Rachael Apps, administrator for quality and tutor development support with additional responsibility for safeguarding at City Lit, explains how she got into the FE and Training sector, and how the professional development she has undertaken recently is impacting on her outlook. Rachael has participated in two of the programmes run on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation by the Women’s Leadership Network.
I started working in the NHS when I was seventeen, as a member of the administrative bank staff in a general hospital. For me, it was a great experience, as you could pick and choose your hours and the areas you wanted to work in. From week to week, you could be in any given department. Over the next couple of years, I worked almost everywhere – from the Medical Library and hospital wards to complaints and HR.
Once I finished my Master’s degree, I accepted a job in a local general medical practice. I started as a part-time receptionist, before moving into a full-time role as a data protection officer and medical reports administrator. I was then offered the position of deputy practice manager, and then practice manager. I spent a year in that role before specialising as data protection officer and non-clinical safeguarding (adult and child) lead.
When the opportunity of a role at City Lit came up, I decided to take a chance and apply. Learning – and encouraging learning in others – has always been my passion, and I was looking for a new role and challenges. I was lucky enough to land the role of administrator for the Quality and Tutor Development team, which has now expanded to include safeguarding administration as well.
Throughout my career I’ve attended a lot of training for my personal development, but none with a specific focus on further education. It was my manager at City Lit who pointed me in the direction of the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), and the courses it was offering in partnership with the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). She thought I may like to attend, both for personal interest and as an opportunity to think about next career steps.
The courses looked fascinating, and I was intrigued about examining leadership through the lens of gender equality. I’d never heard of (or even considered) career-based training from this perspective, so I signed up, participating in ‘What Next? Your Leadership Development’ in October/November of 2021 and ‘Women Up!’ in December/January of 2021–22.
The experience was amazing! Both courses offered real, practical advice from experts. They also created a safe learning environment, where people could talk about their career worries and aspirations without fear of judgement and gain useful advice. There were excellent learning points, and offered a great blend of activities and teaching. For me, the group number on both courses was also ideal, as a smaller class allowed people to form connections with their fellow attendees. Both courses were fast-paced and fun, but never felt overwhelming. They challenged you to think hard about the kind of leader you wanted to be, and the next steps to consider in your career.
For me, one of the most powerful moments in the ‘What Next? ‘course, was when we were guided through an exercise called ‘Conversation with your future self’. The opportunity to simply have the space to stop and visualise where we would like to be, and then to explore ways to achieve that goal, was something I hadn’t done before.
One of the things I also loved in the ‘Women Up!’ course, was the opportunity for attendees to bring an issue, or area of concern in their career, to the group. It was a great activity, in a non-judgemental space. The exercise created a great deal of useful and positive feedback from the whole group for each person who presented a topic. I think it not only demonstrated the value of learning from others’ experiences – and being able to put suggestions and questions forward in a positive manner – but was also a great reflection on the course leaders, who created such a safe space in the first place, allowing these discussions to flourish.
The courses also differed from a lot of the training I have done previously, as they were run by women, for women. There was real acknowledgement around the differing career paths women have to take, and the obstacles (and opportunities!) they encounter both at work and through society – and how those two areas often overlap.
One of the moments that really made me sit up and take notice was when our session leader talked about apologetic behaviour in a workplace environment. She challenged us, as women, to stop beginning sentences with words like: ‘I’m sorry, but…’, and discussed how this is a very female-centred approach to challenging or making statements (or even simply offering ideas). I had definitely been doing this, and had never even stopped to consider before why that might be the case. This is something that has never been highlighted to me before in a leadership course, and I found it a fascinating example of how the sessions offered a very different approach to training, in comparison to male-centred leadership teaching.
The courses have made a lot of difference. I think for me, the biggest impact has been how they have made me start to think really proactively about my career progression again. They’ve also given me tools and skills to help me on the way. I’m not quite keeping a progression journal yet, but I am jotting down observations and notes on an ad hoc basis.
I think they’ve also really opened my eyes to the kind of leader I aspire to be, and the colleagues in my work environment who embody those qualities. It’s made me more aware of the things I can learn from them, and to try my hardest to ‘walk the walk’ of the values I want to honestly reflect. The courses have also given me a much clearer idea of what I do, and don’t, want in my career, and the compromises I am willing to make, versus my hard limits.
One of the biggest takeaways from both courses for me was personally redefining what leadership means. It was a move away from the mentality of having to be in a traditional leadership role in order to have an impact.
For me, the opportunity to talk to, and collaborate with, groups of women who were at different stages in their careers – and aspiring to different things – was invaluable. I discovered new models of leadership that I didn’t know existed, and the courses really broadened my perspective about the roles of leadership and the opportunities for career progression that were open to me.
My participation has already started to grow my personal network and I’ve established links with new acquaintances from the WLN. I also got an introduction to Twitter and LinkedIn, neither of which I had used before! And I’m going to use Twitter to stay connected to the attendees who I was with on the ‘Women Up’ course.