Get to know Jessica Dowding – Facilitator and Coach 

What’s been a defining moment for you as a woman in your career?

One experience that really stands out for me, is my return to work from maternity leave after having my first son. I was HR business partner in a large corporate, in a male dominated industry and my clients were all white men in their 40s-60s at ExCo and ExCo-1 level. Two things happened. Firstly, my clients were really pleased to see me when I came back. It was very gratifying that I was missed and my contribution valued. Secondly, I had a big realisation as a new parent that my clients had once been vulnerable babies like my baby at home. That was a really defining a-ha moment because it helped me realise that these really senior folks that I’d been awed by were human beings too. I found a lot of confidence in this phase in my professional life.

Many women experience low confidence on the return to work from a period of maternity leave / care related leave, so I feel very grateful for this experience.

 What’s your view on the current state of gender equity?

I think there are pockets of great practice. Certainly some of the clients that we work with really demonstrate the desire and will to facilitate really successful gender equity in their companies.

However, there are still really shocking situations where people in organisations are fearful of the consequences of speaking up. Situations where the psychological safety is so low that people simply don’t speak up.

That said, I feel that the public discourse on gender equity and press coverage of bad behaviour means that people in such situations will at least be aware that that’s not the norm and either do something about it or vote with their feet and leave.

What have you read recently?

The book I’ve most recently read is called “how to be an antiracist” by Ibram X Kendi. although I thought I was an ally, I thought I was an antiracist, I definitely have biases. The book gave me some practical tips for stopping myself in my tracks when race-related biases come through in my day-to-day life.

What is your own experience of the Three Barriers and what tips would you give women navigating their own barriers?

As a parent I worked full time in a large corporate a global role, which required me to be on phone calls early in the morning for APAC and late at night for the America.My boss was based in America and my clients spanned 4 continents. When I returned to work from maternity leave, I agreed with my boss that I would work three days a week from home and two days a week from the office. This was 2014 so before the pandemic, before more of the normalisation of working from home.

The arrangement worked really well for me over four years. Although I got a lot from this role and certainly grew in this time, a couple of things happened that made me realise I wasn’t managing my visibility / reputation for my own career advancement. A close colleague made a minor passing comment about my part time working two days a week. A second, more significant incident came about as my main client who was the CFO raised my name in a talent discussion during an exco meeting. The CPO (chief people officer) had very little to say about me, but my client had more to say about me.

Both these incidents made me realise that I wasn’t managing my visibility and therefore would be losing out on other HR opportunities. It wasn’t as if I was going to get a job in finance! My energies and focus had been on my clients, not those who would have opened doors for my future career back in HR. My advice to those who work flexibly / remotely / part time or even in partnering roles embedded in the business, is that you need to really consciously manage your visibility, your reputation with the decision makers and influencers in the areas of the business where you see your future career.