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Inspirational Women Series: Julie Brown

Julie Brown has been judged to be too nice, too soft, too aggressive, and not aggressive enough. Such is the difficulty of being a woman in business. As the COO and CFO of Burberry, with a wealth of experience in pharmaceutical companies, Julie Brown should simply be judged to be inspirational. Julie's talk emphasised that we should have respect for ourselves in our careers, from choosing the right company to setting boundaries for our work-life balance.

Julie's experience in the pharmaceutical industry is illustrative. Having trained as an accountant, she had a career plan to stay with a big pharmaceutical company, ICI, for 2 years, then move to a smaller company to have a great impact. However, she ended up staying with ICI for 25 years, through various changes in the company. This was because they recognised her potential, and advanced her career before she even recognised she wanted to move up. Being discerning, and choosing the right company, was integral to her enjoyment of her career. Finding a company which has a mission and values which align with yours is incredibly important; seeing the transformative work of pharmaceuticals motivated her work. Equally, seeing the beautiful products Burberry produces makes her work meaningful. You should respect yourself enough to wait to find the right company for you.

Fundamentally, being willing to take risks will help your career, because it gives you a breadth of experience. You should be willing to 'move sideways, move down, move on, move off' in your career, treating it more like a jungle gym, not a straight line. This does mean that sometimes you have a lack of experience or knowledge. The only way to overcome that is to immerse yourself in the business, and understand it completely. Between leaving her old job and taking on the COO & CFO roles at Burberry, Julie had the opportunity to spend time looking at stores, and seeing what Burberry could do to make the consumer experience better. Getting down on the ground - or rather, back to the shop floor - is really the only way to serve a business properly. For Julie, 'powerpoint presentations have no power and no point'; her time with the sales representatives for AstraZeneca Portugal meant she had the knowledge to implement widespread company reform, with huge impact. You need to have the confidence in yourself to make changes in your career, and do the work to make those changes worthwhile.

Being a woman in business is tough, and the idea that women can 'have it all' has gone out of the window. Women experience bias, which the Harvard Case Study of Heidi and Howard has demonstrated; indeed, Julie has experienced those biases working in different areas of the world. Moreover, there are choices women have to make about the balance of career and family. The most important thing is making your boundaries clear, and choosing the things which are important to you, since you cannot have everything. Julie turned down an international promotion to have another child; women turn down career advancement for family life every day. But having the self-respect to make your boundaries clear will make your career more fulfilling.

Ultimately, women should have the confidence, self-belief, and self-respect to choose the right company, make changes in our careers, and set our boundaries. By doing these things, we will not only have good careers, but enjoyable and rewarding ones.

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