Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Vickie Brown from Distinction Doors

I started working in finance via a data analysis role, which only took me a few days a week so during the remainder of the time I worked on projects for the finance director. He suggested that I took my CIMA qualification, funded by the business, which I reluctantly accepted.

From there, I moved around throughout my training to gain experience before settling for nine years at an owner-managed manufacturing SME.  Here, I was given the opportunity to get involved in global acquisitions, raising funding, setting up a management accounting team in India and having daily interaction with an entrepreneur.  I loved my time there and was led by some inspirational leaders.

I then had a four-year stint at a large global multinational, which taught me that to be fulfilled at work I needed to be involved in the decision-making process.

I was attracted not to the industry as much as the company. Distinction Doors is an owner-managed SME, with a supportive board and a family feel to the company culture. I liked the team, and could also see opportunities for improvement.

How you got to the top

A belief in my own abilities, which took me a long time to accept and I think is a struggle for a lot of women in business.

Distinction Doors was my first interview for a director position, and I was thrilled to be offered the position. Our board grew quickly from four to eight people – and from being all-male when I joined, we now have three women on the board.

Within five months of joining, I co-led a management buy-out and became a shareholder in the business.

Learning to fulfil my board role

My CEO encouraged me to complete the chartered director training with the Institute of Directors to ensure I had all the necessary skills and knowledge to fulfil my role and responsibilities. I’m very proud, not only to have qualified, but to have qualified in the top three in the country.

The biggest learning I got from the course was actually the “Finance for Non-Finance Directors” section. It opened my eyes to the “mysticism” that other board members feel about the finances. It’s important to note that the board as a whole is responsible for ensuring that the company is being within appropriate financial constraints.

I had honestly believed that my board reports must be good, because no-one ever asked any questions about them!  The course taught me that it may well be because the rest of the board didn’t really understand them, and didn’t want to feel foolish by asking questions…

It completely changed the way I write my board reports and present the board information. I also ensure that everyone is aware of their personal liability; it’s important to note that it’s not the sole responsibility of the FD.

This approach has led to more interesting and challenging questions directed toward me, but that can only be a positive when it comes to leading a business.

Best things about your job

Without a doubt the best thing about my job are the teams I work with. My finance team are fantastic and work hard to ensure that I have the space to really concentrate on the strategic direction of the business. My board are extremely supportive, we challenge one another in board meetings, but always face issues as a team.

The values of the wider team make distinction a really great place to work, we are passionate about what we do, we treat people fairly, we operate our business with integrity and are committed to the highest level of customer service.

I also have the opportunity to come into contact with many external stakeholders, who take the time to really understand our business needs and work with us to fulfil our commitments.

Hardest things about your job

Staying away from the day-to-day financials is a challenge as that is my comfort zone, but it’s important to the business that I (along with the rest of the board) focus on the long-term strategy and empower my team to run the accounting function. However, I have a great team in place that I know I can trust.

Mentors and people who inspired you?

I have been very fortunate to have come into contact with many inspirational people. As a child in the 70s and 80s I was surrounded by strong female role models. My mum was Chairman of the Sheffield Magistrates bench, my aunts and godmothers were, variously, a partner in an accountancy firm, a High Court Recorder and a leading IT pioneer.

In business, I have met a number of very generous individuals who have willingly given time and effort to support me and help me to develop.  There are too many to name individually, but I will say that the Sheffield business community in general, the IoD membership and the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire have all helped me immensely.

Women’s position within the sector currently

There is an increasing number of women in powerful positions within the sector, and while it is still heavily male-dominated, this is beginning to change with a number of the larger companies having inspirational women in senior leadership roles.

What needs to happen:  your vision for the industry in terms of gender diversity

I believe that we still have a way to go to achieve true equality, but things have improved immensely in just the last 20 years.

Flexibility is the key to enabling women to achieve their full potential in the workplace. We have access to technology that makes regular 9-5 working unnecessary for many roles, and yet we are failing to take full advantage of that fact.  Perhaps our ways of working need to catch up with technological advances.

Here at Distinction, we encourage flexible working wherever possible, for both men and women.

I am in the fortunate position of having an extremely supportive husband who does (more than) his fair share around the home, so I believe that a bit more equality in couples’ home lives would also assist in evening out the gender diversity.

Your best advice to other (female) directors

Believe in yourself and your ability and remain true to yourself, even if that means disagreeing (respectfully) with others.  Speak up, remember your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.

Acting with integrity is paramount, if you do what you say you are going to do, you will gain peoples trust.

Be supportive of other women and remember your own journey, no-one got here by themselves, so be generous with time and advice to others.

Appreciate and champion diversity of gender, background and experience, differences of opinion are not a negative. It’s everyone working together that makes for a successful company, diversity isn’t just about gender, and an “echo chamber”, where everyone is always in agreement, is not a healthy environment.

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Leadership & Management