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TGt Meets...Wendy Gannaway, Director & Chief Performance Officer at Genius Learning Ltd - IWD Special

By Wendy Gannaway, director and chief performance Officer at Genius Learning Ltd, which specialises in helping people be extraordinary - to unlock their inner genius and have the confidence to shine. The team work with larger SMEs and corporates through learning programmes focused on getting results through relationships for Leaders and their teams, Customer Service functions and Learning & Development teams. Their L&D programmes, which are face-to-face and virtual, use Accelerated Learning methodology enabling participants to learn better, quicker and easier than traditional methods.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #choosetochallenge – what would you choose to challenge when it comes to gender equality or inequality this year? 

I would choose to challenge this notion that many women have that in order to be successful you have to be arrogant, underhand, hard and ruthless. 

I believe you have to be extremely driven, focused, determined and resilient, but I also believe…no I know…that showing compassion is a huge strength when getting results with and through the efforts of others, whether they be your staff, colleagues, bosses, customers or suppliers. 

People are not machines. You cannot lead and manage people like robots. If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s precisely that. As long as you keep learning, it is possible to succeed by being the best version of who you are, not what you or others think you should be.

Thinking of your own experience in the world of business – which inequalities, if any, have you experienced personally or witnessed around gender? 

I never witnessed any gender inequalities until recent years, I don’t know why, perhaps because I never focused on it. I’ve worked for more female bosses than male. The companies I have worked in had women represented at board level who were as respected as their male counterparts. 

However more recently I did witness instances where respected women at senior manager and director level seemed to be given a hard time on the rare occasions they needed to cover child care. There seemed to be a lack of compassion by their bosses, not all of whom were men! 

In all instances the style of their bosses' leadership appeared to be dictatorial. The women concerned did challenge their treatment which caused a lot of stress unnecessarily.  

As far as I’m concerned personally, I chose not to focus on my gender as a reason why I did or didn’t get a job or secure a piece of work (since running my own business for the past 17 years). That said, I personally experienced a gender pay gap issue in one place I worked before I set up my own business.

Have you during your career ever challenged a situation where you felt a woman (even it’s yourself) has been disadvantaged by gender? 

At one company, before I started my first business, despite having my professional knowledge and skills that were acknowledged as superior and the company-wide successes I achieved I was paid significantly less than my male colleague. 

I recall mentioning this to the colleague concerned who sympathised he commented that he was older than me and a man. When I challenged my boss about it, he said that he would do what he could to get me an increase and later mentioned that I earnt more than his wife who did an entirely different job, which wasn’t comparable. My pay was never fully adjusted. 

The only other time was when I’d been in business for myself a few years and was doing some customer service work for a construction company. I was training different groups of site managers and recall one particular group of about 15 site managers most of whom hadn’t attended previous dates though they were required to do so. 

This was the only time where I felt belittled, degraded and disrespected due to the fact that I was the only woman in the room and wished I had been co-facilitating with a male colleague. Despite doing my utmost to gain their respect and attention (for the right reasons!) I challenged the group about their behaviour which was to no avail. 

Eventually I decided to end the workshop earlier than the allotted finish time. When all the participants left (and in reality it wasn’t all the group at fault, there were some strong characters who were ringleaders) I remember sitting down and crying in the training room. After I composed myself I used the telephone in the training room and rang the PA to the MD to explain what had happened. She was shocked and very apologetic. 

The next thing I knew, the MD came into my training room having heard from his PA. He listened to me, apologised profusely and assured me that should never have happened. I understand that the perpetrators faced disciplinary action as a result. 

What do you think women offer in particular to the world of business? 

I think women on the whole can offer a deeper insight into situations usually around people dynamics. We seem to notice and pick up signals usually on an emotional level that many men seem to miss or dismiss as being unimportant, but actually matter when it comes to getting results with and through others. 

There’s also a creative thinking variation that I believe women bring in more naturally than men (could be stereo typing like mad here, but it’s how it appears to me).

What do you think men offer in particular to the world of business?

I think the male naturally ability to compartmentalise (on the whole better than a lot of women) means the world of business can benefit from balanced rational thinking especially during complex situations.

Is gender important when it comes to success in business? 

I don’t think so. I’ve chosen not to focus on it and instead focus on doing the best I can. I’m certainly not one to play the ‘female card’. That said, I think it depends what the business is e.g. medical treatment, personal care etc some clients may have a preference and it’s good to be able to offer a choice.

Can you name any women in business you admire? Why? 

Natalie Edwards who is the Marketing Director at CACI. I admire her dynamic nature and desire to succeed which she employs with a skilful blend of compassion and drive to get results. She leads with the heart and this comes across in all her communication. And she will always ‘find a way’ to make something happen even if that means going outside of her remit. She’s one impressive and inspirational individual.

Helen Vandenberghe who is a successful author and runs her own business supporting small business owners to get more clients. I describe her as a serial entrepreneur, someone who has set up a number of businesses and now passes on her knowledge to others. Among the many qualities I admire about Helen are her drive to succeed and boldness. She’s not afraid to experiment and learn new things to ensure an initiative works and she’s not put off if things don’t go according to plan. Her determination is something else, her energy is infectious and she also happens to be one of the most generous people I know.

Charlie Morris who co-founded with her husband Will, Charlie Bears – the range of affordable collectible teddy bears. She opened her first teddy bear boutique in 1998 when she was only in her late 20s where she sold other brands of bears. She noticed how people used to come into her shop and head straight for the high end brands but leave empty handed because they were too expensive. 

This is where she noticed a gap in the market to create beautifully made bears that were high quality but which more people could afford. What I admire about Charlie is that she has made a business out of doing something she absolutely loves and gives her joy. Maya Angelou is quoted as saying 

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” Charlie Morris has done just that.

Can you name any men in business you admire? Why? 

Jeff Bezos of Amazon. I just like his whole positive outlook. I like how his value of ‘be right a lot’ and how he says you can do this with practice if you listen and see multiple viewpoints. I resonated with this because I have experienced a number of leaders who have a ‘my way or the high way’ approach which may achieve a result in the short term but build simmering resentment which comes back to bite them later

Steve Haslam, Chelmsford self-made multi millionaire who with his wife owns a chain of restaurants and pubs across the south east. He didn’t leave school with good qualifications and worked his way up from cleaning toilets. I like how he’s never lost sight of his roots and even with the challenges of the pandemic for his businesses he retains a steely determination to succeed and keep going.

Ralph Lauren. I admire how he made his humble beginnings work for him rather than against him. He started with ties and went on from there. Even when he had setbacks in the early years, he didn’t let that stop him and instead learnt and carried on. I like how he stood his ground in an industry which focuses on latest trends, he said that he never wanted to be ‘in fashion’ because that meant you could easily be out of fashion. Hence why the themes in the brand are timeless. 

Do you think women who start their own business experience more challenges than men? 

I guess as it still tends to be the case where caring responsibilities (for children, elderly parents etc) still tend to fall to women more so than men.

Juggling such responsibilities mean women find themselves ‘fitting work in’ and working different hours in order to make things happen. If their customers operate standard working hours, this could make things challenging. Some may find themselves torn between family responsibilities and business needs and find themselves making sacrifices, which may be hard to maintain physically and emotionally.

What do you think about the gender pay gap? 

Having experienced this once in my life, my view is simple: If you do a good job, regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you come from etc you should be paid appropriately for doing it. To be honest I don’t really understand why there is still a gender pay gap if you pay on merit.

What do you think about the International Women’s Day movement? 

I have to be honest here and say I’ve never been something that interested me or that I’ve focused on. Growing up in the ‘80s I went to an all girls’ school in East London where we were actively encouraged that we could do and be whatever we wanted to be as long as we worked hard at it and that included occupations that were traditionally male orientated. So this was part of my conditioning from a young age.

The occupation I was pursuing at that time (professional musician) didn’t have any gender bias that I was aware of so I guess I was immune from some of the challenges that other girls may have faced pursuing other occupations. If anything, I felt the whole feminist element was overworked on us so much so that I grew tired of hearing about it. Like most things in life, including strengths, if you overuse, overdo, or overwork something it can succeed in pushing people away. I believe that is what happened with me. 

And finally: 

I never expected any special treatment or mistreatment because I was female and I have always been determined to succeed on my own merits. 

If anything the only thing I had to contend with, which I was only aware of when I went to study my degree at Performing Arts college in Cardiff, was where I came from – East London. But even then it was more of a novelty factor because Eastenders was popular on TV at the time! 

And since then, with the couple of instances I described, there are the remarks about where I come from now – Essex and the stereotypes that go with that for both male and female. And when it does arrive, I do what I normally do: laugh, move on, focus on being the best version of me and what I need to do achieve the best possible results, which is what I’ve done all my life.

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