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International Women’s Day: Sitting down with our co-founder, Lesley Phillips

Working for the Prospero Group

On International Women’s Day we chat with our director, co-founder and all round powerhouse, Lesley Phillips.

Prospero’s co-founder and director, Lesley Phillips
Prospero is over 20 years old! What was it like being a female CEO building a company 20 years ago?

I have always been keen and enjoyed seeing women at Prospero striving and acting as roles models for success, and they then help to inspire other female staff to reach their potential.

As a women in business myself? It’s been very exciting, rewarding but also challenging. You need courage and faith. I realised there was no blue-print for my role. I have to be honest, I have had to hold my ground more than a few times and do like to speak out when I think it’s required and whilst being surrounded by men in the boardroom. Usually they listen as do I to them. 

I think it’s very helpful to have a female voice, and the female viewpoint and as founder on the board, I hope everyone knows the culture supports equality and that Prospero is more interested in individual merits, rather than a ‘one of us’ men’s club is certainly not Prospero. That said I would like to think that both Rob and I together have set a culture along with our management team that encourages women to succeed as much as men.

We do have some really strong female leaders at the company who enjoy achieving and have high standards. It has been and still is a very exciting journey and the excitement comes from taking (measured) risks as well as knowing we can change lives, the staff we find jobs for and the staff who have grown with Prospero over many years. 

How was it building a business in what was typically a male dominated industry?

I am lucky that Rob and I work very closely together in a real partnership. That said women in general do tread a fine line of trying not to be ‘too assertive’ which can be seen as being aggressive whilst being ‘assertive enough’. This is challenging and requires self awareness to check yourself! I’ve also juggled two children during the process and when the kids were really little, I’d even have baby under the desk… that was strange but the kids have come out fine!

How have things changed in the industry over the last 20 years for woman?

It has changed a lot. There is even evidence to indicate that companies with higher numbers of female board members perform better than those with fewer women. The Economist argues that increasing the number of women in the workforce can even boost a countries GDP by as much as up to 21%. 

That said I would support the research that ‘some’ women can still self-judge themselves more harshly when asked about their own performance and we at Prospero have to ensure that this difference is not seen to hold them back or seen as a lack of self-confidence because its often not. Often it is just a different style of cognitive assessment. I have found over the years that women are becoming more confident in speaking out about career needs. 

You mention women in leading positions, can you tell me more? 

There are indeed strong and capable women in senior roles at Prospero. I also think it’s changing, and recruitment isn’t so male dominated anymore.

To name but a few at Prospero …… Kirti, Kealeigh, Ellen, Stacey, Laura, Payal, Danni, Rosie, Claire, Gemma, Joana S, Sian, Joanna S, Sharleen and Alicia  – all outstanding, successful, leading ladies definitely up there with the men in drive and ability.

I genuinely believe at Prospero we have always pioneered women leading from the front, if they have the talent and the drive then there’s a place for them. 20 years ago, it was more male dominated, but then we were much smaller so there were roles obviously. That said I do recall a couple of fantastically feisty females very early on including Alta, a South African lady leading teaching in the early days.

We sat down with some of Prospero’s leading women on International Women’s Day. Read more here!

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