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How women help other women into leadership

Rowena is Head of Architecture Operations & Development at Nationwide. Here she shares her thoughts on the value of mentoring, and her top five tips for women considering STEM careers.

Rowena joined the Society 31 years ago as part of the graduate scheme, working in Retail and Direct Sales, before joining IT as a retail expert in 1994. More recently, she set up the Programme Architecture team at Nationwide, also known as Solution Architecture. 

What makes a good female mentor?

At University, Rowena studied Geography, which she describes as the ideal blend of logic and creativity - much like her current role which combines logical thinking and innovation with a love of people leadership. 

Mentoring allows Rowena to ask the questions others, including the colleague’s line manager, may find hard. In doing so, she believes it can help force the individual to get to the real route of an issue. “I’ve been told I have an ability to see patterns in what they’ve done before, which can help them forge a new perspective. It’s about combining the logical with emotional.”

Since joining Nationwide, Rowena has mentored many women, a total of 10 in the last few years. This is usually as they consider the transition from a senior role to a leadership role.  Mentees are either 'matched' to her via recommendations from others across the business, or via HR if they’re believed to be a good match:

“I enjoy mentoring because I’m fascinated by people, their journey and their aspirations, and also because I think it’s important to give back - lots of people were instrumental in helping me to learn about myself and the organisation.”

“I worked in Rowena’s team for 18 months and observed first-hand how she successfully led in a male-dominated area. I knew I could learn a lot from her, so I approached her to be my mentor.”

Mei, Senior Enterprise Architect

“Rowena has a fantastic ability to listen, ask astute questions and provide thought-provoking insight, whilst at the same time leaving you feeling the accountability and ownership for your own development. She is first-rate at coaching and has helped to draw things out of me that I hadn’t considered previously. ”

Claire, Head of Sales and Service Simplification

Her background also allows her to see things others couldn’t in this space: “Having been on the journey myself I can help individuals make the jump,” She explains. “There can sometimes be a tendency for females to think they’re not quite good enough, or we’ll have a lack of self-belief. Sometimes the women I mentor will even ‘catastrophise’ their minor failures.”

“I found Rowena’s help invaluable when I returned from Mat Leave after my 2nd baby. I only took a 4-month maternity leave, and the number of comments I had about only choosing to take “5 minutes off” made me feel like I couldn’t tell people that I was actually finding balancing the lack of sleep from a baby who fed 3 times a night with work pretty tough.”

Lara, Head of Treasury Modelling

Considering a STEM career? Here's Rowena’s advice:  

1. Be more open-minded and curious. 

Behind the big banners, e.g: ‘financial services’, there’s actually an enormous variety of creative and logical IT careers that aren’t ‘geeky’.

2. If you’re unsure what to do after school or University, follow your passion.

Looking back I wouldn’t change my degree to do a typically ‘STEM’ degree. You can still secure a STEM career even without being certain you’ll end up there. Geography was good as it was a broad mix of analysis, creativity and logic.”

3. Good qualifications can open up a world of opportunities.

Hiring managers shouldn’t only look for typical STEM careers. What’s important is the high-end logic that can be transferred into a role. 

4. Take time to understand what it is you’re looking for in a career.

I now know what the key attributes a role needs to offer to be right for me; I need to feel part of a team to share collaborative energy. There have been points during my career where I felt ‘I must be rubbish’ but that was before I learned that I wasn’t going to be good at every role, and some may not be a great fit for me.

5. Take some risks.

Sometimes it can be healthy to step into a job where you don’t know it all, as it could lead to some of your biggest learnings: don’t be afraid of failure.

“Since I have been seeing Rowena, I have really changed my approach. Rather than plan to do something in 5 years’ time, Rowena has helped me to understand that there is nothing stopping me from achieving those goals today – except my own limiting beliefs.”

Lisa, Operational Performance Lead