Why I Choose to Challenge

Women at RX Global

To celebrate International Women’s Day we salute four inspirational women leaders at RX Global. They share their career and life experiences, reveal why they choose to challenge, and offer their own advice on creating a more equal and inclusive world.

“Forgive yourself for not being perfect”

Alinne Rosa, Human Resources VP, Americas

Alinne Rosa joined RX Global Brazil as HR Director in 2017, bringing 21 years of experience in talent development, leadership development and team engagement to the role. The company has since been certified as a ‘Great Place to Work®’ two year’s running, in 2019 and 2020. Not only was the second award gained in the midst of the pandemic, but the company improved its overall score so that 8 out of 10 employees now recommend it. 

One of the areas the ‘Great Place to Work’ survey covers is employee attitudes to diversity and inclusion – a subject close to Alinne’s heart. In 2020 she was appointed Global Executive Sponsor for Race for RX Global, alongside her now expanded role as Human Resources VP for the Americas.

As a woman, Alinne has faced her own share of prejudice in the workplace. Early in her career she worked in the predominantly male auto parts industry, where she says it was difficult to make her voice heard. Several years later, while working as HR Director for a previous employer, she was forced to call out her boss for discriminatory behaviour.

"When I was pregnant with my twins, some people felt that my condition would make me unable to perform my role. I heard jokes about my body size and I had to be courageous to confront these situations. Once confronted, people usually heard me quietly, apologised and completely changed the behaviour. It taught me a lot about the importance of challenging bias in the workplace.”

Alinne is constantly applying those learnings in her HR role: “As a result of my own experiences I resolved to always work with honesty and empathy. I believe communication is key and that it is important to educate people on the impact their words and actions have on others. I also built a team around myself who were so talented and capable that I knew I could fully trust them to share the load!”

“I believe communication is key and that it is important to educate people on the impact their words and actions have on others.”

Today, Alinne says she is happy to be working for an organisation that is committed to inclusivity. “At RX Global, I have never felt that I have been treated differently or not heard because I am a woman” she explains. “I am judged on my performance and the positive impact I have on the business and our teams.”

“At RX Global, I have never felt that I have been treated differently or not heard because I am a woman”

Nevertheless, she admits that she had to work doubly hard after the birth of her twins, saying “I had to give 100% of myself as a professional, and 100% as a mother for the next four years, until I could get my work/life balance back.”

Looking back, Alinne would tell her 21 year-old self to “stay calm, and keep walking. Never give up on what you believe is best.” Most importantly, as a leader and a mum, she says she has learned to be more forgiving of herself for not being perfect.

“Stay focused on the way forward”

Michèle Tiley-Hill, Chief Financial Officer

It seems hard to believe now, but in 1994, when Michèle Tiley-Hill began her financial career with one of the ‘Big 6’ auditing companies, women were not allowed to wear trousers at work. 

“As part of our induction training, we were taught how to dress appropriately for business and score ourselves based on how much make-up, jewellery and other accessories we were wearing” she reveals. “Needless to say, all of the graduate intakes (male and female alike) thought it was utterly ridiculous and a bizarre waste of time and money. The training was scrapped the following year and shortly afterwards trousers were given the ok.”

Michèle went onto become Commercial Director at Clear Channel Entertainment, and Chief Financial Officer at MEC (now Wavemaker), before joining RX Global in 2017. While she has chosen to pursue her financial career in entertainment, media and exhibitions, where gender imbalance is less of an issue with regard to overall numbers, she believes that equality is still a long way off.

“I’ve had to turn down very good job opportunities overseas both because of my gender and because of my sexual orientation” she says. “The former because I was pregnant and the latter because the law of the land prohibited my family from relocating overseas. As with all equal rights movements that advocate equality and elimination of discrimination, it is a journey.  I prefer to stay focused on the way forward.”

“I’ve had to turn down very good job opportunities overseas both because of my gender and because of my sexual orientation”

As Chief Financial Officer at RX Global, Michèle is particularly proud of the fact that she is not the only female on the leadership team: “We all know that a diverse team helps companies to thrive not only in terms of financial performance but also in terms of employee and customer propositions.  When I ‘choose to challenge’ it is usually related to diversity and inclusion as well as pay equality, but given my role and voice within the organisation, I am aware that I could do more. So I’m choosing to challenge more frequently, to be more determined and courageous.”

“We all know that a diverse team helps companies to thrive not only in terms of financial performance but also in terms of employee and customer propositions.”

Michèle says she recognises that until we have eradicated prejudice and unconscious bias in both the workplace and society, we will need to celebrate success based on gender or race. However, in her experience the last thing any woman, LGBTQ+ or BAME person wants, is to be singled out as successful because of their gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

Michèle is inspired by Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Oprah Winfrey and Jacinda Ardern:  “All very well-known individuals who are advocates for equality and women’s rights, for education, have overcome trauma and / or have navigated institutionalised bias in our judicial or political systems. Being successful or a leader is not my criteria for inspiration, making a difference is what counts.”

So what advice would she give to young women who are just launching their careers? “’I’m one of four daughters, and Dad always told us ‘Tileys are tough’. When you get knocked down, you stand right back up again. Sometimes it takes a community to help you stand back up again and that’s ok too.”

“Make the experience your own”

Anna Dycheva-Smirnova, CEO of RX Global UK, Russia, Middle East, Turkey and India.

When Anna Dycheva-Smirnova was growing up her parents advised her never to put a label on things. ‘Don’t be led by people’s experiences,’ they told her. ‘Always make the experience your own.’

It was advice that would define her career from the very start. After graduating, Anna joined the exhibitions industry in 2000 and fell in love with it.  At the same time, she also started a family.

“Starting a family and driving a career is of course a challenge but I had amazing support from my family and my workplace. What I learnt is that you have the power to make the choices that suit your personal circumstances. Sometimes those choices can be scary, but having a family and a career is possible. I wanted to prove that I could do both, and I’m so glad I did.”

“Having a family and a career is possible. I wanted to prove that I could do both, and I’m so glad I did.”

Eight years later, Anna joined RX Global Russia, quickly rising through the ranks from Business Development Manager to Deputy General Manager to CEO. Today she oversees RX Global operations in Russia, Turkey, the Middle East and the UK. She says she is lucky to work in an industry dominated by women, and for an organisation that embraces diversity. “Having worked with RX Global for 13 years I have never been singled out as a woman in a negative sense.” Even so, she believes that being a female leader has unique challenges.

“Having worked with RX Global for 13 years I have never been singled out as a woman in a negative sense.”

“Like most women, I have to juggle several lives,” Anna explains. “At work I need to be a CEO, at home I need to be a mum, a wife and a daughter. I also need to find time for me – something I am still learning to do. My experiences have taught me not to be too hard on myself. I have also learned not to postpone anything in life because there is never a perfect time. It shouldn’t be about making choices, but about focusing on each opportunity and making it work in a way that feels right for you.”

“Many of the conversations I have with young women today are about glass ceilings and sticky floors and imposter syndrome,” adds Anna. “It is important to acknowledge these very real issues, but I tell them, ‘don’t let it be the fear that drives you. You need to be aware of the obstacles but you shouldn’t be scared of them'”. 

“Don’t let it be the fear that drives you. You need to be aware of the obstacles but you shouldn’t be scared of them” 

Having a good mentor helps, says Anna, who has been supported in her career by Kumsal Bayazit, formerly Regional President for RX Global EMEA and now the first female CEO of Elsevier. “Kumsal’s wisdom and guidance as a boss, mentor and woman were very important to me in a particular moment when I was transitioning from being a second-in-command to leading the business. She is a person of tremendous energy and has been a huge inspiration to me.”

Anna looks forward to a time when leaders are not referred to by their gender, but simply by their ability to do the job. With this in mind, she offers all young women the same advice she would offer her son, who is 21 next birthday. “Choose a path in life where your work is a passion not an obligation” she says, “and don’t be scared to give something a go. We shouldn’t regret mistakes, only missed opportunities.”

“Don’t be scared to give something a go. We shouldn’t regret mistakes, only missed opportunities.”

“Be yourself, as everyone else
is already taken.”

Alexandra Smyth, General Counsel

Most lawyers go through their whole career having never looked at a ‘force majeure’ clause, which typically cancels a contract if there is a natural disaster or act of terror. Many such clauses were invoked across RX Global at the start of the pandemic placing the legal team at the heart of the business response. “It is certainly a once in a lifetime experience” says Alexandra Smyth, who took up her post as RX Global General Counsel mid-pandemic on July 1 2020.

Alex started her working life as a lawyer in Sydney, before moving to London to join the corporate department of multinational law firm Freshfields. In 2012 she was approached by RELX (Reed Elsevier as it was then) for a role as General Counsel (GC) for M&A and corporate work, which she did for several years, before joining RX Global.

Looking back, Alexandra believes she hasn’t experienced any obvious discrimination during her career, although she says she was somewhat naïve about the barriers that women can face when she started out. “My sister and I went to an all girls’ school where there was never any suggestion that being female was in any way a disadvantage.  Whilst I don’t feel I have been disadvantaged myself, I do think in city life there are sometimes (inadvertent) barriers set up, often around networking activities which appeal more to men than women, which then lead to stronger relationships being formed – and so on.”

Given the opportunity to challenge inequality such as pay gaps between men and women, Alex has done so.  “I always speak up where I witness what I feel is bias or inequality, although I don’t think I have done enough and would like to do more.”

“I always speak up where I witness what I feel is bias or inequality, although I don’t think I have done enough and would like to do more.”

Reflecting on her own success, Alex says: “I am proud of getting myself admitted to practice law in both England and New York (in addition to Australia), in one year whilst also working full time.  Simply because it was a huge amount of work, a goal I set myself, and one which I achieved.” She says it helps that she is “quite stubborn!”

Since joining RELX/ RX Global, she has also reaped the benefits of working for an organisation that is committed to empowering women to achieve: “A good example is a programme I joined in the last few years where senior women were assigned a mentor from elsewhere in the business” she explains. “My mentor is Ed Cassar (the CFO of Elsevier) who has been fantastic and incredibly helpful to me, particularly in navigating the changes I have had in my career over the last few years.”

So what career advice would Alex offer other women with ambitions to lead? “Don’t assume that life will pan out exactly as you plan; when things don’t go as expected, it can actually lead to an even better situation” she replies. Most importantly, she says: “Be yourself, as everyone else is already taken.”

“Don’t assume that life will pan out exactly as you plan; when things don’t go as expected, it can actually lead to an even better situation”

#ChooseToChallenge

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