Emma Ward – The best thing I ever did…

My name is Emma, I am 41 (21 in my mind), I have been married for 12 years and I am mum to a very sassy, strong willed, beautiful 5-year-old named Millie. I enjoy bike riding and my new sporting interest is the wonderful game of golf. 

My career in construction started out by accident. I completed my degree and decided I wanted a 9am-5pm job until I found the dream job of ‘Sports Development Officer’. I joined W.T. Burdens in 2001 and have never looked back. I liked the industry because it had a variety of personalities which always made for a very interesting day. In terms of career progression, I have always followed the path that has been presented to me and I am proud to say that my career has been and continues to be successful. 

An average day in supply chain involves lots of networking with both our supplier chain partners, industry experts, Senior Leadership Team, and our branch-based colleagues. We deal with a huge amount of data every day and we can only deliver this information to our colleagues by being extremely efficient and proactive in the way we work.  

I completed my degree and decided I wanted a 9am-5pm job until I found the dream job of ‘Sports Development Officer’. Why I chose to stay in the industry was the people and the challenge the industry presented.  I always remember when I answered the telephone, the customers would say ‘put me through to one of the lads’ and I remember thinking no, I am good enough, speak to me. One day, my colleagues said ‘Emma, just get the customer told’, so I did, the words came out of my mouth ‘what can the lads do that I can’t?’ I will never forget that day because the customer said ‘okay, I want 1050mm Biscuits, 3 Half Battered Cheese’, to his surprise I knew what he meant and after that he continued to deal with me.  I had changed his mind set and it had ignited something in me.  

I got to where I am now because I worked hard, and I continue to work hard. I’ve always challenged myself and others around me, especially when confronted with the “We’ve always done it that way” mentality. I have experienced a few road bumps along the way and one big challenge  for me was the fact I suffered from  ‘imposter syndrome’ I believed I wasn’t good enough and I had this overwhelming feeling that I was always letting someone down whether it be at work or at home. 

I went for CBT Therapy in 2019. Interestingly, I knew the theory and I understood it, I just struggled to put that into practice on myself. I used to look in a mirror and see someone completely different from what other people saw.  The therapy was the best thing I ever did. I took control of my thoughts and I now know how unique and forward thinking I am, and I know what an asset I am at home and at work.

I feel passionate about ‘diversity’ and I feel passionate about coaching others to be leaders rather than managers. Diversity does not just mean ‘women’. It’s the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc. Too many managers recruit people like themselves or others in the team. Someone different with the right attitude is key to creating an outstanding team. I liken it to a choir, the reason a choir works and creates beautiful music is because you have a variety of people with different abilities.

I have always had a strong work ethic. In my first job at 16, I was given the more senior tasks because I delivered work to a high standard and that just seemed to continue throughout my career. I think it is part of my DNA to be determined and drive myself to succeed. 

The great thing about being a female in my role is that you sometimes get away with murder. I think people are more forgiving to females then other genders in the industry. 

My biggest achievement in life is without a doubt keeping my five-year-old happy and healthy without any major injury for the last 5 years. The next biggest achievement is identifying when I wasn’t at my happiest and doing something about it despite an overwhelming fear of the unknown, I acted, and I am happy and very proud of myself and my achievements.  

The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt along the way is to never be afraid to make a very big decision, just because you are on a career path, it does not mean you cannot change it. Don’t be scared to say ‘no’ don’t be scared to say, ‘I want a change’. You can learn and take something positive from every situation.

I absolutely agree that my gender has bought unnecessary challenges to my role.  One of the challenging comments that I have had is ‘You are a mum; mums are always challenging and emotional!’. That comment was made because I had questioned a colleague’s behavior and thought process regarding a critical business decision. He didn’t like my challenge, so this was the response!  This then moves on to ‘Oh Emma, it is just Banter’. Banter, the word generally used cover others poor behavior and attitude. 

Outside of work, my favourite hobbies are holidays, spa days, biking and spending weekends away with my friends. 

The mantra I live my life by is ‘I am enough as I am, I don’t need to prove anything to anybody.’

The top three tips would you give to young females starting their careers would be:

  • Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I need help’, If it feels overwhelming talk to someone, friends, family, colleagues or professionals. 
  • Stay true to you, don’t lose sight of what makes you who you are.
  • Write down what makes you happy, what your values and beliefs are then review yearly. They may change year on year therefore don’t be afraid to adapt and change your career path. 

The best bit of advice I have ever been given is ‘Stay true to you Emma and stop self-doubting.’

One woman who has impacted my life would be my Grandma Twohey, one of the greatest women I have ever met, I always thought she was an angel put down on the earth and it just happened that my brother and I were the chosen ones to have her as our Grandma. She was kind, caring and so loving, she gave me everything I needed, and she was the one I went to when I needed someone to tell me that everything was going to be okay. HOWEVER, if you hurt someone she cared about, or she felt that like an injustice was being done then by gosh you knew about it.  I am fortunate that several women have played a part in impacting my life, I am surrounded by strong women who every day inspire me to be ME.

My key motivators are my family, especially my daughter Millie and my drive to succeed. 

I am not 100% sure that organisations do enough to identify gender imbalance. I think companies look at tackling gender imbalance through recruitment drives or social media campaigns. Companies need to address their internal issues first and truly understand what is driving the imbalance. I think developing leaders within the organisation first to help them to think and behave differently is key. 

My advice for women aiming for leadership positions would be to not lose sight of who you are, people will always guide you to how they believe you should be and whilst learning and development is key to growth, someone guiding you to become like them or behave like them is not the answer. Stay true to you, stay true to your value and beliefs and remember ‘You have got this’. My second bit of advice would be that there is never going to be the right moment when to challenge or share your thoughts. Just do it, don’t procrastinate, just take the leap of faith and do it. 

One key leadership lesson I’ve learned along the way would be an honest conversation with a colleague will deliver a stronger, more positive outcome for both the colleague and the business. Adult conversations are key to developing great teams in an organisation. 

The best piece of advice I’ve been given is to stay true to you and don’t change

What I would say to my 16-year-old self would be, to be happy, be confident, exercise more and don’t eat so much junk food and don’t let others into your head. Your ace. Don’t be afraid to make some big changes, stepping out into the unknown can be invigorating and scary all at the same time. 

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