Nicola Wood - Senior Project Manager
Name, Job Title, Years in Serco
Nicola Wood, Senior Project Manager, 9 years in Serco ME and 3 years with Serco UK.
Tell us a little bit about your role.
I work on Serco’s first ever and longest lasting air navigation services contract leading air traffic control projects. I’m currently managing several high profile and complex projects for our client, from delivery to the handover phase.
Describe your career progression, and what has supported you to progress to a senior position?
My career progression and development has been supported by my manager. His trust and confidence in me and the opportunity he has given me to succeed and fail, has pushed me to grow.
At Serco, 50% of our Executive Leadership Team is made up of females – how do you feel the business has supported you?
By driving and modelling gender diversity from the very top, the females in the ELT team have become my role models. The increase in female representation in these senior roles and in other areas where women were traditionally underrepresented, has given me the confidence that my contributions are welcome. The ELT’s 50-50 gender split speaks volumes about equal opportunities for everyone. It's not just talk!
What barriers have you personally faced in your career when progressing into senior positions, and what advice would you give to others to overcome these?
I’ve certainly faced barriers, especially when I started out in the air traffic sector, as it was very much a male-dominated industry. However, the operational workforce today is supported by many women, so there is a growing awareness of the importance of gender equality in recent times. In the past, I felt like I had to do lot more to “prove” myself at work and was very much on the receiving end of biases against female workers. I felt that the outcome of my work could help towards breaking down the bias.
Another barrier I remain passionate about is the issue of workplace flexibility for women. I feel strongly that workers can and should be permitted to perform their work from anywhere, providing it fits in with their responsibilities. I am fortunate that my leadership team offers a flexible workplace, but many women aren’t as lucky and haven’t been able to maintain their careers after becoming a mum. I’ve watched these women experience negative career consequences and significant income setbacks. As a result, they never really catch up even later in their careers and it’s a sad price for any woman to have to pay.
My advice would be to destigmatise flexible work by encouraging leaders to embrace a culture of workplace flexibility and prove that arrangement could yield a stronger business and happier employees; equally applicable for both females and males.
What do you think makes a good leader?
Good leaders inspire people to do great work and I think this comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships, listening and really knowing your team and equipping them to learn, grow and succeed.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a 50-50 split between work and life. Priorities are constantly shifting. Sometimes, work takes bigger chunks of time. At other times, our focus is on our family. I think that’s just how life is and sometimes sacrifices will need to be made in one area or the other.
For me, one of the hardest parts of being a working mum is forcing myself into the right headspace at the right time. Priorities often conflict. Nobody is perfect, so I don’t hold myself to that expectation. I simply do my best. Each woman must choose to prioritise in the best way possible for herself and her life.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My biggest career highlight was having the role of senior project manager created for me. I didn’t know that project management was what I wanted to do, yet I was recognised for it by senior leadership. Through a culture of trust, empowerment and self-development I have found a role that I love and have gone on to accomplish big wins despite the hurdles presented to me from the beginning, delivering positive end results to the air traffic team.
Another highlight was being recognised and accepted into the Serco Accelerator Programme. It has helped me with my personal and professional development.
Who inspires you and why?
Professionally, I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside a Serco colleague, Rick Sharpe, who has made a significant impression on me. He has provided a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction, always creating the space for me to think practically about what is needed and what barriers I need to break down.
One of the things I really appreciate about Rick is his approach to understanding people’s varying perspectives. This has helped me recognise the value in different points of view during conversations, instead of seeing them as a problem or threat. Rick’s guidance has enabled me to hear and react to experiences and comments very differently. I know how to get the best out of a situation, be it with a colleague or a client. I apply a lot of what I learn from Rick into my management of teams today.
Additionally, my husband and my brothers are my personal inspirations. What I’ve learned from them is the value and enjoyment of hard work and of rolling up your sleeves. They’ve all achieved whatever they’ve set their minds to, showing me how far one can go with sheer determination.
Last, but certainty not least, Samantha Rowles inspires me. She has progressed so quickly in her professional career and she is setting aspirational goals for the proportion of women in leadership roles so hands down, she is definitely my inspiration moving forwards.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in Serco?
I almost always regret not speaking up. I know I’m not alone! I think that a lot of women might feel a lack of confidence, especially if they’re not an expert in the field.
While I was keeping my mouth shut, I was cheating the team out of my knowledge, expertise or viewpoint. Everybody’s input is needed in meetings. That’s why we’re there!
Now that I am in a senior role, I’ve learnt to be authentic, genuine, fearless and to always contribute. Always speak up. When we hold back, nobody wins!
Another bit of advice to mothers: Do not to wait for your kids to grow up before you go for the next role. As long as you are supported, be bold and stretch yourself! You are your child’s main role model. Let your child see you reaching for great and not settling for ‘good’!