Joanne Thompson believes in a fairer society that allows women of all races, religions, backgrounds, and cultures to have the option in life to do the things they love and feel compelled to give to the world. She wants to make it easier and simpler for women to succeed especially as she has two daughters and she doesn’t want them to have to face the same challenges she did. She wants women to achieve what they are capable of so she helps them to do this through using her coaching and business with 28 years of corporate experience in Financial Services.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I lived my childhood years between 2 major UK northern towns, Leeds and Manchester, which at that time were quite industrial. We were a working-class family and from the age of eleven, I worked in my parent’s shop which was based in a low-income area. I learned that you had to work hard to be able to afford just the basics in life so I worked on my school holidays doing various jobs. My friends at school opened my eyes to the possibilities of jobs that allowed someone to earn the kind of salary that would enable me to have more than just the basics. From a very early age, I had an interest in money and banking so I did my work experience at a branch of the HSBC in my local town. I decided to follow a path that would allow me to become an accountant. It wasn’t easy as I didn’t get the results I had predicted in my A levels but I managed to get a place to do an Accountancy degree. I guess I was. quite focused as I saw people struggling financially as I grew up and didn’t want to end up in that position. I’ve always been cautious and responsible with money. My main other interest was the film industry so I volunteered to work on a film for the Leeds Film Festival in my summer holidays. It was fun seeing how it was all put together and I learned about things such as editing and continuity. I did wonder if I would end up being a production accountant but that never came to pass as my first job was in a Building Society.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
My first role came about because I had a summer job as a student in a Building society and through a change meeting I ended up back there in a trainee accountant position. I qualified and had financial-based roles for the first half of my corporate life. I always thought I would be a traditional accountant but I was always more attracted to subjects such as systems, management theory, and strategy – I always wanted to understand how and why we did things too, and had a tendency to want to make things better. After delivering a major system upgrade for part of the Finance function I was a leader in, I wanted to explore more of the project world and change management. I did my Prince 2 Project management qualification and took on a Finance Change Manager role and I did this for a number of years leading on to bigger and more transformational work. Frustrated with constant restructuring and roles that were promised never coming to fruition, I got myself a mentor, someone who I admired and felt had lots of experience that I could learn from. She ignited my passion for self-development and helping others to do the same. I became part of a Women’s Development Network committee and in the end became the Chair. I once came out of a session on Imposter syndrome that we had organized and said ‘ I could do this every day and I decided to explore more of what it would look like. It was a few years before I figured it all out but I’ve learned that finding your purpose takes time and lots of experimentation.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”
In simple words, Redundancy. I had been on a course about coaching and immediately felt drawn to its transformative methods. Being put into a redundancy situation fired up all my values of fairness, equality, and justice and I felt I needed to take more action. I was good at my job – I’d recently won a Global Finance Award for Leadership so I was taken aback that I didn’t survive this round of reorganization. So I thought it was time to take a leap of faith in my own abilities and use coaching to empower others to believe in themselves and get the fulfillment and respect they deserved in the workplace. So Joanne Thompson Coaching was born.
Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?
I now run my own business helping people to understand, empower and achieve the career success they feel they are capable of. I hear so many stories where organizations are still failing in supporting people in the way they need it. There are so many women out there who are ambitious and want to do their work to a high standard but they get overlooked or held in positions – often because they are really good at that position and that makes it easier for companies to meet their targets they stay there. But as people learn and grow, they change and that needs to be anticipated in giving people career support so people don’t feel like they are stuck and underutilized. I help women (and men) realize their potential, changing their mindset and self-belief which in turn helps them to make decisions that are right for them. I’ve also founded the Confidence Collaborative with 2 other coaches which is a safe and inspiring place for women to come and learn so they can elevate their thinking and careers. It’s early days but we have so many ideas. We currently offer a free monthly lunch and learn online sharing our experiences and knowledge – it’s friendly and informal and good fun.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
As a leader I used to have a team I could delegate to and people to bounce ideas off. As a solo entrepreneur, you feel a sense of loneliness when you first start out because you only have yourself to rely on – or so you think. I soon learnt to start asking friends, family, and colleagues for support. It’s also key to building a network of professionals who might be able to point you in the right direction or give you an idea when you get stuck. My other goal is knowing my values and checking in with them regularly to make sure I’m not making decisions that will not be right for me in the long run. The third is to have fun too, test and learn and try new things, it keeps things interesting.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
I left my corporate role as the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown. I’d had so many ideas for networking and providing courses but that all got put on hold. It was hard to start engaging with new people so I had to start getting involved in groups online. I worked with a charity for a bit on building confidence in young mums about starting work. I also wrote a self-help journal that takes you on a 3-month journey to becoming automatically more positive in your thinking. It was a result of an experience I had some years before where I was so overwhelmed with just juggling life that I didn’t feel any joy in anything. As the lockdown got longer I thought sharing the way I managed to pick myself up might help others. I also added extra ideas to help build that positive feeling. It’s called my Positively Positive Journal which is now supplemented with notebooks too.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
Winning an award for delivering a confidence program to University students was a highlight in the first year of my own business. I felt privileged to be able to encourage, inspire and give practical support to people who have not had that growing up.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
Greater insight is needed into 51% of the population in terms of work data and medical data. The gender pay gap report is only a small step on that journey. We need to understand the barriers or obstacles women face at work and in day-to-day life and be able to provide services and products that help them. We live in a world designed for men and that needs to change.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
Ask yourself why. If your answer doesn’t feel right then steer away but if it does (and knowing your values will help with this) stick with it, even when it gets tough. Believing in my mission and the impact it will have is the reason I do what I do.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
The best leaders I have had have been women. They asked my opinion, they were more intuitive about their feelings and they were more open to new ideas. So I know there is great leadership capability out there. What women need is a greater level of support and flexibility to be able to step up and take on that responsibility more readily. Greater access to local childcare, more senior part-time roles, office cultures to stop rewarding those who can stay longer in the office because they have no responsibilities to dash home to, and greater value being put on activities such as creating staff engagement and employee wellbeing. As Richard Branson said ‘ look after your employees and in turn, they will look after the customer’.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
Take charge of your career. Have long and short-term goals and ask for help from those you trust and admire. Be prepared for bumps along the road and create a toolkit to deal with these situations but most of all, never believe that you have to settle for something that doesn’t fulfill you.
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