Celebrating International Women’s Day

The House of St John’s is privileged to have such a talented team at the heart of its operations. For the occasion of International Women’s Day we asked both our Head of Operations, Hollie Markham, and our General Manager & Events Co-ordinator, Amy Grant, to reflect on their career journeys thus far.

You have both forged your own paths, gaining successes and recognition at early ages – where there ever moments of doubt?

Hollie: Of course, I’ve mainly worked in very male-dominated environments over the past few years –  banking, education, advertising and then in serviced offices and property. Being a woman in these sectors come with very specific challenges, such as being taken seriously; being seen as less-experienced or confident, or working with men who just didn’t like being managed by a woman.  Fortunately, I come from a family of all-women (bar my dad) and it was instilled in me from a young age that being a woman shouldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I learned to just get on with what I had been employed to do and to do my job to the best of my ability.

I worked in a 5* spa for a good few years and when you have 60 women under one roof that can bring its own set of challenges – you may have several strong-willed women, possibly all after the same next role… it can get tough, but it’s all about getting the best from myself and my team, and working together, as women, rather than against each other.

Amy: Yes, I experienced doubt at most stages of my career. Even though I was doing an Events Management degree at university,  I still wasn’t sure this was the right path for me. When interviewed for a role as an administrator, I must have impressed in my interview as was offered a role as a Fleet Manager. I didn’t even properly understand what this job entailed but I had to ‘take the leap’ which lead me off on my career path. I think I’ve had that little ‘can I do this?’ feeling with almost every role I’ve taken subsequently but I have always had the drive and determination, deep down, to be successful.

Who are/were the role models that helped you realise your potential growing up?

Hollie: It just has to be my mum! She’s a fierce soul, so loving, kind, and generous but, gosh, she knows what she wants and takes no-nonsense; she always said I should work at doing whatever made me happy, so long as I always remembered to be kind along the way. I think the variety of jobs I have had demonstrates that I can put my hand to anything and make it work.

Amy: Without sounding cheesy, my role model has always been my mother. She gave me the confidence to pursue everything and anything that was thrown my way. “You don’t know until you try” she would say and told me that so long as I put 100% effort into everything then I would never be a failure.

The theme this year is ‘breaking the bias’ – have you felt the effects of stereotyping and discrimination in your career journey? How did you overcome it, both in restoring your confidence and for your career?

Hollie: It would be disingenuous of me to say that I had never come up against this, I have, but I’ve never let it bother me.  I actually think I thrive on it! Many years ago, I wanted to be a  bank manager,so I became a bank manager. Some of the male customers would approach me and ask to speak to the bank manager; they were always so shocked that the bank manager was me and that I was a woman. Their eyes said it all, but they had to learn that it’s not like the ‘good old days’ any longer when men held all the best jobs –  women can undertake any role they put their mind to. Inner confidence was key to holding my own. I don’t believe it’s a man’s world anymore; sorry chaps but women are now up for the same roles, expecting the same salary, and are able to do just as good a job. Yes, there are jobs out there that are male-specific ( such as certain physical jobs) but, generally,  I don’t let the fact I’m a woman bother me and stop me from going for roles.  My current role may, in the past, have been seen as a man role…Well it’s not, it’s mine, and I’m owning it!

Amy: When accepting my first sales role, there were already a lot of negative beliefs about a woman’s performance in such a male-dominated industry.  With this attitude entrenched in the organisation, I started to doubt my ability, constantly comparing my sales figures to everyone else’s in the company. However, I soon learnt that performance was nothing to do with gender, it all came down to experience. I was also looked down upon due to my age but I quickly learned that just because I was new to a lot of things, didn’t mean I couldn’t learn and I was a fast learner.  

Which achievement do you most feel proud of, career or otherwise?

Hollie:  Oh, that’s a tough one. Career-wise, I was incredibly proud to be a Regional Protection Manager for NatWest. I got that role after having been with the bank for a comparatively short length of time; I’d progressed quickly from a sales advisor to branch manager which, considering I’m dyslexic and terrible with numbers was no mean feat.  When the job came up, I thought  I’d apply and see how far I got – at the very least, even if I didn’t get it, it was something to aim for. I had three interviews and was up against some much more experienced team members from throughout the Southwest region.  While it was daunting, I was determined and, when I was offered the job, I was elated.  Given my lack of experience, I had to sit some tough FCA-regulated exams. I failed twice, but I never gave up, eventually passing the exams and loving the role.

On a personal level, I’m the eldest of five girls. We range in age from five to 37 years old.  I’m proud to say that we are all the best of mates – all so very different but we admire each other and celebrate our difference.  We are scattered throughout the UK and when we do get together, family time is absolute madness!  I love being the eldest and able to watch them all grow up into such individual characters; my 14-year-old sister is 14 going on 21  and is kind, smart & brave; my twin sisters have been a great support to me whenever I’ve needed it. As for the five- year old, she is ‘mini me’….. loud, fun, happy to help anyone and really enjoys meeting new people – she has inner confidence which I think is rare for a child of her age.

Amy: I struggled with dyslexia throughout my whole school life.  I couldn’t read until I was 12 and I  struggle even now. But, having dyslexia doesn’t mean you’re not capable, it just means that you learn in a different way and it takes a little bit longer. I stayed on after school, most days, and worked with a tutor twice a week to help me ‘catch up’ which ended in results of Bs, As and A* in my GCSEs,  leading me on to a two-year Level 3 business administration apprenticeship. I then worked to complete the course within a year and was accepted at my first choice university.

What advice would you have to young women looking to be the best they can but nervous of the prejudice that might incite?

Hollie: Just do it! Don’t overthink it. Take the risk; put your hand up & ask the question; hold your ground when you need to; learn your craft; be confident, even when you don’t feel it; have people in your life that really believe in you; confidence is key. You’re brilliant, you just don’t know it yet!

Amy: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. You know what you are capable of. You are the leader of your own future and so grab all opportunities that come your way by the horns, and run with them!

Meet the team by emailing hollie.markham@hosj.co.uk and amy.grant@hosj.co.uk