Why I face my fears head on

Norma Gillespie, Managing Director, EMEA & Americas

Norma Gillespie started her career with the Robert Walters Group as an account manager in 2007, two years later, she was promoted to account director and has continued to race up the career ladder ever since.

Now CEO for our recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) business, Resource Solutions, we caught up with Norma to discuss her achievements, career challenges and why she doesn’t let fear hold her back.

How did you get to where you are, and who helped you along the way?

I think being naturally driven and passionate about doing my job to the best of my ability has provided a great foundation for my career and has really helped me to propel my career forward. I’ve also been very fortunate to work with incredibly talented and ambitious people, who share my drivers for success and growth. I think it’s really important to surround yourself with positive people who want to help you achieve.

Similarly, my family have been fantastic, supporting me as a full-time working mum of three. The nature of my role and the evolution of the recruitment industry means that global travel is a key part of my work, so having my family on-hand to help has definitely played a key role in my success.

After all the success, what challenges do you face now?

Resource Solutions has experienced strong growth over the last few years, so my biggest challenge is to sustain this and keep ahead of trends to ensure we retain a leading position globally. The reality is that there will always be challenges in your career, no matter how far you progress, but how you choose to react to them is the most important thing. If you maintain your values and integrity, you can’t go far wrong.

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?

Face your fears head on and as soon as you can. If something makes you nervous, whether it be presenting to clients or sharing a new idea, take every opportunity to practice that task until you’ve overcome your anxiety. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve found that facing my fears head on had a hugely positive impact on my professional development, helping me to build both my confidence and skills. In addition, there’s no greater sense of achievement than conquering something that previously crippled your confidence.

What have you learnt about leadership?

I’ve learnt to recognise that even if you’re focused on a common goal every person in your team is different and will have different personal motivations. In my opinion, acknowledging this is really key to building a strong and successful team as it enables you to pull skillsets together and foster an environment of learning and development.

I’d also say that I’m a strong believer in striking a balance with your personal and professional life. As a leader, I take the time to ensure my team are supported at every step in their career and provide guidance to help them achieve a good work-life balance.

What can senior women and men do to help women move up the corporate ladder?

While I think it’s important to ensure that everyone is measured on their own merit, I also believe that some people struggle to showcase their success and realise their potential. For example, I remember feeling incredibly nervous coming back to work after maternity leave. Businesses move at an astonishing pace and I found myself questioning whether I’d still be able to do my role. For this reason, I think it’s really important to make use of your KIT (keeping in touch) days. Having the opportunity to get to grips with changes and meet new team members and clients made my return to work far less daunting. However, this experience made me realise that there’s a real need to provide women with a space in which to be open and discuss their fears. Creating this space and encouraging women to voice their concerns is essential to providing them with the support and tools they need to overcome whatever is holding them back. If you’re returning to work from maternity leave, I’d strongly recommend that you write a list of your fears and don’t be afraid to raise them with your line manager or HR team.

Ultimately, I think we need to create a culture where being male or female isn’t a consideration, instead people should be judged entirely on their performance and ability. To achieve this, everyone from the most senior person in an organisation to the most junior members of staff, has an important part to play in supporting equality. However, direction from the top is the most effective route to change. If senior staff members take action to ensure decisions around hiring, compensation, promotions and progression are based solely on merit, this will create momentum towards achieving true equality.

What advice would you give to young women who want to build a successful career?

  1. Whatever challenges you face, embrace them wholeheartedly as early as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help.

  2. Surround yourself with positive people who share your passion, building a strong network of people you trust will make you stronger.

  3. Focus all your efforts on doing the job in front of you to the very best of your ability, and don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from pushing forward in your career.


Interested in a job in recruitment? Please send your updated CV to serena.pook@robertwalters.com.

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