Sue McLure

Sue Maclure is Head of Data at Psona Data, a Communisis sister agency.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I have spent my entire career in data, sometimes pure-play data agencies, sometimes as part of a creative agency, sometimes on client side.

I have held senior positions in teams that have, on occasion, been very male dominated but just as often female dominated. If I had to determine which drove that split I would have to say that the larger and more corporate the business the more male dominated it tended to be. But I don’t judge an organisation by its gender divide at the top, the overall business culture is the main driver and I believe that women are just as capable of buying into a specific culture as men are – be that one you admire or not.

In my current role I have a team of 25 split across two sites – Leeds and London – not spending lots of time together can be challenging but we speak often and get together as a whole team quarterly. We’re going through some change at the minute with new starters and looking for new propositions to take to market – it’s exciting times and they’re a great bunch.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at the beginning. The only times I have written five year plans is when I’ve been unhappy in a position and knew I wanted or needed a change.  That has happened twice in my 25 year career, and the first time resulted in me moving cities and jobs within the first 12 months.  I’m four years into my current five year plan, this one resulted in me first going part time (although I’ve backed off from that more latterly) and moving back to supplier side. I refer to it occasionally to see if I’m heading in the right direction or getting side-tracked. I suspect the five years will come and go without me noticing if I’m content in what I’m doing.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Yes. I got promoted beyond my capability – something which I’m sure happens to us all at some point if we’re always pushing for change and ‘something new and interesting’. How did I deal with it? Not well at the beginning to be honest – none of us like to admit we’re out of our depth. But I did seek and receive external support and now, having made some changes (not all of my choosing at the time!) I realise just how much I learned from that experience.

Looking back I probably wasn’t quite as bad as I thought as now feel I could be great at that original job. Sometimes it’s just about timing and the surrounding factors – that was probably one of the most painful professional periods of my career, but without a doubt the one I apply the most learnings from now, at a senior level.  The most important one being that you need to make the tough decisions and act on them – no matter how unpleasant it might feel at the time, it will be work out best in the long run. I’m also a firm believer that however you feel about yourself at any point in time, as long as you stick to doing the thing you enjoy it’ll all come good in the end. Don’t chase the money – that’ll come if you chase doing the thing you love.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Remove the need to talk specifically about “women in the workplace” as if they are in some way a completely different species, especially as we don’t refer to “men in the workplace”.  Why can’t we all just say “people in the workplace” and apply the same rules to both? I am fortunate in the sense that I don’t have special professional needs because I’m a woman, so I expect to be treated and rewarded in exactly the same way as everyone else.

I know it can be difficult for some, but I don’t buy the “what about those with children” question, as men are just as capable of caring for children as women are (in fact it should be encouraged far more) – it’s a family choice and there should be equal rights for men in that space as women. For me it’s about equality, not dominance of one gender over another.

What I would change for women themselves is to take a leaf out of the male modus operandi. We hear stories about women who won’t apply for a role if they are only confident in 8 out of 10 specifications on a job description, whereas a male counterpart would look at the same 10 and if he can see 3 he’s confident of, he’ll decide that he can wing it on the rest. I think us women could learn a lesson or two from that self-assurance!

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have only formally mentored once and I found it incredibly valuable and enjoyable – both in terms of my own learning and building personal relationships.

Informally though I have several people that I think of as mentors and mentees, depending on where we’re at in the relative stages of our careers. Over time, some of them switch between the roles of mentor and mentee and that’s great.  I’m a big supporter of talking things through to find the right solutions for you.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In my work life my biggest achievement is that I believe I’m seen as an equal in my male peer group as opposed to the girl they invited along to keep the numbers up. I’ve worked hard to be seen as a valued member of staff and my team, and I will continue to work on that throughout my career. I hope it will always be as rewarding as it is now!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My organisation is going through a period of change as everyone else in the sector is – how to use data, where to use it, what is good use, what is bad use, how do you keep up with the Joneses whilst not copying everyone else but innovating in your data use, and how do you sell that to clients whilst keeping your own team (that you’re asking for increasing amounts of effort from) happy. Defining our direction and attempting to take the team with me is fun!

My mantra my whole life has been ‘achieve something every day’ and every morning I ask myself what today’s achievement will be – I never want to lose that sense of purpose and being master of my own destiny. I should say, a day’s achievement task for me can be “You’re tired and stressed, so today you will relax and do something for yourself and your family so that you feel ready to take on the world tomorrow” – life is not all about career progress!