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International Women's Day: An interview with Kate Mitchell from Forest Holidays

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International Women's Day: An interview with Kate Mitchell from Forest Holidays

To celebrate International Women's Day, this week we are putting the spotlight on inspiring women in digital leadership roles. In this 2nd instalment, our own inspiring leader, Forward Role’s first-ever female Associate Director Rachel Wheeler, chatted with Kate Mitchell, Head of Digital Trading at Forest Holidays.

1. Please could you provide an overview of your role?

I currently have a really broad role that covers leading strategy and delivery across UX R&D, Digital Product, CRO and Trading at Forest Holidays. My team is only 15 months old within the business so we’re establishing a lot of brilliant basics and building new ways of working with other teams, but it’s hugely rewarding to see our work making impact on commercial performance and customer experience. Our core KPIs are SEO session growth, Conversion Rate and attachment rate of extras to each cabin booking.

2. What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

Wow – now that’s a tricky one. Looking at the standpoint of women in the workplace, I have come across sexism and experienced the gender pay gap in action, but I genuinely believe that things are now changing for the better.

The biggest challenge I’ve actually faced has been my own mind. Mental health is something that I’m a huge proponent of talking about as it affects everyone at some point in time. I suffered hugely with Imposter Syndrome and believing in my own capability, despite having a range of successes under my belt.

Over the past few years I’ve made time for the personal work (journaling, running, life coaching, research) as well as the professional (work, life balance, identifying positive mentors and businesses to align to), and can honestly say there’s been nothing more liberating than being able to say “hey I’m figuring this out as I’m on a journey – and that involves mistakes as well as successes – and that’s OK – but I have totally earned the opportunities put in front of me” – it that really helps with making good, quality decisions and enables reflection on those from a positive mindset.

3. Let’s be more positive! What are your biggest success stories?

First and foremost, there’s nothing that makes me burst with pride more than to see former people who’ve worked on my team take a step up the ladder, often into roles in some of the UKs most successful companies – helping develop and build confidence in our leaders of the future is a real joy for me.

Professionally speaking, supporting delivery of a record financial year performance at Forest Holidays, winning Marketing Team of the year and Champions of Digital Design has been a phenomenal experience and reflective of solid teamwork. I think some of my most formative experiences, however, have come from working in businesses undergoing difficult change and challenge. Motivating people, despite difficult trading conditions and cost savings, then harnessing that to drive positive performance was a huge achievement.

4. What advice would you give to women who aspire to be in a role of power?

  • Support and build the women around you – I believe women suffer from self-doubt and imposter syndrome much more than our male counter-parts, yet I also think women can keep the cycle of challenge going by pitting ourselves against each other. So, remember to celebrate the women around you – telling someone how awesome they are may just be the shot of confidence they need today, or recognising they’re having a bad day and giving sound advice “you know, today may not be a great day to make big decisions, take it easy”.

  • Define your goals – sounds cheesy, but your mind goes where you tell it to- knowing what you want to do in the next 1-5 years will help you make good decisions in the here and now and give you focus to take on the challenges you will learn from, not the ones that will drain you. Power and success mean different things to different people and it’s not always seeking the next promotion, pay rise etc.

  • Protect your time - Often as women the demands on us are great, from being a partner, mum, boss, employee. Make sure you have the boundaries in place, not always easy, but decide what your non-negotiables are to give yourself some time out – whether that be a commitment to always do school run on a weds, meet with friends one night a week or take a lunchtime walk daily. I am a firm believer in the power hour – I get up at 5-6am to get to the gym, or take time for a coffee with my diary or the papers and it sets me up for the day.

5. What factors do you think have caused an imbalance at the top of the ladder between men and women? What do you think we can do to overcome these challenges?

I don’t think this is an easy answer and it’s one we could all probably write verse and chapter on, but I firmly believe that education about the roles of women and leadership need to start early. In school. I still think that stereotypical male / female roles are standardised then perpetuated from a young age. And let’s be honest – in today’s open society where gender is an identity more than a biological function, we need to be having different conversations as part of our education process.

I also believe that we as women need to be prepared for what that equality brings and be prepared to support those around us with the process.

Secondly, I believe that the qualities that women can bring to senior leadership role are based on EQ in abundance so within organisational context businesses need to consider what quality leadership looks like within their organisations so that we end up with people with right skills in roles, irrespective of gender, rather than a diversity in leadership conversation.  

At Forward Role, we help some of the UK's biggest and most exciting employers to attract the brightest talent and empower candidates to build exciting careers, if you are looking to hire talent or take the next step in your career- get in touch!

Check out the first instalment of our Women in Digital Leadership Series, with Rachael Tansey-Brown, Head of Digital at Findel Education - HERE