I don’t feel ready to retire. I was 58 when I was offered a senior job at Bupa. I thought it would be so much more difficult but my age was never an issue. I’m 61 now and I still think I’ve got a lot to offer.
Catherine & Claudia
Catherine: I was born in 1955, the eldest child of seven. I was brought up in a really rough housing estate in Glasgow. I’m not saying there was a murder every week… but it was tough. My father saw no value in a woman being well educated. I was the first of the family ever to go into further education. I fought hard to get there. I had to stay at home throughout university, I worked 14 hours per week in term time and full time every summer, every Easter, every Christmas. I paid a contribution to the house from that money.
Claudia: I never liked school and I was always good at sport. I swam competitively and trained, for years, every day of the week. I went to uni to do Sports Therapy but later realised this was not for me.
Catherine: In my early career, it was all men in managerial positions. I realised that if you were in the inner circle – if you went to the golf dos, the after-conference, the clubs – then you were okay. But the things they organised after work would always exclude you somehow. You had to deal with managers who thought you’d sleep around, you’d do anything. So I learned how to deal with that – being Glaswegian does have advantages.
I remember managers saying, “You’re coming to the meeting, but we don’t expect you to speak.” I just thought, ‘I can’t sit here and not say anything because then I don’t feel that I’m earning my salary,’ so I would always be prepared to speak up. In the early days, it was hard until you’d established a reputation for delivery, for capability and talking sense.
Claudia: I was told that I wouldn’t get hired as a therapist to look after football or rugby teams, because being a woman you are a lawsuit waiting to happen. My argument was always, “I can handle that. I can deal with a few rowdy boys, it’s fine.” But they wouldn’t take the risk on hiring a woman. I thought to myself ‘I’m never going to get to the top, so why keep going up this ladder if I can never reach where I want to be?’ And then I just sort of fell into HR from there.
Catherine: I used to think nobody would let me take on a senior role when I’d only got a couple of years to go until retirement. But I was 58 when I was offered a senior job at Bupa! I thought it would be so much more difficult, but it was never an issue. Three years ago, I asked Claudia if she could help out as a temp for a few days, she said, “I’m never going to work with you.” But I pleaded with her and pleaded with her and she came.
Claudia: I was just going to do it for three days and I’ve been here ever since. I’m 24 and it’s my fourth role now. I’ve moved up quite quickly in three years but that’s because the company gives so much in terms of development if you want it, if you ask for it. I think I’ll get a big shock if I move to other companies.
Catherine: She sits about this far away from me on a daily basis. I think I’m much harder with her than anybody else, and I’m much quicker to point out when something hasn’t been quite right.
Claudia: At first I always had loads of questions to ask at the end of the day, whereas Mum was very much done for the day. So I’d ask, “What about this?” and she’d say, “I don’t want to talk about work.” But I have an expert at hand, so that does help and I want to use it.
I wasn’t in the best place mentally when I came in at first. I was quite down, but everyone was being so nice it completely lifted me out of that. As the boss’s daughter, I thought ‘Am I going to get treated differently?’ but there’s none of that.
Catherine: One of the things that we’ve introduced in my team is agile working. I think that is one of the biggest benefits that we’ve had. And it’s paying dividends for us, for the quality of people we’ve been able to attract in. I’ve had twelve people promoted last year and I only lost one person, out of forty. I’ve got to that stage in my career where I see my contribution is developing the lifeblood of the organisation.
Claudia: My peers are not just colleagues; they feel a lot like friends. The biggest thing that’s keeping me here is the people. That’s a big deal breaker. I mean, if the work was great and I was being paid tonnes of money, but the people were not good to work with, I couldn’t stay. Life’s too short to be just about making money.
Catherine: See that’s the difference in attitude isn’t it? I’m thinking, ‘Well I’d put up with that!’ That’s where the difference is between us – that you’re the same, but different. The whole world has changed for young women of Claudia’s age.
When my first child Daniel was 4 months old I came back to work, my senior manager was concerned that I would be leaving work at a set time because of childcare. He said I needed to get my priorities sorted! He thought that I was clock-watching and that I needed to decide whether my child was more important than my job.
Everybody in that business worked excessive hours, which was expected but it wasn’t necessary. Every day I ran the gauntlet of managers making remarks: “There she goes again, she’s finishing at half past five. It must be great for you, part timer” or “Oh and they say women are treated poorly…” At the time I had just turned thirty, I had a young child… you’re just praying to God that you can get to the child minder in time, that you’re not going to lose your job. I was upset sometimes, I was angry. But I was absolutely determined.
When Claudia was 6 months old I went back to work again. When I got back, they’d already replaced me and there was somebody in my position. I had a very difficult time for the first couple of weeks but in the end I was made redundant. I was sad to leave; twenty years is a long time to be in one company.
I think at that time there was a judgement that you had to make as a woman – you knew that you had access to tribunals and legal protections, but you had to stop and think about the implications of so doing. Because whether you liked it or not, you then got the stigma of ‘troublemaker’ attached to you. Now young women are coming back from maternity leave with the expectation of things being on their terms, rather than a request. Women are much more in control.
Claudia: I do want to be quite high up in HR, I want to be the Head or Director. I kind of want Mum’s job! I suppose personally, I do want both a family and a career. My dad was basically a stay-at-home husband, he looked after us day-in-day-out. I wouldn’t want my partner to sacrifice his career and nor would he want me to do the same.
Catherine: I’m 61 now. I don’t feel ready to retire. I still think I’ve got a lot to offer. In my performance review, my manager says I behave as if I’m starting my career!
Claudia: This job has made a big difference to my life. Work’s given me something to do, something to get up for. Something I’m good at.
I get anxiety sometimes. If a lot piles up on me I can play it out as if it is there, happening in front of me. I think I’ll always have it but I’m aware of it now. Once you know the triggers and know what you’re looking for… I can now manage it for myself and I don’t feel like it owns me anymore at all. Now I’ve got full control of it. Having a mum who knows that about me, she can get me before I go off the rails. I think it’d be really hard not to have anyone see the signs.
Catherine: I’ve had individuals in my team who had mental health issues. You’ve got to look for the signs where you see somebody looking a bit distressed and you think that it’s unusual. It’s easy for people to think, ‘Oh just give yourself a shake!’ but that is the last thing they want. You don’t know the nature of the illness well enough to make that comment.
If you think something’s wrong, just take them aside and ask what the problem is. In my early career I might have ignored it; now I feel more confident asking. Not everybody will open up to you, so you just need to keep an eye out. Maybe if you ask the next time, they might feel more comfortable. All you need to do is listen to what they have to say and ask what they need.