Taking the lead - celebrating women at the top

Alyson's story

The female lead - celebrating women at the top

Breaking the bias is this year’s theme for International Women’s Day. With a 50:50 male-female split on our executive leadership team, and above-average female representation in leadership roles, we’re celebrating the powerful women who are setting the tone for our continued growth.

"My advice to young women, and anyone who wants to be fulfilled in their job, is don’t look up. Don’t look at the money or the location, just do what you love. Pick something you love and go for it full pelt. Your heart comes first and your head will catch up."

Alyson Russell-Stevenson, Head of Marketing and Engagement

Alyson's story

“I love the 50:50 gender split in the Scottish Enterprise leadership team, which is largely thanks to Lena Wilson, OBE, one of our former CEOs. She made a big deal of making sure we had female representation – she’d notice who was right for which position and brought together a great mix of people. It was never forced, just a natural progression of skill sets.  

Of course, we can always do more, but it’s taught us that if you have great potential leaders among your workforce, you’ll find them regardless of gender and that’s how it should be. If you have good processes and procedures for getting people in, and for encouraging growth within existing teams, there’s every reason you’ll end up with a fabulous, varied group of leaders.  

Knowing your worth

My working career wasn’t always as neutral. I'm ex-Navy – I worked as Director of International Communications for BAE Submarines for a number of years. It was brilliant but very male dominated.  I remember a conversation I had with an ex-Admiral who saw me standing near the coffee station and assumed I was the tea lady. When I corrected him that I was there to be filmed for a documentary, he asked if I wouldn’t be happier at home making jam.  

I didn’t see it as a negative, though. I saw it as an opportunity because as soon as someone underestimates you, or doesn’t understand your value, you have the upper hand. I proceeded to talk to the BBC about the innovations in nuclear submarine systems, which is technology that comes about once a generation – world altering stuff. Jam making is great, but I don’t have the first clue about it.  

When it came time to leave the Navy, I wanted to further my career which meant going to university so I juggled motherhood, career and studying – it was important for me to do all three. I didn’t really have an option, I was the provider. I’ve had many conversations with people about work/life balance since the pandemic which shone a spotlight on the need for flexibility at work.  

Flexible working for families

If you’re working for an organisation that truly puts people first, people will rise to the occasion whether they work flexitime or regular hours at home or wherever. From early in the pandemic, we told everyone to go home and be with their families because that’s where they needed to be.

Funnily enough, we had more people online than ever before – colleagues, clients and partners alike. We were working more effectively, more openly and we got to know people better because we could all meet in this one online room – it made a huge difference. It’s allowed people to be themselves more and has created a level playing field.  

This focus on balance has allowed many female-led businesses to flourish in the past two years. One that I’m especially excited about is Mint Ventures, an angel investment club and network with a focus on raising early growth capital. The goal is to encourage women to invest, creating resource for growth-oriented, innovative businesses – it's about democratising investment, which is brilliant, since data tells us that women will typically ask for 30% less funding from banks.  

Be brave

I think to myself, why is that? Is it because a lot of women are brought up with a ‘make do and mend’ attitude, a sense of what they can skrimp by on? I don’t know but it’s very interesting.

That’s why I love our ‘brave’ value. I think values should be genderless, obviously, but often a woman is called brave only when she’s come through something – it shouldn’t be like that. No value should be gendered – strength, for example, is traditionally used in a male context.  It’s unintentional, but the bias is often there."

Get to know more of our inspiring female leaders

Linda Murray, Director of Strategy

Why breaking bias boosts greater innovation and ambition.

Elaine Morrison, Interim Director of Place

Finding your voice and trusting your instincts.

Michelle Kinnaird, Head of Investment Management

How building ecosystems with entrepreneurial diversity boosts productivity.

Ana Gallardo, Team Leader, Entrepreneurial Development

Start-ups, social enterprises and how women are making a difference.

Encourage diversity in your workplace

Be empowered to make your workplace more innovative, productive and profitable by reading our Team Optimisation and Workplace Innovation guidance.

You can also use the Fair Work Employer Support Tool to assess your own company's practices. 

Been inspired by our leaders?

Learn how we can help you to progress your own career or business idea.