Flying after family exclusive interview with Carolyn McCall, CEO of easyjet

Written by
Changeboard Team

29 Jan 2014

29 Jan 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Work vs. home

You're ambitious and flying high in your career. You have exceptional talent and you've been identified as having management or executive potential. Then comes the time where you decide you want to start a family. You know you want to juggle motherhood with your career after you return from maternity leave, but here comes the tricky bit. How do you balance childcare with continuing to rise up the ladder at work? Most importantly, how do you ensure that you're not treated as a second-class citizen when you try to negotiate flexible or part-time working hours??

Carolyn's history

Twenty years after joining the Guardian in 1986 as a researcher planner, Carolyn McCall was appointed CEO of the Guardian Media Group. It was a position she held until June 2010 when she left to take up the equivalent role at easyJet the following month. 

She had her first child in 2001, followed by twins in 2003.

She says: “You can’t be managing director or CEO of a company and not stay completely involved in the business, but it's about finding a way of making it work. An important ingredient for me was having the right balance between my personal life and career”. According to McCall, the Guardian Media Group companies were empathetic to returning mothers during her time there.

Promoting women for senior management

She believes that since Lord Davies’ report was released last year, calling for women to make up a quarter of FTSE 100 board members by 2015, there is greater awareness among FTSE 250 companies of encouraging and promoting more women into senior management and non-executive roles. Yet there are still huge barriers facing women when it comes to moving into executive and CEO roles.?

“Many women come out of the career structure, especially after having their second child. You could be out of the workforce for three to five years at a time when you would have been available to be considered for director level. A directorship is the first step into gaining an executive appointment, so you’re at risk of missing the chance to go on and become a CEO,” argues McCall.

It all comes down to company culture and choice. She explains: “Senior women are only resigning because of childcare arrangements and many lack confidence in putting a business case forward for more flexible working arrangements.”

Loving what you do is key

McCall suggests that employers need to consider time and costs already invested, including the recruitment, training and development of talented female employees, which can amount to £1,000s. She also argues that women make up a large part of the consumer population, so it's not good to have them unrepresented at senior level, not to mention that they are extremely collaborative, work well in teams and are responsible employees.

She believes that to get to the top, you absolutely have to love what you do, be really prepared to work hard, take on as much responsibility as you can and just be confident in yourself. When asked why women with children should not be left behind if they take a career break, she replies: “Employers should encourage women on maternity to stay in touch, and when returning to work consider job shares. Or they could welcome back returning mothers after a two-year break by saying: ‘When you're ready to come back, pick up the phone and we’ll offer you an equivalent role’.”

“It's now time for women to keep their head above the parapet,” says McCall. And her parting advice? “Write a letter to your line manager or HR outlining the flexibility you require and present your business case. You may be surprised to find that you're pushing at an open door.”