Interview with Claire Barron, Chair of Vodafone UK Women’s Network

Claire Barron, Chair of Vodafone UK Women’s Network talks to Your Ready Business about the importance of building a women’s network and ways to inspire each other.

What role does the Vodafone UK’s Women’s network play?

I think this network is about empowering the women within in it. And we have one single aim- which is inspiring confidence in Vodafone and in each other.

Is there anything that Women’s Network does that really tries to support female staff in senior roles?

Absolutely, yes, but we also support women in non-senior roles as well. We focus on engaging people, communicating with them, and making sure that they have the right tools to develop and grow in their careers. For example, Vodafone has a partnership with the Everywoman network, and we offer a training portal, which has hints, tips, webinars, workbooks and information on leadership. The portal has a fantastic range of subjects that people from any level of the business, senior or not, can use to develop their careers, as well as on a personal level.

I find real inspiration from hearing the stories from the women in our network. Hearing a senior leader talk about how she has the same insecurities as you when you are a junior member of the team is hugely inspiring. Just to use the example from Sally Gunnell about being a farmer’s daughter from Essex and we’ve heard Daryl Fielding, our Brand Director who chairs the D&I steering committee, talk about being a little girl from Bournemouth. Opening up and sharing our experiences gives us the confidence to ask some of the questions that should be asked.

What values do you see that a diverse workforce brings to Vodafone, in terms of innovation and profitability?

When you sit in a room that has got a really good balance, it’s then that the room comes alive. It’s about understanding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s about recruiting and fostering the right team environment within Vodafone. You need that balance of ideas and opinions around the room and it’s about embracing people’s differences. So we should be recruiting people to cover our weaknesses and not just recruit people who are like us. This would give us a much better balance and higher performing team, which in turn will lead to greater profitability.

Any support or advice you can give to women who are making decisions about family and careers? Is there anything that the Women’s Network do that helps in the decision making process and even encourage women to come back to work after they’ve taken appropriate leave?

We’re never going to get away from the fact that having children and with coming back to work, there’s a huge amount of guilt that you carry around with you. I say that as a mum. There are always insecurities that women will face, taking time off and being replaced by someone who has to come in to do your job for you and worrying about how much maternity leave you have. You feel guilty for leaving your work and you feel guilty for leaving your children. What I think Vodafone can do is acknowledge that, and to hear senior people in our business talk about feeling that way, is hugely inspiring and powerful. It is something that enabled me to ask some questions about my own work life balance with my own daughter.  And I also think it’s about creating flexibility.

At Vodafone there are flexible working patterns that you can employ in certain parts of the business. I think talking about having a diverse workplace and talking about the challenges and also the achievements of women within our industry is what we have to do to encourage women to enjoy having their families and their careers as well. I can count so many success stories of women in our business that have families and have combined them successfully with their careers, but likewise I can share some examples of people for whom it hasn’t worked out. I think it’s absolutely our role as a Women’s Network, to share those concerns, to face right into them, to talk about people in our business who’ve felt them before, and then to give some coping mechanism around it, because it’s not easy. And I say that as a single mum, who have had to juggle a career and brought up a daughter on my own.

My daughter is 14 now and is proud of the example I’ve shown her throughout my career. I’ve set an example of somebody who is financially independent; who loves her job and Caitlin’s a big part of that. I think it’s just about showing the ways that people can do both. Better Ways of Working can be more than just about starting late and leaving early. For me it is about being close to my support network. My family lives in Durham and I had to move to Newbury for work. When I asked if I could move back home and commute into Newbury a couple of days a week, the answer I got was absolutely yes. I think I’ve worked harder and better during the time since last May when I moved back to Durham than I ever have before. It really means a lot that Vodafone allowed me the opportunity to do that. If we hear more stories like that it can inspire people.

Why are campaigns, like International Women’s Day important to businesses like Vodafone?

The level of engagement and reach that a big scale event like this brings is really important for us.

For one, it’s great for people engagement. Our employees feel proud of working for Vodafone and it gives them a platform to talk to other people about it. We can see what other people around the world are doing and we can all share and learn from each other. It helps our business become more inclusive and diverse as a result. There’s also opportunity to link up with other networks inside and outside of Vodafone, such as Royal Bank of Scotland for example.

One of the big themes of International Women’s Day was entrepreneurship. Does entrepreneurial spirit bring value to a business like Vodafone?

Anything that embraces creativity, whether it’s something outside your career or inside of it, is fantastic. By allowing our employees the freedom to be creative and explore interests outside of their current jobs brings renewed passion to their roles. Vodafone should enable our employees to do exactly what they want to do and be the best that they can be. In my own personal experience, being able to be creative enables me do my day job better and I really value the support that I get from Vodafone.

What’s next for the network?

We don’t have a job list, but we have a growing group of passionate people who want to be involved. We have full support at the senior level. Our HR Director helped in setting it up and in founding it. And our Brand Director chairs the D&I steering committee. We’re working on our strategy for this year to grow our footprint but for now, we’ll continue to get together, share stories, whether that’s at a big global or national campaign level or at a local small event. That’s where I find inspiration. And hope others do too.

About Claire Barron

Claire Barron leads Customer Experience, Communications and Training for Retail and Online in Vodafone UK, she is also the Chair of the UK Women’s Network. The purpose of the Women’s network is to inspire confidence in Vodafone and in each other, and is open to everyone at Vodafone to ensure they can be the best that they can be, Claire speaks at events on behalf of the Women’s Network and Vodafone.