Monday, February 15, 2016

Spotlight on… Vanessa Vallely

As part of our commitment to inspiring and promoting womens’ careers in Digital & Mobile Media, we are thrilled to be launching our inspiring ‘Spotlight on’ series, helping you get to know some of the inspirational female leaders in Digital a bit better. We’re delighted to announce that our very first Spotlight is on Vanessa Vallely.

Vanessa is one of the UK’s most well-networked women and has provided keynotes on networking and personal branding for over 175 companies worldwide.   At the height of a successful 25 year career in the financial services Vanessa launched the award winning in 2008 as a vehicle to help corporate women connect and grow professionally and personally. now has over 42,000 members and in 2013 launched a sister site in India.  Vanessa is the co-founder of City-wide diversity forum The Network of Networks (TNON) and co-chairs its gender chapter.   TNON brings together diversity leaders from over 120 firms to share best practice and includes chapters for LGBT and BAME. She is the Pearly Queen of The City of London, a tradition that has been in her family for over 100 years, and is an avid charity worker. She is on the board for Cancer Research UK as one of its Women of Influence.

Vanessa is the author of the book “Heels of Steel: Surviving and Thriving in the Corporate World” which tracks her career and shares 13 chapters of tips to succeed in the workplace.  She has been named Women in Banking & Finance’s Champion for Women, Financial News Top 100 Rising Star, The International Alliance for Women Top 100 Women globally & Brummell’s Top 30 London Entrepreneurs.  In 2015 Vanessa was in GQ UK’s Top 100 Connected Women and the Evening Standard’s 1000 Most Influential Londoners. Vanessa is a regular guest on TV and radio and has also contributed to a number of government select committees and think tanks.

Who are you, what is your current role?
I have a bit of a portfolio career.  75% of my time is spent managing and running WeAreTheCity, the rest of my time is spent speaking at women’s networks and in schools.  I also sit on a couple of charity boards and advisory committees, such as CRUK & TechUK.

What’s the most exciting part of your role?
I love my job!  What is not to love.  I get to speak and work with an amazing array of women and help them in their careers.  I love speaking and motivating and inspiring others to take that next leap in their careers or life.  I love the fact that I can contribute more strategically through the boards I sit on.  I love mentoring and providing support to the women I meet and above all I love the work I do with the younger generations in schools.  Every day is a challenge as I am still transitioning from being a corporate worker to an entrepreneur.  I love the fact that I am still learning every day and the variety of my work.  You can see, I love what I do and I care deeply about the progression of women in today’s society.

What personal and professional strengths do you think have been crucial to your success?
I would probably say the ability to build relationships.  I didn't use this to its full effect earlier in my career in terms of building my external network, but I certainly have since.  I am also very passionate about any task I undertake, no matter what it is.  I was brought up by my mother who constantly used to tell me that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.  Bosses I worked for later in life added to that by teaching me to always add that extra 20% to whatever I was delivering.  To pre empt the next questions or information that would be needed and to provide it before it was even asked for.

What is the most challenging thing you’ve done in your career to date?
Probably leaving the world of corporate to become a full time entrepreneur.  It was both a personal and financial risk.  I thought when I left corporate, given 25 years of experience that I would naturally have all the skills I needed.  I was wrong!  It has taken me a good two years to feel comfortable about Vanessa as a leader of her own business as opposed to Vanessa as a corporate worker.

If you were mentoring your younger self knowing what you now know what advice would you give?
To just chill a little bit and appreciate that things often take time.  I was very ambitious when I was younger and expected to climb mountains in months instead of years.   I would also advise myself not to beat myself up to hard for the mistakes I made.  These were not actually mistakes, they were opportunities to learn and grow and that I wouldn't always get things right!

Have you got any role models? Who are they and why are they your role models?
I have many role models.  Tamara Box at Reed Smith, who is the chair of our Board at CRUK Women of Influence for her dedication to the progression of women. My own mentor, Lara Morgan, as I deeply admire her tenacity and drive. From a tech perspective, Jacqueline D’Rojas, Catherine Doran and Christina Scott.  All of these are in senior tech roles and continuously work to inspire other women.

What are your top 3 interests outside of work?
I like to run and go to the gym when I get time, I tend to go through peak and troughs with my exercise schedule, however I do know how important this is to my own work life balance.  I also like spending time with my two girls, aged 12 and 15, teenagers are a whole new world!  I also have colouring on my to do list as it seems to be all the rage.  I actually got a colouring book and some pens for Christmas, it is just a case of finding the time to sit and colour.  From what I remember at school, I always went over the lines so I am not expecting to create a masterpiece.  Art is definitely not my thing.

What kind of career would you have in an alternative universe? 
I would like to have been a midwife.

What are the major barriers facing women in tech today
I have a bit of a thing about the word barriers!   We can all say there are barriers, things stopping us doing this, doing that etc, however it is how we overcome our perceptions of those barriers that we need to focus on.   I also come in to contact with a number of organisations that are looking for female technologists to inspire the next generation.  There is a real focus on our industry and an interest in how to get more women in to tech roles and how to progress their careers.  There are a number of tech networks and opportunities to learn new skills and meet our peer group – I mean what is stopping us getting to where we need to be?  If it is looking up and not seeing women at the top of our organisations, then let’s try to be those women, if it is skills we lack, let’s go and get them.  If it’s mentors or sponsors, let’s build those relationships and get the guidance we need.  Again, it is all in our hands.

What’s the one piece of advice that has always stuck with you?
“Your boat doesn't come in, you have to swim out to it”.  A Jonathan Winters quote, which is something my Nan used to say to me and which was also on a poster in the reception of my first ever job interview!

Reference Links

Twitter:  @Watc_Girl / @Watc_Updates / @Watc_Jobs / @WeAreTech – Advise/networks/events/jobs for women
WeAreTechnology – WeAreTheCity’s dedicated Technology women site
Careers Club -  WeAreTheCity’s on line learning and networking platform
Vanessa Vallely – Website/Speaking Engagements

Follow Women in Wireless UK on our LinkedIn group

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