Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Thursday, 5 January 2006

How does a woman have it all?

Chey Garland
I couldn't be a CEO and work part-time, says Chey Garland

Women are still decades away from achieving equality in the workplace, according to a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

But there are those who have defied the statistics - and Chey Garland, named Veuve Clicquot's Business Woman of the Year 2005, is one of them.

David Conway, of social policy think-tank Civitas, suggests that the reason women find it difficult to attain senior positions within a company is because they "prefer to start families".

At the age of 48, Chey is the founder and CEO of Garlands Call Centres, a business with an annual turnover of 37m, employing 3,000 staff.

At the same time she is also a mother to twin 12-year-old boys.

Women have always worked, she says - referring to her mother who worked unsociable hours as a waitress. The difference now is that women have careers.

"I think it was always accepted in working class families that mums went out to work," she says. "My mum worked jolly hard.

"What society didn't seem as comfortable with was women wanting to go to work for their own fulfilment and aspirations."

I do think it's unrealistic for females wanting to be on the board of a FTSE 100 company to think about working flexible hours

Chey insists that women can have a family and rise to the top - but they need to conquer the issue of childcare if they want to get ahead and redefine what "all" means.

When Chey's sons were born she was working full-time as the CEO of the company she founded.

After becoming a mother she tried to work part-time but said she quickly realised this did not combine well with the corporate world.

"The penny dropped very quickly, within three to four weeks, that it was impossible to be in the role of CEO on a part-time basis so I returned to my initial plan, which was to employ a nanny.

"I didn't feel I was a better mum for only working part-time or a worse mum for working full-time. I still get up during the night, I go to the school concerts and sports days.

"I think one of the nuts to crack is to get it clear in your head where you want to go to and if you do want a family then you need to work out childcare."

She added: "I do think it's unrealistic for females wanting to be on the board of a FTSE 100 company to think about working flexible hours.

"If you are at the core of the business you need to work core business hours."

I wish people of both sexes would appreciate their own strengths and differences
Graham Briggs, Cambridge

However, she does feel that attitudes are changing to women who have children but want to continue to work and further their career.

"I think it comes down to the way families are structured," she says.

"We now see more men getting involved in housework and we have women who have taken the decision to have a family and their partner will be doing the childcare."

Chey points out that she did not have to work her way up to the boardroom. Instead she left school at 16 with no qualifications and at 23 used her 600 savings to establish a credit collections agency before starting up the call centre side of the business in 1997.

"I started as an office junior and quickly became hugely ambitious and very much wanted to become a managing director because I wanted to be the one making decisions.

"But as a 16-year-old with no qualifications I realised there was no way I was going to be the one picked for promotion so I knew I'd have to do something for myself. I think it's easier for entrepreneurs because you are your own boss."


So does Chey think it has been more difficult for her to succeed because of her gender.

"Within my age group I guess typically it would have been more usual for the man to have the career. But in terms of going to the bank, raising money and building a business I haven't found my gender to be a problem."

And what of the future? Chey says that it will always be "the best person for the job" but says she is working hard to nurture some of the female managers within her company.

She is also very keen on mentoring.

"I've had mentoring myself and found it incredibly helpful. I am a mentor myself now and I know some of the women who work with me have taken mentoring and those that have have really blossomed."

Calls for new sex equality laws
29 Dec 05 |  UK Politics
Gender equality is 'thin veneer'
23 Nov 05 |  Business

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