Leadership Stories: Sarah Boddey embraces difference to empower her teams to create better solutions
Always curious and having a sense of justice and stewardship, Sarah Boddey has risen to the role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at a global bank. Sarah also plays her part in the criminal justice system as a Magistrate and participates actively in our Racial Equity Special Interest Group.
What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?
Leadership is about being respected and inspiring others – which isn’t necessarily the same as being liked! Leaders are absolutely nothing without their team. Whilst the leaders’ own skills and expertise are important, surrounding themselves with people who are more knowledgeable and expert than they are, is the mark of a good leader.
My approach to leadership has always been through the lens of curiosity and stewardship. I want to make an impact on any team, project or initiative that I take on and leave it in a better state than when I started. I am as interested in the people behind a project as I am in the project itself and I’ve always said that who I work for is more important to me than what I am doing. When I reached times in my career where I fundamentally didn’t respect the person I was working for anymore I looked for my next role. However, I have still learned a great deal from those individuals – learning how you don’t want to be as a leader is just as, if not more, valuable as learning how you do.
I’ve also seen more and more how important the diversity of a team is to being a good leader. I’m not just saying that because I am Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at a large bank! Even before I started working in the diversity specialism (nearly 15 years ago), the most successful teams and projects I led were the ones which had the most diversity. And I don’t just mean the traditional ‘tick-box’ types of diversity such a gender, age, ethnicity etc. Including people of different thinking styles and with different problem-solving approaches always got us to a better solution.
Managing that difference wasn’t always easy. I always describe diversity and inclusion as two sides of the same coin; the diversity part is definitely needed but it means nothing without inclusion. A good leader knows how to embrace difference and help the team make the most of it. My leadership style has definitely become a lot more conscious of that over time and I’ve adapted to embrace and manage this.
What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?
I always struggled with not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up. I am an identical twin, and my twin sister had a very clear idea from a fairly young age that she wanted to be a lawyer. I never had a clear path forward as a teenager and I remember that bothered me! I chose a broad degree, International Management, under the excuse to the outside world of wanting to keep my options open. In truth it was because I was still very unclear as to what I actually wanted to do after university.
I pretty much ‘fell’ in to Human Resources after graduating and never looked back. I really enjoy it and feel very blessed that I get paid for doing something I love. That doesn’t always mean it’s easy, far from it, but it speaks to my heart and my soul and that gets you through the tough days.
Not knowing what I wanted to do, which was one of my biggest struggles ended up becoming one of my biggest successes; a career and a specialism that I love, where I feel like I’m making a real difference in the world. And that lesson has stuck with me through my life. It’s ok not to be 100% clear on where you’re going or have a mapped out plan for everything.
The other part of my working life that I really enjoy is being a Magistrate and it’s something I never thought I’d end up doing. It came about by chance really, when I was chatting to a Magistrate at a conference about my interest in Employment Tribunal panels. She encouraged me to explore both. The magistracy is something completely different to my day job, from the people I interact with and the points of law we delve into. As ‘lay’ people we are unpaid volunteers and we receive a lot of training. No two days are the same and whilst the frustrations of trying to do our job in an under-invested public service are very real I love every session that I do. Knowing that I have played a part, however small, in keeping our criminal justice system’s wheel turning is very satisfying.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
Be patient and recognise it takes time to learn and grow. Just because you’ve done something once doesn’t make you an expert at it! I see too many young people focused on the quickest climb to the top. They lose sight of the fact that experience and time are inextricably linked!
Breadth of experience is crucial. Think about sideways moves in your careers as much as upwards moves.
If you feel stuck, talk to someone. If you have a formal mentor, then great but anyone you trust is fine. I truly believe ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.
‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’ is one of my favourite Oscar Wilde quotes and it’s so true. It’s exhausting trying to pretend to be someone you’re not or hide parts of your true self. We all want to fit in but if you find yourself in a job (or friendship group for that matter) where doing that is hard work then it’s time to move on.
Get good at public speaking. That doesn’t mean you’re always going to like it but the skills it teaches you and the confidence it instils in you will help you in so many aspects in life.
Be kind. That doesn’t mean being a push-over or saying yes to everything! But it does mean leading with compassion and empathy. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about and they know nothing of what you are facing either so if you approach your relationships with kindness they will usually start and blossom well.
I want to make an impact on any team, project or initiative that I take on and leave it in a better state than when I started.