Sophie Ward – DO NOT let ‘imposter syndrome’ stop you

In this blog, #YesSheCan got to chat with Sophie Ward, sales executive at Jaguar! She talks about her career in the motor industry, gender pay gap issues and managing with anxiety. This is definitely worth a read!

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career:

I have been in the motor industry since 2011 when I was 18 years old. I worked 3 days a week at BMW on reception while I was completing my BSc in Psychology and then went to 4 days a week while completing my MSc in Global Crime, Justice and Security. After graduating, I got promoted to Sales Administrator for Mercedes-Benz which I did for a year before becoming a Sales Executive for them in 2017. I had a lucrative career with Mercedes-Benz being the top Sales Executive for the Inchcape division in January 2018 after only 3 months in the role. In June 2019 I moved over to Jaguar Land Rover as it is a brand that I have always admired – to me Jaguar excites me more than Porsche, Maserati and Ferrari put together! I am loving it here at Jaguar.

A typical day in your career:

Crazy! I start at 8.30 am with a sales meeting discussing appointments and handovers. I normally have about 20 people to contact in the day. Usually, at least 1 handover which is 2/3 hours out of the day. I then have to deal with any walk-ins which can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on test drive requirements and type of customer. Every customer is different and this is where my psychology degree comes in useful, to understand the personality type and match that to make the customer feel as comfortable as possible. I mean, I’m not doing it justice really but it is manic. It’s a difficult industry to operate within, especially in the current climate, but it is a fantastic industry for people without further education or specific skill sets to be able to earn £50k+ a year.

What made you choose this career/industry?

In short, my Uncle David. He has worked in the motor trade all his life starting as an apprentice technician and worked his way up to becoming a Dealer Principle of various BMW, VW and Porsche sites in the UK and now is the General Manager of Euromotors over in Bahrain which includes Maserati, Ferrari and BMW. He is a ‘larger than life’ personality and one of the funniest people I know. He can hold a room’s attention like no one else I have ever seen. He is just one of those people that is once in a lifetime. Seeing the way he has been able to live as a result of his hard work is what has inspired me most of all. The other factor is that my personality is such that if someone tells me I can’t do something I have to prove them wrong, so when I told people my aspirations of becoming a sales executive and then onto head of business and eventually a franchise director while I was an 18-year-old receptionist and they laughed in my face which only made me more determined to get to the top! Now I do the same job as men twice my age and older and get paid the same if not more. I always try to think of a time when I wished for exactly what I have now and that keeps me grounded and grateful and reminds me I can do the same again over and over!

How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?

I’ve just been myself. I can’t help it, I find it impossible to pretend to be something I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, there are times in my career where not being myself would have gone better for me no doubt – times when I have been too emotionally invested in the wrong things, times where I haven’t made the necessary distinction between business and personal life. Spending 60 hours a week with people you can’t help getting emotionally attached to them and then when they have to get serious and ‘business’, you take it to heart. Was that because I was young? Or because I am female? I don’t know. Who is to say I was wrong and they were right? But the fact of the matter is if I want to excel in this industry or any business that was a hard lesson I had to learn.

The other difficulty in this industry is time. I work 6 days a week and 10 hours a day, somedays too busy to stop for lunch. If you don’t get the balance right, it’s not sustainable. I make sure on my days of I do something genuinely relaxing, yoga, meditation, reiki or massage mostly. I have to have that ‘reset’ and make sure that it is a healthy and beneficial reset not drinking, smoking, you know the score – burning the candle at both ends! It has taken me quite some time to understand that when I go down that road, it’s not me just being fun Sophie – somethings wrong. Let’s figure out what it is and channel it into something beneficial. Look after myself, as it were – something when I look around me, people haven’t learnt at 30, 40, 50+!!

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?

It used to be because I was scared to disappoint my Mother. Now it is solely for myself and the sense of reward I get from achieving goals I set which is massively liberating. That has only changed in the last year or so, probably not soon enough.

What’s great about being a female in your role?

Surprising people. I wish it didn’t surprise people that I do this job and can do it well, never mind better than some men can, but it does, so I have conditioned myself to take that as a compliment. Plus, I am changing the narrative! A small step for Sophie a big step for (wo)mankind! It’s all good.

What is your biggest achievement in life?

I’ll give you the fluffy answer and the real answer. Fluffy: my Master’s degree. I hadn’t done a Law undergraduate degree like everyone else on the course so they told me I wouldn’t be able to do it, I insisted I would be fine, not only would I be fine but I would do it in 1 year instead of 2. I was in fact, not fine. It was incredibly difficult and my anxiety hit its peak during that year – actually in hindsight the only time I have been able to lose weight…might do another one. (Jokes)

Real: keeping myself alive. Sounds so dramatic now but that is god’s honest truth. There have been a few times where I have hit the depths of despair and have gotten that low or that anxious I have seen no way out and I convinced myself I wasn’t supposed to be here and a few times death would have been the easier option but for the sake of my family, I have kept going. It’s hard to accept that was my reality because it couldn’t be further than the place I am at now, but, it happened. I hope it never happens again and I don’t think it will, but if it does I feel that I am fully equipped to deal with it. I am glad I am able to write that now and feel no shame – I think years ago I wouldn’t have the bottle to open up about that because of the taboo surrounding mental health but just like gender equality, there has been some massive exponential growth over the past few years in regards to the way we talk about and deal with these problems, and I am so grateful I am a part of a generation that makes that happen.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

100%. I have always been in an all-male team whilst selling. I refuse to be thought of as any less than the men in the team, but sometimes I shoot myself in the foot. For example, when locking up, there are metal bollards that need pulling up and locking, I struggle so much doing it from a strength perspective, and then there is the issue of nails snapping and stumbling in stilettos, but I HATE that so much because we are equal! Right? So I have a huge amount of cognitive dissonance surrounding the subject. It also annoys me every time I think about the length of time it takes me to get ready in the morning doing my hair and make-up in comparison to the guys, which is unavoidable really with being customer-facing, although I know you could argue that is a personal choice. These are minor problems, and there are loads of things like this but in relation to my actual job, to sell cars, sometimes it is a blessing sometimes it is a curse. Some people would prefer to deal with a woman, some people prefer to deal with a man. Although I am unaware of a time a customer has walked into the showroom and assumed one of my male counterparts were the receptionist…

Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

Spending time with my nieces and nephews – I could be biased, but they are incredible! They just say it how it is, they’re not worried about saying the right thing or censoring their emotions in any way – I wish adults were like that! Plus they idolise me which is the best feeling in the world.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

Every day is another chance for a new beginning – to be better than the person you were yesterday. It’s so powerful and has got me through a lot of different times. There’s not much that a good night’s sleep can’t fix!

What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

  1. Work is not the place for romantic relationships. It never works. Just don’t.
  2. The world is changing, there is more opportunity for you to progress now than there has ever been, so DO NOT let ‘imposter syndrome’ stop you from reaching for what women for hundreds of years have been fighting to even be considered to be in the running for.
  3. Don’t make yourself smaller to fit in someone else’s idea of what women should be/say/do. Be your brilliant self and if someone can’t deal with that that is their problem.

What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given? 

“You can’t soar like an eagle surrounded by pigeons” which I liked the idea of surrounding yourself with people you want to be like but then I thought it felt a bit selfish because you would never be helping anyone if that was the case, so I changed it to:

“Spend time only with people who bring out the best in you, not the stress in you”. When you are mindful to it you will be surprised how many people’s first language is negativity. Cognitive schemas make people’s brains a magnet for negativity and like Teflon for positivity – and it’s contagious! Walk away from it where you can, stay in your magic.

What are your key motivators?

Personal development. Perfecting my craft. Being more educated than I was yesterday. Career progression. Earning more money than I did last year. I just never want to settle for less than I am capable of, and truthfully, I don’t think there is anything I couldn’t achieve if I put my mind to it…so I have a lot of work to do!

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

I think businesses on paper are doing all the right things because, in the most part, they are terrified of not being compliant. For example, the gender pay gap reporting. The actual culture within businesses, however, in some cases leave a lot to be desired, and it is a culture that defines our experiences. I don’t solely put the blame for this on businesses, I also believe as women it is our job to speak up to raise awareness to what we may deem as imbalanced and takes opportunities where possible, not allowing imbalance to continue.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

Use your voice. Get involved. Ask for feedback. Welcome feedback. Be easy to coach. Stand up for what’s right without being aggressive. Take responsibility for your actions.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

People’s opinion of you is none of your business.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

The people I have worked hardest for are people I respect. I respect them because a combination of two things: their personality and achievements, of course, but more so because they respect me. If you don’t respect your manager there’s no chance they are getting results out of you past what you need to do for yourself. The parent/child mindset just doesn’t work. We have to be equals as human beings. Everyone’s job is equally as important to the success of a business. Respect is so important. You can even not like a person but if you respect them you can make that work.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“This too shall pass”. In layman’s terms, good times won’t last, and bad times won’t last. So make the most of the good and know that the bad isn’t the end of the world! The sun will rise again. For the philosophers of the world, attachment is the main cause of human suffering.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

Wow, there are so many things!

  1. No one cares what you’re doing, so you may as well just do what makes you happy and be who you want to be.
  2. Forgive your parents for their faults, they didn’t know what they were doing because their parents didn’t know what they were doing either.
  3. Karma is real!!!
  4. I would also make me listen to The Secret which I only found at about 24.

Thanks so much to Sophie for chatting to us, and for being so open and honest! We loved this blog and hope you did too- if you want to check out more of our blogs, you can- here!

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