Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
Well, it’s been an interesting one! Two events in my childhood should have led me down a very different road – failing my 11+ and shortly after, my father dying. My mother and I lived on benefits until she died when I was 17, and between 11 and 17 I was her primary carer. Failing my 11+ meant I went to a school where the highest aspiration for a boy was to go into a factory and a girl, to become a typist plus education was my highest priority at that time. Strangely, a recession hitting as I left school meant that suddenly college was an option. I discovered sociology which I loved and eventually which led me to a social science degree, and many years later, work in social policy. In between I worked abroad, teaching and then managing English language schools. When I returned to the UK, I took a Masters in Housing then held policy positions in Welsh Government, the Welsh Local Government Association and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru. I then became the founding director of Cymorth Cymru – the umbrella body for organisations working with vulnerable people. For just over a year now I’ve been the chief executive at Chwarae Teg.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My early life experiences have made me believe in giving people a second chance and not being phased by authority. This has definitely influenced both my career choices and how I lead. I believe in collaboration rather than hierarchy and I think most things are possible if you really want them and are creative and tenacious in going for them. I think you should treat everyone with respect and that people should be given the opportunity to shine!
I’ve also learnt that it’s in no one’s interests to stay in a role you’re not happy with. You won’t be happy and you won’t deliver for the organisation. As a leader, you want people who love what they do, feel confident in their role but are keen to be stretched and who feel trusted and valued. That’s what I want for me and the people who work with me.
How have you learned from these challenges and successes?
I’ve learned that trust is crucial as is ensuring people have as much freedom and control as possible. I think you get the best from most people when you do this. It promotes creativity, loyalty and people want to do more for the organisation when they feel they are making a contribution that is valued.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Chwarae Teg?
There have been so many highlights I find it hard to choose! To name a few – the launch and dissemination events of the research, ‘A Woman’s Place’ in The Pierhead, Westminster and Brussels; our event on the impact of welfare reform on women – ‘What would Mrs Pankhurst do?’; our AGM at Techniquest, as well as working with the team on developing new and innovative ways to take forward our newly created vision and mission! The biggest challenge has been dealing with the financial issues we are all facing.
What do you hope Chwarae Teg will achieve in the next five years?
That we will deliver on our vision to help women in Wales achieve and prosper – a big challenge with lots of elements to it but I think we’re up to the job!
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think what constitutes work/life balance is very individual and changes at different points in your life. At the moment for me, I love and am hugely stimulated by my job so taking time away from it is a challenge! I think you need to be self aware and mindful of when you’re pushing yourself too hard and an intelligent employer will support flexibility alongside personal responsibility because it gets the best from people. I also think we should be honest about when the job isn’t fulfilling – it’s soul destroying to be doing something because of the pay or pension and is never worth it.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
We can’t think of women as one homogenous group or static in time. I think often for women from disadvantaged backgrounds there’s an issue with fewer opportunities, limited horizons and confidence; for those who decide to work part time, there’s a huge issue around the impact on career progression and financial independence; for girls considering their futures, we are still hearing horror stories about teachers and careers advisors persuading them to take subjects or pursue careers guided by assumptions based on their gender rather than listening to their aspirations or recognising their talents. I think we still live in a world where women are seen as carers first and earners second and men as earners first and carers second. For women this has a huge impact on their role in the workplace.
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book and movement?
It definitely caused a stir! Obviously Sheryl is an incredibly successful and thoughtful person. I know there have been some criticisms for putting the responsibility on to women and ignoring the structural barriers. I think there are structural issues that women face but ultimately we are all responsible for ourselves and our own happiness. Different writers and approaches will resonate with different women – I’m sure Sheryl has helped many many women move forward with their careers and all of us should welcome that whether the approach resonates with us personally or not.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I’ve never really had a formal mentor but I’ve got a fantastic husband who works in a similar role and I’ve learnt a lot from him. I have worked with lots of fantastic people throughout my career who have been influential and supportive. I love learning and am always taking away things I want to replicate.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I’m wary of admiration of famous people because you don’t really know them and it might just be the PR! There are lots of women I know in Wales who I admire – but I am very grateful to Frances Beecher, the first chair of Cymorth Cymru, and I admire her tenacity and passion. I’ve also been hugely influenced by my mother who would always champion the under-dog but was also big on tough love!
What is one word that sums up where you have got to today?
Joy Kent took up the position of chief executive of Chwarae Teg in January 2013. Before joining the organisation she was the founding director of Cymorth Cymru, an umbrella body for organisations working with vulnerable people and prior to that held policy roles at the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru, the Welsh Local Government Association and Welsh Government.
Joy is an independent member of the Shadow Programme Monitoring Committee that will oversee the implementation of the next round of European funds, a member of the Expert Panel put together by Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Local Government and Government Business to advise on achieving greater diversity in local government, and a trustee of WCVA Services.
Before settling in Wales, Joy taught at and managed private language schools in Spain, the Czech Republic, Brazil and Egypt.