Opinion

I’m a middle-aged mum of two: it’s my CEO Superpower

Liz Rhodes, CEO Art of Cloud, reveals her life as a mother and entrepreneur
By
Liz Rhodes
Liz Rhodes

The world might feel like it’s changing at a rapid rate - but some forms of progress are still taking longer than others.

As a woman working at a senior level in tech, I’ve always known I was in a minority. But at a recent networking event, the reality of my situation was brought home hard.

According to a colleague’s lecture, women still only make up 26 per cent of all those working in the IT/tech sphere.

Further recent research from the Gender Index shows only 17 per cent of UK companies are currently led by women, while DSIT figures reveal female-founded UK tech companies secured £3.6 billion in venture capital last year - just 15 per cent of the total awarded.

Age is another interesting issue. Cast your eyes around the room at a lot of UK tech events and you’ll see plenty of eager young colleagues but far fewer mid-life mums like me and not so many women of my age - 49 if you want to know - in CEO or other senior positions.

I get why it’s happening. A lot of women still shoulder the burden of caring responsibilities - whether that’s for children or other family members - so pursuing career goals isn’t always a priority.

But plenty of people would love to keep on pushing and achieving - if only they had the opportunity and flexibility - and in doing so, to explore and challenge the idea of leading well.

I have done just that and I hope I’m a good example of how age and experience can help drive positive change in one of the UK’s fastest-growing sectors.

My personal and professional lives couldn’t be any busier but instead of being a hinderance, that experience and those responsibilities are exactly WHY I’m good at what I do.

Contrary to a lot of advice I received earlier on in my career, I’ve never thought about playing down my family commitments.

And as I’m discovering, being a middle-aged mother - to two wonderful teenage girls - is actually my CEO superpower.

Not only does it shape my management style but now, as CEO here at Art of Cloud, it gives me some pretty useful skills and managerial advantages.

It informs the way I support, develop and mentor others and helps me guide my team towards achieving great commercial results.

It’s not just about multi-tasking. Of course, we all know that parents are multi-tasking wonders but for me, parenthood honed other skills key to my CEO role; boosting my ability to set boundaries, delegate effectively and feel more at ease with collaboration.

As a female leader, I can offer a softer, more nurturing approach, a wider understanding of the need for balance and flexibility, less traditional leadership which isn’t strictly hierarchical but still structured, a work culture where people are free to speak honestly and so thrive.

Navigating the sometimes tricky challenges that parenting brings is another direct source of insight.

Parenting means supporting well, listening at the right level without interfering - knowing when to push people on to grow and when to step back, when to catch them and swoop them up, and when to let them run.

I’m not saying I always get it right but these behavioural insights definitely provide scope for exploring new ways to approach workplace tasks and challenges - on an every day and strategic level.

Experience is another important factor - and in a climate where 93 per cent of UK businesses admit struggling to retain female talent - one of the reasons we need to find new ways to help people continue to progress, and to do things their way.

Earlier in my career, I worked in some very male, aggressive environments.

I was made to feel that leading without being bullish was weak - when that definitely is not the case,

Being more experienced means I now have the confidence to push back and do things my way. These days, I’m less afraid to lead with kindness or to embody and share my core values and boundaries - getting older has allowed me to work in alignment with them.

I recognise I'm not going to please everyone all of the time and feeling comfortable enough to stretch myself beyond what others dictate or expect.

Sharing these perspectives feels important - as we look to support business leaders of the future.

As a CEO I love encouraging people to join us and I am passionate about supporting the drive for greater equality in our eco-system.

Tech is an exciting space to be in - with an ever-growing market and endless new career opportunities that we can help shape - and no-one should feel excluded.

So for now, I hope I can continue to inspire by example. And it does feel that things are finally changing for the better, as we start to understand there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to good leadership and subsequent success.

Written by
Liz Rhodes
CEO Art of Cloud
July 4, 2023