yourself out of your comfort zone, grab every opportunity and empower yourself.”