Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, a leading figure in business over an extensive career, received an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from UEA this year. In our interview, I asked about her career, her opinions on the lack of women in senior positions in business, and her advice for graduates beyond university. When asked about the highlights of her illustrious and impressive career, she drew attention to Virgin Money buying Northern Rock, in what was a “David and Goliath situation”, as she herself described; an achievement in her career she will forever be proud of being a part of.
It is common knowledge that there is, unfortunately, a lack of women holding senior positions in the world of business. As someone who succeeded despite this, I was interested in Gadhia’s opinion on the matter, as well as her advice. Gadhia’s main piece of advice for this is to simply be yourself, and I think everyone should take note. In male-dominated spheres of work, it is easy to conform to the “male way”. Therefore, to be true to oneself and to reject conformity, can counteract male dominance in business. Gadhia also gave an anecdote from a conference she attended, where the host asked everyone, “how many of you feel different at work than you are at home?”. The majority responded they felt different, proving people are not themselves in the professional environment, which is exactly what Gadhia advises against.
Similarly, Gadhia advises one should not be afraid to show weakness or, “ask stupid questions”. That question you don’t want to ask, someone else in the room probably also wants to ask. This advice is what I related to most in this interview, as a student who rarely asks questions in seminars or lectures out of fear of judgement. She summarised her points concisely in the statement, “be aware of who you are, don’t change for anybody, stick to your principles and your purpose”. She then advises that finding your purpose is defined as much by what one doesn’t like, as what one does like. Instead of searching for one purpose, an approach such as a process of elimination is more effective in many ways.
Lastly, when asked how graduates should go about changing the world and succeeding, she emphasised the need for respect. Everything is about people after all, and in the current political and professional climate, respect is lacking. She also accentuates the need for bravery. Very few things happen naturally, one must be brave enough to try things to make them happen. She said, “not everything you write will end up on the cover of the Times, but you have to be brave enough to try”, and although the advice was geared to myself as an interviewer and journalist, the idea can be applied to anything.
Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia is an inspirational woman, who has succeeded both personally, and in her career in multiple ways, despite the odds being against her in more than one circumstance; she is a remarkable figure whose advice can resonate with us all.