Essex County Standard - 20 April 2015
It is always refreshing when someone is honest about their journey to success. For Helen Moore the answer is very clear cut.
“If you want to be taken seriously and be credible you need to decide and choose what you want in life,” says Helen. “You have to choose whether your career is very important to you, and if it is, you have to be responsible to demonstrate that to your employer. It is even more important to do so as a woman, because people do make judgements on you. “But instead of saying, that’s not fair, you have to prove why you deserve that promotion or extra responsibility. You have to take it really seriously.”
As the Managing Director of Essex property development company City and Country, Helen heads up a successful company in what is a male-dominated industry. The 49-year-old mum of one, who lives in Great Braxted near Witham, did not get to her position based just on her passion for her work and determination to succeed.
She had a plan. “You have to have a plan – I had a plan. When I first started out in the property industry I set myself a target of being a Director of the company I was working for by the time I was 30. I had read an article in a magazine, an interview with a businesswoman who had done just that, and I knew from that moment that was what I wanted to do.
“And I achieved it. I am pleased to say I became a Director at Countryside Properties in Brentwood 21 days before my 30th birthday. “I focussed on it. If I am honest I knew in my heart of hearts I needed to be a Director before I had my family, because I thought that would potentially stop me achieving my goals. “I had to prove how serious I was in my career and give enough that the company felt confident I was there for the long term.” Helen married when she was 31 and had her daughter, her only child, aged 33. After three months of maternity leave Helen was back at work part time, and two months after that, back to work full time. Rather than feeling overwhelmed at juggling work with a five-month-old baby, Helen felt energised by it. She explains: “With the time I had off work, I could have been a man with a rugby injury. When I went back to work I was more efficient, because I decided I didn’t want a nanny, I wanted my daughter to be around other children so I put her into nursery. That way I couldn’t work late and had to be there to pick her up.
“Being a working mum gave me discipline. If you are going back to work because you need the money but you really want to be at home with you children, you won’t have the attitude to be really successful in your career. “For me, my work defines me. It’s a powerful driver, because I have to be successful for my family. And to be honest, I don’t think I would be a good role model for my daughter if I didn’t work.” Helen, who is based at the City and Country offices at Stansted, fell into the property industry by accident. As a graduate of business studies, specialising in marketing, she was introduced to the Chairman of Countryside Properties, Alan Cherry, whose business was based in Brentwood. Describing him as a “visionary”, she knew from the interview she had found the job for her.
Starting as a graduate Sales and Marketing Director, Helen eventually became head of corporate communications for the firm. She left for a stint with Crest Nicholson in Brentwood, but returned to Countryside. She says: “When I joined Countryside there were about 350 people in the company, of which there were only three women who were not in admin or secretarial roles. I was one of the three. I was lucky because the Cherrys always supported me and treated me as they treated everyone else. “It was unusual at that time, because generally there was an assumption that as a woman you would be happy to make the coffee and take the minutes. It was, and still is, a male dominated industry, but it is changing, it just takes time.” Helen set up her own property consultancy business for 18 months before City and Country, one of her clients, asked her to join them as Managing Director five years ago. Helen has not looked back since.
Under her watch, she is careful to nurture talent – whether male or female – be open and communicate with staff and ensure new recruits not only have the right qualifications on paper, but have the right attitude and personality to fit into the existing team.
About half of the trainees on the graduate programme with City & Country are female. Helen is aware that, at some stage, many women will leave to have children, but it is the company’s job to ensure it retains its talents.
Helen says: “When I had my daughter 16 years ago, I was the first woman in that company to return to work. It was almost assumed I wouldn’t want to come back – not in a nasty way, it was just the mentality then. “These days we have to be in a position where we actively encourage women to return to work, otherwise we are losing all that talent.” Being a mum and a successful executive has not come easy, explains Helen.
Like many working mums she felt the guilt of being away from her daughter. “But it was the same with the stay-at-home mums too. I had friends who chose not to go back to work and they felt guilty about whether they were good role models for their children,” says Helen.
“You have to strike that balance in your life and also, I chose to just have one child so I could have that balance. I could go to the sports days, nativity plays and do the best in my career. Could I have done that with two, three children? Probably not.” It may sound like a harsh sacrifice, but Helen is nothing if not realistic. It is not possible to have everything – a successful and satisfying career, several children you can spend equal amounts of quality time with, a loving relationship and happy home. She also does not prescribe to the idea that to be a successful career woman you have to act like a man.
She says: “I think being a woman makes you stand out. It’s not a disadvantage. “When I go to conferences and meetings, men may think: ‘What does she know about property?’ But when I impress, they recognise that and my satisfaction comes when they shake my hand. That’s my reward. “Women in male-dominated industries bring something different to the team, a way of communicating with colleagues and clients. Women come across as less confrontational in environments that may be sensitive, like developments and construction. The strength of any team is the variety of characters and skills each member brings. “I am proud to be a woman, to be different from men. I don’t want to dress and act like men. You can’t inherently change who you are.”
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