#IWD2020: Shirley's Career Journey

10 March 2020 . United Kingdom

To mark International Women’s Day 2020 we’re sharing career stories and advice from women in various roles across Bupa. Here we speak to Shirley Wilson-Brown, Head of Engagement and Inclusion at Bupa.

International Women's Day - Shirley

Can you tell us a about your career journey?

I’ve worked in customer experience for over 25 years and one thing was clear to me very early on and that was my passion for providing great experiences and helping people. I previously worked at Virgin and was there for 11 years, here I was able to grow my love for customer experience. At the time the business was a start-up and there were around 100 employees. By the time I left, I had watched this grow to 12,500 in the UK with global expansion.

I then started my own family and had my two boys. Shortly after having my children I started doing consultancy for businesses, which at the time I felt was the only way I could balance work and motherhood.  A few years later I joined Bupa. Here I found I could work in an organisation that had a clear understanding of the importance of flexibility and work-life balance. I was able to make it work for me in terms of being there for my children, but still work doing what I love.

At the end of September 2019, I was given the opportunity to move from looking after our customers to our people. In the People team I am Head of Engagement and Inclusion for Bupa. Bupa has been amazing in supporting me to move into a new direction, whilst also helping people and providing good experiences. This is what I’m most passionate about. I have been able to expand my career whilst raising my children and I want to make it easier for others to do the same if they wish. 

How have you balanced being a mother and your career?

At first, I did struggle to create a whole new routine and way of working. When my children were a lot younger, the juggling of school runs, homework and eating before 6pm was a challenge within itself. Now they are 12 and 15 years old - it is still demanding, but in different ways. They both play professional sports, so I need to be extremely organised and it takes a lot of planning (and chauffeuring!) to make sure they are where they need to be. I understand that as much as I organise ahead it won’t always go to plan so the flexibility and balance that my role provides helps a great deal.

Why is an inclusive culture important?

An inclusive culture is not just great for business but it’s the right thing to do, stats show that there are billions being lost in the economy due to not enough women in senior roles and the more gender balanced organisations are the most profitable.  Working in a company that is passionate about its people. Working in a team where you feel and can be your best.  Having opportunities available for all and creating a place and a culture where everyone has a voice, can make a difference and help development, both personally and professionally.

What does inclusive leadership look like?

Having a leader who listens, understands, respects and cares about their people. Equal representation, equal pay, equal opportunities enable us to attract and retain great talent, to develop our people regardless of circumstance.  A great leader will look at behaviours not just objectives ensuring they have an inclusive team and remove barriers that stand in the way.

What advice do you have for women wanting to progress their career?

Oh I have a few…Senior female role models were certainly lacking in my earlier career, so I’d say to have female role models to look up to, understand their story and hear their challenges and journeys for our female talent to be inspired by. I’d also say surround yourself with amazing and kind people and get yourself a mentor or sponsor to support you on your journey. Finally, I’d have confidence. I often think what’s the worst that can happen? We all face challenges, but we shouldn’t allow these to hinder our opportunities and potential. Take a deep breath and pursue your dream.


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