Woman of the Month
Woman Of The Month - Rebecca Fountain
Women have come a long way on many levels. Just over one hundred years women in the UK were granted the right to vote. It was a huge milestone for women's rights. Today women are more in charge of their own destiny and are able to embrace choices that were once upon a time denied and make change. It is not just a case of running our own lives, but we are also leading the way in the work place, on the political playing field and in science and technology. The possibities for women today are endless...
It is so reassuring to know that we have wonderful networks to reach out to that reflect positivity, and encourage and motivate women. The Professional Women's Network is one such network that exists to bring like-minded women together and offers many occasions and opportunities to connect and unite.
Rebecca Fountain is Head of Global Marketing and Communications for PWN Global and shares with The Riviera Woman her journey and why she made the move from living in the UK to follow her dreams in La belle France.
Welcome Rebecca Fountain...
"Growing up in the UK (in the boom-time Thatcher years) as an only child in a loving home, I suppose I was blessed with rose-coloured spectacles as far as gender balance was concerned.
My mum, the main bread winner of our family, and my father, a brilliant creative entrepreneur, stuck in a job he hated, encouraged me to reach for the stars! I was constantly reminded that I was the first generation truly able to ‘have it all’. I was given the mantra that if I worked hard on my education, I could be anything and go anywhere. And I believed every word. I still do to a certain extent!
As a naïve 18 year old with average results and the world at her feet, I chose a bland Business Studies degree – hoping that it would enable me to procrastinate for a few years more whilst I decided what I would do. I found a deep love of communicating – whether it be by the written or spoken word, and I graduated with a respectable 2.1 Honours degree, with a specialism in Marketing.
Through luck, rather than a planned approach, I built a great career in the Education/Technology sector – each career move I made saw me climb the corporate ladder, never with any fear that I wasn’t ‘enough’.
In 2006, my world was rocked when I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy (6 weeks premature) – my waters broke at work, and when I called the midwife to tell her that I would just finish my email and jump in my car to make the commute from Nottingham to Leeds, she told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get someone to drive me to the nearest hospital, immediately!
My first and only child at 33 years old – barely caused a blip in my career. I was back at work 6 months later, with a gruelling schedule of dropping Maximus at the childminders at 7am with my husband picking him up at 6.30pm (a self employed structural engineer, he was able to be a little more flexible in his timings), before I got home. We ticked along – we had this!! And, six months later, I decided that I needed to get some more learning under my belt, so I enrolled to do an intensive 6 month Post Grad Diploma in Strategic Marketing, with the Chartered Institute of Marketing! Despite working a full time job, breast feeding and making a Leeds – Kent commute, once a month to undertake residential study weekends, I managed to be the only person in my class to graduate and pass all four of the exams at the first attempt.
"My ‘I can have it all’ dial was off the chart!!!"
As the economic crash really started to bite in the UK economy, I was working for a ‘quango’ – and one of the first to be hit by the crash. With a 5 bedroom house (and the requisite mortgage to match), two cars, two motorbikes and all the trappings of the modern materialistic world, I was facing redundancy. As if in a perfect storm, my husband’s thriving business started to dry up literally overnight, as building ground to a halt and structural drawings were needed less and less.
Facing such financial ruin, and my first taste of what felt like ‘failure’ we really started to examine what we wanted in life, and together we came to the realisation that we were living to work, and had completely lost all balance our lives We made a leap of faith and decided to sell up and move south – by 1500km! We’d always dreamed of retiring to the Ardèche Gorges (a place that I was lucky enough to have discovered and fallen in love with during a French exchange programme at the tender age of 14!).
All wasn’t plain sailing – our house sale fell through and we ended up having to stay in the UK for another two years – so we desperately sought new jobs! I was (un)fortunate to land a dream job with the market leader in virtual learning platforms. I loved the work, but my desire to move to France stayed with me. Given that I worked for a company that designed and created virtual learning platforms, it seemed logical that they would be open to having staff in virtual offices? So, I continued to work hard, and in parallel, pursue my dream of finding a property in France.
Anyone who knows anything about achieving goals will tell you that the hardest part is defining your goal. As I had my goal clearly articulated, the inevitable happened and I found a potential new home in the location of my dreams. I was then left with that stark reality of what this meant for my career. Did I need to give up everything I had worked for to fulfil my goal of moving? With a great track record, I mustered up the courage to tell my boss (founder and CEO of the company) that I was moving. I told him that I loved my work and that I wanted to remain with the organisation, working remotely with regular visits back to the UK. I remember him asking ‘Why?” – and I answered honestly, ‘Because I want a different life style – I don’t want to be stuck in traffic every day on the M1. I really think it will improve my work life balance.’ His response stunned me somewhat, ‘How do you think that makes me feel? If you want more work-life balance, that means you’re not committed to your role?’.
Ensued one of life’s difficult conversations where I argued the point that if I had better work-life balance, I would be grateful to the company I worked for and that would manifest in loyalty, a genuine desire to work hard and act in the company’s best interests! I was told ‘No’ – the aged, all male Board would not allow one of its Exec Management Team to work in a remote role! I continued to fight my corner and I finally got an informal agreement from the CEO that I could continue my role, in a remote location, on two conditions: 1. It would not cost the company any more than it already did (ie. I would have to pay to have myself payrolled in France – although they did agree to paying my transport to and from France, once a month), and 2. They put a clause in my contract that they could fire me without punition at any time. I accepted all of their terms, as I wanted to prove a point that this could be done.
Money has never been my motivator, and with the sale of our big pad in Yorkshire, and the purchase outright of our 500 year old fishing villa in the middle of nowhere, we were comfortable. I was simply fired up to make this work. In preparation for my move, I also decided to join the PWN Global (then named the European Professional Women’s) network, as a way to start building a network of support for my newly chosen country of residence.
Fast forward 12 months and I had achieved every one of my objectives, including the doubling of attendance at our most important event of the year – all by managing my team from a remote office location. It could be done, and I had succeeded in showing the business that it could work!
Now was the time to speak to my boss regarding my contract – I pointed out that I had achieved everything that he had asked of me, and I therefore wanted the clause removed from my contract that he could fire me with no notice. He refused – again citing the Board. This was the defining moment that I walked off the precipice and into the void……..I tendered my resignation – feeling that everything I had achieved had not been appreciated by this company, and therefore, they were no longer worthy of my services.
Three months later, I woke up. Unemployed. I could barely bring myself to get out of bed! Despite immense efforts, I had not managed to secure any paid work since tendering my resignation. I found that my adequate French was not good enough to secure a role at the level I had been working at, and applying for inferior roles was clearly making people ‘twitchy’ because of my over-qualification. By this time, I was also well on my way to 40 – an age of a woman, that in France, seems to be ‘past it’! It was only then that I started to experience the machoistic culture of the south. To be asked at interview, questions based on ill-conceived assumptions ‘Well you have one child, when are you having your next one?’, ‘Will we be able to teach an old dog new tricks – at almost 40, you’re set in your ways, right?’.
The honeymoon was over – with my qualifications, work experience and English language skills, everybody told me that I would be a great asset to any company – but not in the agricultural region of SW France that I had chosen to reside.
I took the luxury of taking a year off and contemplating. I revelled in being the mum I had always wanted to be – learning to cook traditional Provençale dishes, and making sure my child was well integrated into his new life; joining the Parent Teachers Association; getting involved in the organisation of every sporting event that the village had to offer. By the end of the first month, I was already using my marketing knowledge to support start-ups with their business planning, and I managed to get to about month nine before I realised I wanted back in to a more structured working life. Just around the same time, a contact from the PWN Global network pointed out that PWN was looking for a new member of staff. On reviewing the job description, I realised that I could do the role standing on my head – it was basically an admin task, helping to manage their ever growing community. The role was part-time and in English. I knew that I would risk another ‘you’re too qualified’ knock back, but this time I was ready!
I explained to my interviewers that I could bring a lot of value added skills – I noted how poor their marketing efforts, brand and social media presence was and offered to help them with that (on top of the day job). And that’s what I set out to do! I wanted to bring a global feel to the network that made the whole greater than the sum of its parts – ensuring that gender balance becomes the normal status quo in organisations and society alike. I wanted to help the PWN city networks have a voice that would break down unconscious biases, gender stereotypes and give individuals the tools that they need to recognise, unlock and achieve their career goals.
Since then, I have been promoted to the Global Head of Marketing and Communications – instrumental in delivering a visibility raising consistent communications strategy; growth from 16 to 30 city networks around the world; and a rebrand to PWN Global. More recently, we have delivered a new member platform with template websites available to every PWN city network. I still work just four days a week, and the rest of my time I have been consecrating to the building of our gîte business and the project management of my husband (he’s renovating a neighbouring property that we bought).
Traditionally, PWN Global has been renowned for its networking events and mentoring programme – however, as the digital world begins to dominate our lives, and men become more engaged in the issue of gender balance, we have started to see the need for new offerings and we have built up an extremely successful series of Personal Leadership Development webinars (delivered on a monthly basis); our annual Virtual Entrepreneurship Programme (certified by EU Business School); our engaging men programme; and, we are just starting the test phases for a Virtual International (Cross Boarder) Mentoring Programme and Balanced Boards Forum (for our Executive Members).
Working and volunteering with PWN means that I am constantly in contact with amazingly talented and generous men and women, and my job satisfaction is higher than ever – despite being in my cosy home office bubble!! Working for PWN Global has given me the understanding and ability to manage my work life balance in a way that I would never have dreamed possible.
Moving from a corporate to a Not for Profit has taught me many new competences, not least how to be resourceful, creative, pragmatic and tenacious.
My journey has built in me a strong resilient attitude – and I have a profound inner sense of knowing that through some of life’s most stressful situations, we grow as people.
Last year, our PWN Global President was quoted as saying that our job at PWN Global will be done once International Women's Day is no longer. I wholly advocate her words, and add, when there is no need to highlight the special achievements of women because they are understood, recognised and celebrated on a par with the achievements of our male counterparts, all year round; when we are paid the same wage as our male counterparts for doing the same work; and when we do not suffer retirement wealth deficits due to our choice to take time off work to continue the species – that’s when we can wave goodbye to IWD! We have some way to go – but PWN Global and all of the other organisations working in our sector will continue to #pressforprogress and be the change we want to see.
On International Women's Day 2018 I will be showing gratitude for the tireless efforts of the people that went before us and laid the foundations, and I will raise a glass to all of the wonderful volunteers, supporters and members of PWN Global and all its city networks around the world, who care! Want to join our mission at what is set to be another defining moment in women’s history? Please get in touch: pwnglobal.net (for less the cost of your weekly cup of coffee, you can be a member and benefit from all of the great thing we offer)."
We asked Rebecca our famous 5 questions and here are her replies:
1) What makes you smile?
Meditating – and so much better if it’s in the great outdoors. The village that I live in is pre-historic and filled with a very special energy. Taking a moment every day to breath it in and pinch myself to say ‘we live here’ always brings a silly grin to my face!
2) What or who inspires you?
Our PWN Volunteers – who are so invested in the ‘cause’ and making sure that we accelerate the pace of change towards gender balance in our own life time. They don’t want to wait another 100 years with minimal progress. They are brilliant to do everything they do, on top of their busy and often senior-ranking day jobs. I salute each and every one of them!
3) Do you believe in gut instincts?
Yes – but only in recent years. I have in the past been a really poor judge of characters and situations, but learning how to listen to that inner voice and calming the random chatter has really helped me to listen to my gut more. I think the one thing that all really strong leaders have is that ability to take account of their intuition and gut responses.
4) Your three essential things if you were stuck on a desert island would be what?
Gosh – what a tough question!! Bearing in mind that my husband’s nickname is Bear Grylls (he’s an ex-paratrooper!), I’m assuming that I’d be able to channel his survival skills and provide food and drinking water for myself. So I can take more frivolous stuff – I’d take my iPod, my Kindle and my yoga mat!
5) If you are planning a day/night out, what do you enjoy doing the most?
My perfect day would be a long walk by the river in the Ardèche Gorges. Picnic and swim at lunch time – lazy afternoon sunbathe and then a walk back to find a blissfully Provençale restaurant with a great côtes du Rhone (so many lovely ones to choose from). If I won the lottery, I may consider ending the day with a helicopter ride up to Lyon to eat chez Paul Bocuse!!