Today we sat down with Business Management Programme Leader and tutor, Elizabeth Miller, to discuss her career as a woman in business and how she aspires to inspire young people to further their career.
Tell me about yourself
My name is Elizabeth Miller and I am the Programme Leader for the Business Management degrees at Pearson College London, which is our biggest degree pathway. My students include anyone studying a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Business Management, including mainstream degree students, professional pathways and degree apprentices. I also teach some of our research modules which includes Self-Managed Learning, Introduction to Research, Consultancy and Final Project. A lot of those modules are based around work-based learning which is something I am really interested in.
What have you done in your career so far?
Well, different things… I came from a more traditional academic background than a lot of people at Pearson College London. Whilst I was doing my PhD (History and Religion), I was working as a consultant for a small customer experience company and I started delivering lectures and tutorials at the University of Sydney and a couple of other universities in Australia.
I worked on widening participation programmes at the University of Sydney with the aim of encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend university. One of the things that I did, in particular, was working with young women from family backgrounds or schools that made them less likely to go to university. I mentored them and ran “taster” programmes to help them understand why they might want to attend university and then to apply for scholarships.
After that, I worked in Cambodia as part of the Australian Government’s foreign aid policy. They get skilled people to work in different local institutions. I worked in a small university in rural Cambodia for five months; the aim here was to encourage more people to do research (staff and students). It was interesting but challenging due to the lack of resources such as the online library that we have here at Pearson College. My interest in education grew from a widening participation and quality point of view, but also in terms of innovative delivery in education.
Therefore, I decided to go back to university, much to my mother’s despair (she thought I was finally done with study), to complete my Master’s of Science (MSc) in Higher Education at the University of Oxford where my research piece focused on degree apprenticeships. This was one of the first pieces of research on degree apprenticeships to exist from an academic point of view. As part of that, I was interviewing apprentices and staff at Pearson College London, and off the back of that was offered a job!
What challenges have you faced as a woman in business?
I suppose for me, I am not from a traditional “business” background. In Cambodia I certainly faced a lot of challenges as a woman. I was told I should not be telling men how to do things even though I was in a leadership position: I was a young woman so shouldn't be giving advice. It was incredibly difficult to deal with after coming from an advantaged background where I had always been appreciated in the workplace.
It takes a lot for a woman in that environment to try to portray themselves as subject leader or expert and to be recognised in the workplace. Sadly, that happens in other more progressive contexts too. I think that a lot of our attitudes in society that are considered to be ‘professional or leadership behaviours’ are associated with male behaviour. This is a historical anachronism we need to work to pull apart. For example, not being emotional at work, or lowering our voice to sound more serious, or many of the traditional “power” poses we’re encouraged to think about when using body language.
What inspires you?
People. I know that everyone says this but I think that education is a space that allows people to grow and you can impact their future, as well as their lives right now. I think there is so much we can do as a Higher Education Institution (HEI) to help students progress their careers. We have a huge duty to do everything we can to prepare people for the workplace.
What do you think the future holds for women in business?
That’s really tricky. I like to think that it will be easier for women in the future as in our generation, we are lucky enough that we have had women fighting the fight for us in the past. However, I worry that there is, for some, an attitude that this fight is over and that women should take their foot off the accelerator. I don’t think this is the case - we need to continue to work for equality in the workplace.
I think the future of feminism needs to be intersectional. White women need to be advocates for ensuring equality in the workplace regardless of race, sexual identity, gender identity or social mobility. I think that the future is very bright for women in business, but more needs to be done to drive diversity in business.
What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in business?
It is really important to be politically aware and have knowledge of diversity in business - young women need to know the challenges they may be up against. However, it is also important to be yourself and be authentic. We are doing women a disservice if we mould them into typical (male) leader models. Whilst it is important to be aware of the standards that you will be judged against, it is vital to be yourself so that we can build an authentic group of future female leaders.