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Women in leadership interview: Fiona Liddell - Head of Risk Management

Name, Job Title, Years in Serco

Fiona Liddell, Head of Risk Management, 1 year 10 months

Tell us a little bit about your role.

Risk management connects back to all areas of the organisation and my overall objective is to ensure risk management is embedded into the Middle East division and understood at all levels. Serco has a very robust risk management framework and procedure and I help implement it.

Describe your career progression, and what has supported you to progress to a senior leader position?

I joined Serco in March 2020 as a safety manager and 2 weeks later the entire employee base started working from home when the pandemic hit. My team was required to be all-hands-on-deck during the height of the pandemic. The business was responding to what was happening across the world and this meant that I had to stand up and deliver in my new role fast - and learn the ‘Serco way’ as quick as possible. I truly believe joining Serco at this challenging time has brought to me where I am today. After working with the safety team for a short period covering various responsibilities for risk and compliance activities, the opportunity to move into the Legal and Commercial team came around. I have a number of senior leaders, male and female, around me encouraging me to be the best that I can be whilst also challenging me - and to me, this enables growth.

At Serco, 44% of our Executive Leadership Team is made up of females – how do you feel the business has supported you?

The business has supported me simply by allowing me to put my ideas forward and listening to what I have to say. It’s very encouraging to see so many females on our ELT. This is the first time I’ve worked for an organisation with so many senior female leaders around me, which is both encouraging and supportive.

What barriers have you personally faced in your career when progressing into leadership positions, and what advice would you give to others to overcome these?

I must admit I have been the female in the room that is always offering to take  minutes of the meeting and I didn’t see anything wrong with that; I was just being helpful, it’s in my nature.

Moving through my career, I began to see how I could start getting more involved in  discussions in the room and I really start contributing and making decisions for the organisations I worked in on topics I was confident and experienced in.

Always trust yourself – I used to sit in meetings in the early days of my career thinking things and not saying it in fear of someone thinking it might be a silly question. Never think like this… just say it and contribute. Find ways of speaking up comfortably - it will become easier as you start to do it.

What makes a good leader?

Good leaders have specific qualities, including: trust, honesty, integrity, enthusiasm, flexibility, understanding and developing others.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I have a good support network around me and I am always open and honest with my line manager about my commitments and needs as a working mum. Accepting help from friends is key for me, as I’m living away from family. I used to feel so guilty accepting help and now I know people want to genuinely help and really don’t mind. School pick-ups are always a juggle with schools finishing so early here, but I make it work with help and flexibility from my line manager.  We are also very lucky that my daughter Erin has a wonderful nanny who cares for her as much as I do.

What has been the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my career to date was the fact that I had a huge influence on improving the maternity policy in my previous UAE-based organisation from 45 days paid leave to 14 weeks paid leave. This was something I was able to influence during my career, upon my return to work after having my daughter Erin. This made a huge difference to so many families.

Who inspires you and why?

My inspiration is my older brother Andrew…he dedicated his teens to playing football and training, as he wanted to make it as a professional footballer.…and he did. He sacrificed all the typical teenage activities and antics and focused on where he wanted to be and the hard work and commitment paid off. Years down the line, sadly my brother lost his first-born daughter Giorgina to a serious medical condition called gastroschisis when she was 10 days old. This hugely impacted the entire family and the loss for my brother and sister in law was unthinkable.

Until that point, he had a such fantastic life. A great career as a professional footballer, but then something like this changes your purpose and everything in your life.  Despite their hardship, he and his wife showed so much care to the hospice in which their daughter was born and also to the family as a whole. The way they have picked themselves up after facing so much difficulty is inspirational to me.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in Serco?

Ask questions – never feel that something is “not your area” or a “management thing.” The more you ask, the more you learn. Offer solutions and support your colleagues.