Being a board member in a male-dominated industry hasn't always been easy for Alison Jones. She talks us through her rise to the top and her strong views on positive discrimination.
As a director at Volkswagen UK, Alison is directly in charge of a team of 350 people and a wider team of 20,000 employees. She’s also a wife and mother of three kids. Wow. So, how does she do it?
What it’s like being at the top of such a male-dominated industry?
‘I don’t think about it being a male-dominated environment most of the time – I think some of the men over the years have thought about it more than I have. On a practical level it can be lonely at times, but I think that is true of many senior roles regardless of whether you are male or female – it is more to do with the requirements of the role than the person.’
Do you find you’re ever treated differently?
‘Some years ago our HR Director (male at the time) wanted to establish a group to promote positive discrimination – my ambitious female colleagues and myself were absolutely against this. We were (and I still am) of the mind that we wanted to be promoted based on merit, not on gender, as that is the only way you can be truly credible in your roles and respected for your achievements in our industry.’
What challenges have you faced?
‘In terms of rising through the ranks, I think the challenge can be that some recruiters expect you to have followed a certain career path – often the same one as they have had, and therefore if you don’t conform then it has sometimes felt like a disadvantage. However, I was aware of that and therefore focused on my strengths and skills, worked to eliminate the weaknesses, accepted the knock backs when they happened, and persevered.’
What did you want to be when you were a child?
‘I actually wanted to be a hairdresser – I think the creative side appealed to me.’
Describe your typical working day.
‘I’ll get up at around 6.30am, get the kids ready and be out the house by 8am. I’ll spend the day in various meetings, working on different projects – anything from strategic direction to talking to the team about a particular issue or being out and about within our retailer network. I’ll leave the office at around 6pm so I can get home and we can eat dinner as a family. After the kids have gone to bed I’ll spend time with my husband then carry on working from my laptop.’
Do you manage to have a work/life balance?
‘When I’m not away I always try to leave the office on time so we can eat dinner as a family – I think that’s really important, but I’ll carry on working from my laptop after the kids have gone to bed. That’s the trade-off – managing your time so you get to do both.’
What do you do to unwind after a tough day at work?
‘At the moment we’re obsessed with TV series, Suits – as a household we’ll sit down and relax with a Suits marathon.’
How would your colleagues describe you?
‘Determined, having high standards and approachable.’
What advice would you give someone trying to break into your industry?
‘Don’t apologise for what you don’t know about the industry – focus on the strengths that you bring to it.’
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Your PA is dashing out on a snack run, what do you order?
‘Usually I’ll have a salad wrap or maybe something from Pret with a diet Fanta.’
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Be the change that you want to see.’
If the Internet died tomorrow, what would you miss most?
‘Email. As a team we try to pick up the phone or speak to people in person as much as possible, but there’s no denying that email revolutionised the workplace.’
What are your workwear wardrobe staples?
‘Shift dresses, tailored jackets and outfits that can be taken from day to evening wear. I have lots of kitten heels too, as they’re easy to dash around in.’
What’s your pay day splurge?
‘Definitely dresses. My last purchase was a coral dress from LK Bennett.’
What are your handbag essentials?
‘Eyeliner, phone and credit card – and a bag big enough to put all of the kids’ things in. I usually end up carrying their iPods!’