Imogen McCourt- Be constantly curious: It’s a big old world.
We speak to Imogen McCourt, Co-Founder, Head of the Sales Enablement, Operations and training practice at AndGrow.io. She talks about societal gender imbalance and building a team of people who are better than you.
Can you tell us a bit about you and your career:
I work in the world of sales enablement, operations and training – At its heart that is ‘the Business of Sales.’ I partner with our clients to help them build world-class selling organisations that can take any product or service to market and create great outcomes for their clients, and therefore drive great revenue results for their company.
A typical day in your career:
Meetings, meetings, meetings! My job is about influencing and driving collaborative change across teams, across a company, to ensure that they understand the commercial agenda of a company and their part in it. Once the company strategy is translated into a go-to-market, and the final tools, training and content that the sales teams need to work with their clients and prospect – we work to embed the approach with sales leaders and managers. Sales enablement is a fast-moving discipline and approach, so any spare time I have, I spend connecting with other professionals, reading blogs and research papers.
What made you choose this career/industry?
I trained as an Archaeologist! I fell into Sales enablement having worked as an analyst, consultant and run Consulting organisations; it wasn’t a mindful or planned decision. BUT I knew I’d found what I’d wanted to do – a chance to really show a sustainable difference to companies through creating world-class, dynamic selling infrastructures and teams.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
Of course. For every great company culture and boss, there have been terrible fits too. I have been made redundant, and (illegally) fired. I trained as an Archaeologist so this was not an obvious career route. But: I strongly believe that the skills and competencies I learnt as an archaeologist help me now (The ability to see past the documented opinion and learn from the evidence. The important thinking and listening processes that allow me to move past my own bias and opinions and think about the end outcome that the company or individual are looking for). My main challenges have been related to how embryonic sales enablement was as a strategy and approach – I had to teach my companies what I was doing, and the value of it, as I was doing it – I learnt early on that over-communicating upwards helps dispel concerns and questions on impact, and builds trust for my team and I to continue to drive forward the work we’re doing.
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
I look for the rationale in things that seem highly emotive at the time and learn from the business decisions/outputs that drive people’s thinking. Then, I move on with more experience under my belt. The hardest setback was actually when I realised that I was working for a female boss who was extremely threatened by the women who worked for her and was, I hope sub-consciously, undermining us while promoting and supporting her male direct reports. It just didn’t compute. I can reflect that this was about her own insecurity: She had been promoted out of her abilities and couldn’t open up to learning as she went. It was my biggest setback because a) it was out of my control – I couldn’t change that for her; and b) I was stunned that in the masculine industry that we worked in, she was reinforcing the glass ceiling that she’d just broken through.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
I co-founded the Sales enablement society in the UK with another wonderful woman, Rebecca Bell. The Society is a global movement, meant to provide an open environment for free debate and meeting of minds among sales enablement professionals. The last meeting had almost 70 attendees– it’s run by volunteers and everyone came together to debate ideas and support each other with no competition or concerns about airing our issues and questions – a safe place to find personal and professional support. I’m passionate about the difference that sales enablement can make, and I love the way we all come together to support each other – men and women, to help drive our mutual success.
I was stunned that in the masculine industry that we worked in, she was reinforcing the glass ceiling that she’d just broken through.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
So many people tell me that their family are the inspiration, or give them the determination to succeed, and the same is true for me, but perhaps in a different way. I come from a family of strong women, and latterly men who appreciate and support strong women. Just 2 generations ago this was not the case or the societal setup. My maternal grandmother was forced to give up her place at Art college because her father didn’t agree with women getting further education, and when she married my grandfather, she left her job at the factory where she was working during WW2 – married women had no need, and therefore no supposed desire for paid employment. My mother was the first person in her family to go to University (a joint degree at Durham, she was also part of the inaugural year of an all-female college – Trevelyan). She worked mainly part-time so that she could raise my brother and I, and support my father as the major breadwinner. When they divorced the law left her with little pension, and not many years left to make up the shortfall that came from her paying part-time into her pension throughout the majority of her working life. These are not stories that are meant to be anti-male; they illustrate that women have been not only at the mercy of the glass ceiling at work, but also society’s expectations of the woman being the major carer at home (be it children, or ageing parents, or sick relatives, historically this has commonly been the role we are cast in, or cast ourselves in) AND that the actual legal and financial frameworks of society do not support equality. My parents brought us to believe we could do whatever we were ambitious to do. I decided that I would work better and harder than I was ‘asked’ so that I would not be at the mercy of situation or cultural expectation.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Very early on I decided to be gender blind at work and to assume that others were too. Rightly or wrongly I have taken the attitude that if I project an assumption of equality that will come my way. Sadly I have had a job where I met the CEO over dinner in a gentleman’s club for my final interview and was told on the way over to the club (by 3 of the most senior women in the company) that I’d be fine; just laugh at his jokes and flirt, and remember to speak up as he’s quite deaf. I should have run a mile, instead, sadly I decided that I was fully armed and could own that situation. I got the job, but a tiny piece of my soul was never the same again.
Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
I have three children, so hanging out with them is a great tonic and precious time. We live in the countryside, so dog walks, gardening, cooking with friends and those sorts of cliches have become truly how I spend my weekends. I also enjoy fine dining (Sat Bains is relatively nearby and is amazing) I am redecorating and trying to find time to read. But let’s be really honest – falling asleep on the sofa in front of the fire and a film with my husband and children on either side is often how I spend the weekend evening nowadays!
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
Find the mutual benefit in an outcome to get people’s buy in, and get it done. Be constantly curious: It’s a big old world.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
There is a sparsity of true talent out there so:
Be the best you: Always go the extra mile; think about the outcome of what you are doing, and the next step, and build your talent.
Review constantly. Review after a call, after a meeting; when you’ve completed a project. Think about what you would do the same, differently, not at all: If you had the chance to do something again. You almost certainly will have a chance to do it again at some point.
Never embarrass or judge someone, we’re all doing our best.
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
Don’t assume that there can’t be a discussion. Coming to a compromise is considered a positive outcome everywhere but the UK.
What are your key motivators?
Other people’s success and happiness; intellectual stimulation; a deep-rooted competitive instinct!
The governments need to listen so that they stop the societal imbalance
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
I think businesses are trying harder than they ever have to move forward positively, but to redress the imbalance that years and years of deeply ingrained societal and educational gender imbalance has created is going to take a long time.
This isn’t just about business, we all need to work out, and stand up for the ‘New Normal’ – where people in leadership aren’t exceptional or ‘newsworthy’ because of their sex, their race or their religion.
The governments need to listen so that they stop societal imbalance, but it is all of our responsibilities to shift this forever; not create an environment where people are worried that they’re going to overstep the mark or say something ‘incorrect’.
I believe enormously in the power of positive affirmation, when a school, club, or even a couple get it right it should be recognised – we’re all going to get it wrong sometimes. (I have to reflect on why my 7-year-old daughter hears ‘You look lovely’ from me, and my boys hear ‘What a dude’ when they’re dressed up – it’s subtle, but it’s a differentiation that I’m trying to move from.
When I took a year’s break to bring up our 3 children (at the time 5 and under) I felt guilty because I wasn’t setting a good role model to my boys about equality and my daughter about female strength and work/life balance – That is the sort of pressure I felt under: To do and have everything! Crazy – I was dedicating my time to ensuring their early years were completely supported by a stay at home parent (as well as a hands-on Dad), yet I found guilt in that.
Businesses need to keep changing, but we all need to as well. I know that I have had times in my career where I have worked longer, and sometimes harder than male counterparts because I wanted to prove to my company that having to be flexible to do the school run wasn’t making me a bad employee. I still see that culture around. A male friend of mine is a very good personal trainer, working with employees of some of the big city banks. We were discussing one day the fact that his male clients NEVER cancelled their training sessions – (and these were the 5:30/6:30 am sessions that shouldn’t impose on a working day), but that his female clients regularly did because of preparing for a meeting or getting ready to see a client. He was saddened by the fact that the women he trained let their personal time go more readily than their male counterparts.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions
Every time you come in to contact with a great leader learn something from them. Add to your tool kit; be humble about what you do and don’t know. Read articles and watch (among other things) Simon Sinek’s ‘Starting with Why?’ Don’t ever think about not going after something because a man is going after it too. If you act like gender is irrelevant to a role (which it is) then those around you will too.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Build a team of people who are better than you. Work with them to create a vision of “success over time”. Spend every working moment ensuring that those people can be successful at achieving that vision. Clear up internal politics, unblock blockers, review, support, and most importantly develop the individuals.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A piece of advice - from my cousin, Louise: “Hope and a big number is not a business model.”
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
“You’re not going to believe this…”
We loved this blog from Imogen, we learnt a lot and are very inspired by Imogen! Check out YesSheCanTV here!