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Women with Ambition: Up Close with Nicky Acuna Ocana
In conjunction with International Women's Day, Ambition is delighted to be launching our Women with Ambition series. The objective of this series is to foster a female community of professionals where senior leaders share their stories, experiences and advice to inspire, motivate and empower other female professionals. As part of this series, we’ll be sharing relevant content, interviews and host exclusive events for this community. We’d like to kickstart this series on International Women’s Day to celebrate the success stories of female leaders across various industries.
Our first featured post will be with Nicky Acuna Ocana, Managing Director of our UK business, who shares her personal journey and experiences with us.
Question: This year’s International Women’s Day 2020 theme is – "I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights. What does this mean to you as a female leader?
As a female leader and mother of a teenage daughter, I am committed to making gender equality a reality for females. I believe in working with my team at Ambition as well as our clients to achieve gender parity; that is, equal pay and equal participation in all areas of life.
Question: JP Morgan Chase, Citibank Inc. and Mastercard are just some of the companies who have adjusted the gender pay gap to close to one percent. Can you share examples of equality practices that your firm looks closely at?
Within professional services firms there has been an improvement, but the gender pay gap is still a challenge that hasn’t been fully solved. We are still, for example, seeing an imbalance in executive director roles. The positive side to this is there are currently numerous measures in place to tackle the issue, including an ongoing review of how firms recruit, retain and promote females into senior positions. In addition to this, there are continuous reviews on reward strategy that look to address any gender and other protected character bias. A constant review of policies, procedures and practices to ensure everyone can achieve their aspirations is essential and necessary for firms.
Question: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would that be?
Never be afraid to make mistakes. If you try and fail, don’t look back and regret it. Own it and learn from it and you’ll find a better way to move forward. The most valuable lesson is to learn from mistakes and bad decisions. Wisdom, sense and good judgement will only develop if you recognise, acknowledge and learn from your errors.
Qustion: Who inspires you and why?
My grandmother was my inspiration. She built and ran her own business in a time when women didn’t do this. She gave me the confidence to believe that I could do anything in life if I worked hard and always went the extra mile. She encouraged me to self-reflect, to look at what I did well and do more of it and to learn from mistakes. She made me feel and believe that I could achieve my goals and career aspirations.
Question: What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
It is important for organisations to build a culture in which it’s acceptable to make and learn from mistakes. Creating a safe environment for employees to make errors cultivates a culture of learning, growth and development and as a result, helps to boost their confidence in their skillset.
It is crucial for employers to make sure there is a clear understanding of the roles, responsibilities and expectations of the individual. This provides less room for error and better decision making for both genders. Generally, women tend to internalise mistakes and are often judged more harshly for making them, compared to men. Such bias can lead women to fear failure and have a ‘no room for error’ mentality, which causes unnecessary stress.
Mentors are a great way to help women resolve this unnecessary stress. They can advise in difficult situations, discuss feedback and support learning. This support can help increase willingness to take risks and reduce the fear that others will negatively judge them. Additionally, women should try and build relationships with inspirational leaders or people they view as risk-takers that they would like to emulate. This is a great way to learn how to challenge and overcome situations and how to make difficult decisions to help them build adversity to risk.
As a woman, you should know your worth and leverage on your strengths. Don’t dwell on what you can’t do; focus on your strengths and how you can use them to progress. Learn to view your mistakes as part of a learning experience and balance this with your career aspirations and potential rewards.
Organisations must continue to review their pay structures to ensure there is no unconscious gender bias. They need to create an environment in which women are empowered to speak up and voice their opinions and ideas. The higher up women are in an organisation, the scarcer they become – which feeds into unhelpful stereotypes. Allowing female leaders to have more visibility and transparency and less scrutiny placed on them will shift this stereotyping. It is imperative that organisations continue to create a safe environment to enable women leaders to develop and to share their thoughts and opinions freely.
Don’t forget to minimise the risk of gender bias in the recruitment processes. Check that the job specifications are clear, the language and terminology used isn’t heavily masculine, and that you conduct unconscious bias interview training for your interviewers.
Question: As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
For me, the lack of understanding and flexibility offered to me when I had my children caused me to take a step back in my career and a more junior role to get a better balance. As the flexibility was actively discouraged, I decided to ‘tread water’ for a few years until my children were of an age where I could reinvest in my career. This experience has made me even more determined to support my female workforce and ensure that they get the choices over their career path that I didn’t.
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