Equal parts advocacy awareness and a call to action, the uniting principles of International Women’s Day are all about positivity.
To celebrate the occasion, we’d like to introduce you to two female leaders of the Gazprom Energy team. Since day one, they’ve made significant impact, leading both their teams and themselves to growth and success in their respective fields.
Yvonne Henderson, our Marketing & Communications Manager – Global Retail, has been with us for seven years, lending her knowledge and expertise to a range of roles and projects, streamlining customer feedback processes and internal communication, as well as shaping the company’s marketing goals along the way.
Alison Neild, who became our Portfolio, Analysis and Change Manager recently, has been with us for four years. In 2014 she joined us as a Business Capability Manager and she has been working on industry and companywide projects, such as Nexus, across Gazprom Energy ever since.
We sat down with them both to ask the importance of balancing gender within Gazprom Energy, the key projects they’re currently working on and the advice they’d give to new female starters looking to start a career with us.
Hello, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Firstly, we’d like to ask a little about your career to date. How did you arrive at your senior position within the Gazprom Energy team?
Yvonne: I joined in 2011, when we only had around 80 employees and no marketing team. My first priority was to create a brand that would help the business achieve its vision of becoming number one in the market. Six months later, Gazprom Energy was born and six years later we reached that market-leading position. I think when you’ve created something from scratch and you’ve seen it grow, you feel very loyal to it which is why I’ve worked so hard to build a career at Gazprom Energy. I’ve always had great support from my managers and colleagues and getting involved in lots of business-wide projects developed my leadership skills to a point where I was given the opportunity to join the management team at the start of this year.
Alison: I joined Gazprom Energy in 2014 as a Business Capability Lead working on various projects in the Manchester and Walluf offices. I spent time with employees across the business to develop a good understanding of our business and how Gazprom Energy functions operationally. In 2015, I was promoted to Business Capability Manager and over the next 18 months took on more line management responsibility for the Capabilities team in general.
The Capabilities team was recently integrated into the IT & Delivery function, and after many conversations about the synergies between the Business Analysis, Capabilities and Business Change teams, I was given the opportunity to bring these functions together under one roof. This brings me to my latest role of Portfolio, Analysis and Change Manager reporting to the Head of IT & Delivery.
Do you have any business heroes? If so, who are they, and why are they so inspirational?
Yvonne: I had a really inspirational female manager in my early career and even though I didn’t realise it at the time, she had a massive influence on me. She taught me so much and put customer experience at the centre of our marketing plans, which created lots of opportunities for me and I’m extremely grateful for that. I have adopted many of her philosophies when it comes to managing and developing people because she showed me, first-hand, the positive influence that trust and encouragement can have on a person.
Alison: If I had to pick one female business hero it would be Jennie Johnson, CEO of the Kids Allowed nursery chain; she came out of the IT consultancy world to start something new. She had the passion, drive and business insight to persuade investors she was a safe bet, and then delivered on it. I was one of her first customers and it was clear from the outset that she put the customer and her staff at the heart of everything she did. She was fully involved in all elements of the business, inspiring and developing all around her. Now she has a chain of Ofsted outstanding-ranked nurseries across the region, has been awarded an MBE and, in 2017, was the first female-awarded CEO of the Year.
Yvonne, working in marketing and communications, how important is it to ensure that a range of perspectives and types of people are represented?
Marketing is all about the customer and the simplest thing a brand can do is show it understands who its customers are. A number of brands (Lloyds Bank, Thomas Cook and Sainsbury’s to name a few) have embraced diversity in recent campaigns and I hope this continues, because our society is changing every day and it’s something to be proud of.
Alison, as an IT specialist, what do you think should be done to encourage more young girls to pursue careers in IT and computer sciences?
Sadly, I didn’t manage to convince my daughter that Computer Science was a viable GCSE option in her recent options decision. She perceived it to be a boy’s subject and it had an extremely low take-up from girls in her school, so there’s still some way to go in terms of marketing this subject to young girls.
I am hopeful that the recent introduction of coding into the primary curriculum will go some way to addressing this and will provide the education at the right age before stereotypes begin to set in. However, the emphasis is still that IT career = coding, whereas education needs to shout about all of the other roles within the IT arena, coding is just a small part of IT delivery programmes and innovative research projects.
How important is a balance of senior male and female figures within the organisation?
Yvonne: I think balance is important on a number of different levels. When looking at how an organisation is set up, I believe personality and experience need to be considered as well as gender. If our management team was made up entirely of analysts, the business would be run in a very different way, so it’s important to have variety. I enjoy working with people who challenge me and who I can learn from - this wouldn’t be the case if we were all the same.
Alison: Prior to working at Gazprom Energy, all of the projects I worked on were extremely male-dominated and it was more the norm that I was the only female in my team. However, since I have joined Gazprom Energy, it has been refreshing to find such a strong professional female workforce.
Most soft skill training courses cover the benefits of team dynamics and how different personalities work well together to achieve better outcomes. The most important thing for me is that a team covers all the skills it needs to deliver its objectives, this means the right person in the right role, irrespective of gender. It has to be said though when you see a female smashing it in a senior position, I do have that ‘Yeah…girl power’ moment.
How do you encourage and inspire the next generation of female leaders within the Gazprom Energy team?
Yvonne: Developing my team has always been my biggest passion; I love to help people grow and further their careers. We’re lucky to have a very comprehensive learning and development offering at Gazprom Energy, so there is plenty of opportunity to learn new skills. My role is to champion personal development and to lead by example by embracing learning opportunities and encouraging my colleagues to do the same. I also believe that inspiration doesn’t have to be top-down; I learn from my team every day and find their passion really motivating.
Alison: Well I guess that would be a question better directed to my team. But I firmly believe that any leader should lead by example and be more than happy to roll their sleeves up as required. I hope that showing this commitment and support as well as a willingness and a passion to deliver, provides the inspiration for people to realise their ambitions.
Tell us about some of the key projects are you currently working on, and the impact these will have on the larger organisation.
Yvonne: My first priority in my new role is to bring our marketing teams in the UK, France and the Netherlands closer together and ensure we’re delivering value to the business. Our priorities are to increase brand awareness, improve customer experience and, of course, generate leads. We’re also developing a new internal communication strategy which I’m really excited about, because we have great people working for Gazprom Energy and I want them to feel appreciated and well informed.
Alison: We have a number of key projects on the go at the moment that my team are supporting across the business. Additionally, in my role heading up the new combined Change and Analysis function, we are looking at developing ways of working to ensure full business integration, along with agile and efficient delivery of change to support business and customer needs.
And finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to a new female starter at Gazprom Energy, what would it be?
Yvonne: I’d say the same to any new starter; if you want to progress, you have to embrace discomfort. It might be daunting to do something different but the more you do it, the more you get used to it and the feeling of being challenged can become quite addictive (even if it is a little scary!)
Alison: It would be the same to either female or male starters, the advice would quite simply be to get involved; take time to understand the business and what we are trying to achieve, and don’t be afraid to challenge and contribute to the Gazprom Energy journey.
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