Success often means moving upwards, but what if expanding your skills by moving sideways was the real key to career progression?
Like many working mothers I followed the ‘Lean In’ debate, although I quickly grew tired of the predictable career/children balance headlines. Given that Sheryl Sandberg has already made three fairly unconventional career moves, I was much more interested in what lay behind those decisions. I too, admittedly at a much less stratospheric level, have already worked in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, and have changed my occupation on official forms at least five times.
Sometimes this feels like a well thought through long term career strategy; I’m not even half way to retirement age yet and yet I’m fairly confident that should my current track not work out, I have others to fall back on. At other times, as I look at contemporaries who’ve reached dizzy heights, this breadth versus depth approach feels risky and makes me wonder if I should have stuck with my first profession, marketing.
Success is commonly portrayed as going upwards in a straight line, as quickly as possible, rather than seizing the quirky moves that will expand your skills. In fact, these are often pejoratively called ‘sideways moves’, when in my experience they are much more likely to broaden and deepen your CV than adding ‘senior’ to the same job title. The automatic preference for seniority is sadly why career chats with 20-somethings tend to focus on promotional opportunities rather than broad development.
But while quickly rising through the ranks of one specialism may mean status and success now, it can also limit options for further success in future. It is much easier, and people are more forgiving, if you take some career risks early on. For me the intellectual challenge posed by taking on different roles, and the fun of getting to know new work ‘tribes’ outweighs any regrets I may have about taking a more circuitous path.
As always luck plays some part. I’ve been fortunate enough to be recruited by people who saw the relevance of my skills, even if on first glance I didn’t look a good match. The fact I had managed major brand and customer P&Ls at Johnson & Johnson convinced the NHS I was qualified to chair the audit committee for a £280m NHS trust.
When I moved from working with huge corporates as a management consultant to my current role as director of communications, policy and campaigns for Shelter, I’d only ever ‘officially’ managed one of the nine functions in my job description before. The recruitment panel recognised that my core skills of strategy development, relationship building, people management and communications applied to most challenging briefs.
It does take extra effort to quickly understand the language and culture of a new sector. I still remember a sharp intake of breath at a meeting early on, when I mentioned ‘segmenting’ recipients of welfare to inform policy development. However, I also think a fresh perspective was helpful to a charity going through a period of significant organisational reinvention.
Now as a leader, I really try to get a mix of backgrounds in the team and encourage unusual development opportunities; I’m proud our leavers have gone on to some great roles. I can’t prove taking a broad approach has worked for my career — I’ve been on what might be considered a sideways move now for eight years and I don’t think I’ll know the real answer until I retire. However, when you consider those starting on their career path this year have around 50 years of work ahead of them, it does feel that there should be a bit of space for the odd unorthodox career move — or three.
Kay Boycott is director of communications, policy and campaigns at housing and homelessness charity Shelter
Sign up to become a member of the Women in Leadership community here for more comment, analysis and best practice direct to your inbox
Number of completed homes in 2011 less than half what government admits is required annually to meet demand
Ministers are failing to tackle the housing crisis and not enough new homes are being built, leading to rising rental levels and growing homelessness and overcrowding, according to a report by leading housing experts.
The report by the National Housing Federation, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing highlights areas where the coalition is in charge of deteriorating housing conditions. It points out that while there has been a small increase in new builds, the 109,020 completed homes in 2011 is almost 40% below the 2007 peak of 175,560 – and less than half the number the government admits would be required annually to meet demand.
The knock-on effects are that poorer people will find it harder to pay for a roof over their head as the combination of rising rents and falling benefits make housing less affordable.
Homelessness is also increasing. The number of councils’ “acceptances” of homeless households reached 12,830 in the final quarter of 2011 – up 27% from the period during which the government came to power.
The report also says that overcrowding is becoming an issue – with more families squeezed into ever smaller spaces. The report, for the first time, says the number of households living in overcrowded conditions continues to rise, from 630,000 in 2009-10 to 655,000 in 2010-11.
The authors argue that building more homes would also boost the economy – crucial at a time when the country has entered a double dip recession. Grainia Long, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the “government needs to step up its efforts in response and be more ambitious in its strategy to boost housing supply and activity in the wider housing sector. Addressing the housing crisis in this way would also be a much-needed and powerful stimulus to economic growth.”
Charities that backed the report were more critical of government strategy. Kay Boycott, director of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: “Every day we see families up and down the country whose lives are being torn apart by the shortage of affordable homes. This government has had two years to start delivering on housing, yet this report paints a pretty bleak picture of its current record on housing in all its forms.”
Jack Dromey MP, Labour’s shadow housing minister, pointed out the report said the government is failing to deliver or making no progress on eight out of 10 key housing indicators. He said: “The report paints a bleak picture … housebuilding is down, homelessness is up and rents are increasingly unaffordable.
“The deterioration in outcomes outlined in this report show this out of touch government still isn’t listening. They’re failing to help the young couples who can’t get on the housing ladder. They’re failing those families struggling with high rents in the private sector and the millions on waiting lists. And they’re failing the increasing number of people sleeping on our streets.
London agents and landlords look to cash in on Olympics, leaving tenants facing rent hikes
Tenants in London are being priced out of their homes because their landlords are hiking up their rent during the Olympics and Paralympics.
Properties are being advertised for rent for as much as £100,000 a week over the Olympic period in some well-heeled parts of west London, while tenants closer to the Games sites are finding their rents increasing up to fourfold.
One tenant living in east London said a clause had been added to his rental contract last year that said there would be “a minimum increase of 4.0x multiple of the current weekly rent during the Olympics and 2.0x multiple of current weekly rent during the Paralympics”.
“There was no mention of it [the increase] outside of the clause being added,” he said. “I am going to have to move out.”
Another tenant, who also did not wish to be named, said that his landlord had just informed him that his rent would go up by almost £200 a month – an increase that has forced him out of London, increasing his travel costs by 15%.
“My flat is in Bermondsey [south east London] and when it came to my renewal of contract last month, our landlord insisted on an increase in rent from £1,100 to £1,290 a month,” he said. “As I’m only 24 and only left university two years ago an increase like this is impossible, and has resulted in me having find a new place outside of London increasing my commute by about an hour.”
“The only reason I could see for this steep increase was the Olympics and the fact that I’m close to the Jubilee [tube] line, and a few stops from Stratford. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in this boat as I have seen three or four other tenants in our building moving out in the last three months, most of whom are young professionals.”
Lettings agents, Draker, which is based in London’s West End, is advertising Olympic lets prominently on Google. A search on its website shows 36 properties to rent during the Games, with rental prices ranging from £1,500 a week for a one-bedroom flat in Chelsea to £100,000 a week for a six-bedroom penthouse apartment in Knightsbridge.
A number of other high profile estate agents have sections dedicated to Olympic properties on their websites. Foxtons is renting out 1,100 properties for the Olympics, with prices ranging from £525 a week to £100,000 a week.
Dozens of other websites have been created especially for property owners wanting to cash in on the Games.
One property owner on Rentduringthegames.com is advertising a two bedroom flat for up to six people in a tower block on “well known Ilford high road”, east London, for £1,500 a week during the Olympics and £1,000 a week during the Paralympics. The average rent for all properties in the area at present is £1,195 a month, according to property website Zoopla.
Housing charity Shelter said that it has become increasingly concerned that tenants are being priced out of their homes.
“We’re beginning to see worrying signs of the pressure-cooker effect the Games could bring including some indications of landlords looking to evict their current tenants in order to let their homes to Olympic visitors this summer,” said Kay Boycott, director of campaigns, policy and communications at Shelter. “It’s absolutely vital that anyone who thinks they could have problems seeks advice immediately.”
Labour MP Chris Williamson also raised the issue in Parliament at the end of last year after attending a public meeting in Brent, north-west London, where a number of tenants had expressed their concern over their tenancy agreements during the Games.
“One of the concerns raised at that meeting was that longstanding private tenants were being told by their landlords that they will have to move out during the Olympics,” said Williamson. “I raised this in Parliament, asking whether an assessment had been made as to the extent of the problem and whether the CLG minister planned to take steps to discourage this practice.”
Communities and Local Government minster Andrew Stunell replied saying that the government has received no evidence that this was happening.
WA Ellis, an estate agent in central London that deals with high-end properties said that it was receiving inquiries “in their droves” about lettings over the Olympic period but that 90% of these were coming from landlords, with very limited demand from tenants.
“The major drawback [to increasing rents during the Olympics] is the void period running up to the let and more importantly, following the let,” said Lucy Morton, senior partner and head of lettings at W A Ellis. “If long term investors jump on the Olympic bandwagon and launch their properties back on to the market in September, there is a strong risk that there will be a sudden surge in supply of properties available without the demand.”
However, other agents are looking to take advantage of the Games. Fulham based estate agency, Haus Properties, said that it will be hosting a series of informative Olympic rental seminars throughout March and April “to educate homeowners about what they need to consider.” It said that this was due to an increasing volume of enquiries from homeowners looking to let their properties during the Olympics.
The National Landlords Association said that while it recognised that the Olympics presents an opportune time for many businesses to increase their income, it does not make sound commercial sense for landlords to end a current tenancy to raise the rent for a few weeks during the games.
“Most landlords would recognise it is far more beneficial to have a good, long-term tenant in their property,” said David Salusbury, chairman of the NLA. “It is important that homeowners considering letting their properties during the Olympics are aware of their responsibilities to tenants, and the regulations they must comply with.”