International Women’s Day 2024

To celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March, we interviewed our very own Managing Director, Helen Mathieson. We wanted to find out about her experiences, challenges, and triumphs as well as exploring the pivotal moments that have defined her career and shaped her leadership style. Beyond the spotlight on accomplishments, we also discuss the challenges she has faced.  

Vegware Managing Director, Helen Mathieson, smiling at the camera
In your opinion, what are the key qualities that make a successful leader, particularly in today’s rapidly changing business landscape?  

I think there are a few qualities that make a great leader. The demands on a business change fast these days, so agility of thought is key – and courage – either if trying something new or sticking with an established principle that is important to your business. You need courage to do both.   
Empathy is also really important as a quality. Although leaders can succeed using the “tell” it is so much more rewarding for the rest of the team and the people involved in the company if they feel heard, listened to, and have an ability to share ideas – that encourages the possibility of creating a high performing team.   

In your journey to leadership, have you encountered any unique challenges as a woman, and how did you overcome them?

Nothing unique – I suppose that in the early days you can sometimes come across people who don’t think you should be in the role you are in…. one role where I took on the running of a warehouse, I had the usual “not listening to a girl, what does she know”, but I’m quite stubborn, so that incident just made me more determined to do well. Again, that’s about listening and understanding- and learning. The other big challenge is the balance between work and life. My family are important to me – so I work extra hard at making sure I have time to spend with them also.  

Vegware’s Exec
How do you approach building and leading diverse teams, and why do you believe diversity is essential in the workplace?  

Diversity is important from the perspective that people’s abilities, experience, and ways of thinking all contribute to creating a unique team. It’s a mindset that allows people to succeed regardless of things like gender, race or background. It’s about allowing people to share thoughts and ideas, to feel heard and to contribute ideas because of lived experience which is so important. Creating a safe space/ honest an open environment is key. 

What steps can organisations take to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in leadership?

We have the DE&I council – which is great in terms of representing the broad spectrum of people working across our business, and the Women In Novolex group, which is a great and supportive group to be part of.  The biggest thing a business can do, is acknowledge that there may be differences between men and women in leadership, as may be the case for any diverse group of people, but that allowing talented people to thrive in a workplace environment where possibilities are open to all, is really key here.  

In your role, how do you encourage innovation and creativity among your team members?  

Each time we meet as a team, I try to lay the groundwork for innovation and creativity. I am clear that new ideas, suggestions, ways of working are encouraged, and anyone should feel comfortable to speak up and share. You also need to understand that people work differently so creating an environment people can feed into when they may not be the loudest voice, or the most comfortable in a crowd is key. 

There are great ideas that we have implemented, and others that we haven’t – but in this case it is important for the person who suggested something to understand the reasons why we didn’t take up the suggestion…  so, they aren’t discouraged from continuing to be inventive and creative. Even if it sounds a bit cheesy – some post-its and a group of people is a great way to get the creativity going- to ask, “what if” and to create an environment where anyone can provide an idea that is listened to.  

How do you strike a balance between assertiveness and empathy in your leadership approach?  

I think I lead with empathy, rather than assertiveness. I’m not afraid to “lead the charge” behind the things that I feel are right for the business, so I probably appear, and feel assertive in that sense, but as with anything- making sure the team understand why something is being done, or why a decision has been made, is key to keeping them engaged, and on the same path to success.  

How do you foster a culture of mentorship and support within Vegware?

I suppose I try to lead by example. That means, making sure that I spend as much time as possible with the team, making sure we understand what development people want, and understanding how we can help them grow. I make sure that if someone wants to talk, or chat about plans/ what is stopping them, they know I am there to provide support, and that there aren’t barriers to success if the skills and talent are there! 

How do you approach decision-making, and what advice do you have for women who may struggle with making tough decisions? 

Decision making is not always easy when responsibility rests on your shoulders. As with anything – weighing up all sides, seeing input if needed, and having the courage of your conviction is key, as well as being comfortable with accountability.  As I mentioned before, if the decision is a wrong one, then learn from it – understand what went wrong, and go again. No one is going to get it right all of the time. 

How do you stay resilient and maintain a positive mindset in the face of professional challenges? 

Resilience – that’s a biggie! Although I am a personality that thrives when a lot is going on, most often the more the better. But! It’s important to look after yourself. I’m a fan of 30 minutes of exercise. Although I am not amazing at sport I try to cycle or run to give myself a break. Maintaining perspective can be tough, but that is why it is so important to do so.  

How do you handle setbacks or failures, and what advice do you have for bouncing back and learning from these experiences?  

t’s never a great feeling to fail – but with my continual improvement head on – this bit is about understanding what could have gone differently and viewing setbacks as an opportunity to improve and move forward. Bouncing back comes from the approach you take – focussing on the learning on WHAT to do and what would have worked, rather than focussing on the failure, allows success to grow.  

How do you handle and overcome imposter syndrome? 

Ah imposter syndrome. It has appeared on occasion, and if it does, I remind myself that I am here because I am good at what I do, and also because I am great at creating and leading brilliant teams! If I’m honest, the other thing that has really helped over the years, is a fantastic husband, who basically tells me I’m brilliant! That helps a lot!

How do you prioritise work-life balance, and what strategies do you employ to manage stress and prevent burnout? 

Work life balance is important for everyone – and I don’t always get it right…. I said before, exercise is a key one for me – and trying to set aside the right amount of time to spend with family – doing the football run with the kids, going for a walk on an evening as a family – if we can prise my 12 year old away from his PC. It is easy to tip the balance the wrong way – especially now that hybrid and home working has become so normalised, this one takes conscious effort to get right, and it’s important for everyone.

Can you share a lesson or piece of advice that has been instrumental in your own leadership journey?  

I have this mantra- “don’t say why you can’t- think about how you can” I think that positive intent is hugely important. You’ll never know what you can achieve until you try.  

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