“Your Gender Does Not Dictate Your Ability to Perform a Role”

Pippa Clark, the Managing Director of Hamilton Aquatics UAE, says having a female in a room can change how that room operates and interacts

Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?  
In a sense, there is no typical day. Every day is different and that is what I love about my role. It is very broad and varied. I spend most of my time in meetings, with internal and external stakeholders.

The majority of my time is well planned, with little time spent on reactive matters. I have a solid team behind me that I trust to deal with the day-to-day, and they keep me updated with anything I need to know. This allows me to generally work at a strategic level forging the pathways of where we are moving towards.

Now and then I will get into the details of a given business sector and will usually do this by reviewing with the relevant team, helping them formulate the improvements that they are going to make.

I have a very strict approach to 100% attention in meetings so by the end of my day my emails and calls can stack up. I tend to plan out uninterrupted time slots towards the end of the day to get through any correspondence swiftly.

Did you always know that working in the industry you represent was what you wanted to do? How did you decide on it and what first got you interested in the industry you work in?  
When I was younger, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I always had a dream of owning a sweet shop (I have a sweet tooth) or being a PE teacher. My parents had encouraged me to be very sporty from a young age. They were great role models both being competitive swimmers themselves. I was on lots of school sports teams, and outside of school spent a lot of time at the pool or running, and represented Great Britain as a teenager.

I loved maths at school and whenever I did career assessment quizzes at school it always came up with business-related roles, so this was the route that I decided to take for university feeling that it left my options open for the future. After university, I did my accountancy training to become a Chartered Accountant whilst working with a company in a graduate role where I rotated around the finance function every 6 months. Whilst I learnt a lot and always worked hard, I didn’t feel passionate about what I was doing. For me, feeling passion for your work is very important since you spend so much of your life doing it; you have to be doing something that you enjoy.

Whilst at university I had taken on a part-time job working on swimming events, and upon completing my studies and working a full-time accounting job I continued to work this second job because I enjoyed it so much. It was often 12-16 hour days, but it didn’t feel like work. I also volunteered on and off as a swimming coach since I was 17. This told me a lot about what I was passionate about.

I had always wanted to try life in a different country, so when the opportunity came up to work in Dubai with Hamilton Aquatics, I jumped at it. At the time Hamilton Aquatics was already a successful swimming academy in the region and was growing fast so I started as a swimming teacher whilst also setting up some basic finance practices.

I quickly realised that the organisation could benefit more from my business and finance skills, so after a year came off poolside to focus on the business. I was very lucky to have a lot of trust put in me and the founder, Chris Tidey was a great mentor, so I grew along with the academy. Now I get to combine my passion and my skills every day.

What obstacles did you have to overcome?  
After a few years, the organisation had grown rapidly but I was limited in my business experience having only previously worked in one other company as an accountant in a junior role. I suddenly found myself responsible for a whole team of people that I didn’t feel I had the skills to lead.

I was very fortunate to be supported in completing a Master’s Degree in Sports Directorship with Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK. Here I was surrounded by like-minded individuals facing similar challenges to me. Not only did I learn a huge amount on the course, but it inspired a thirst for knowledge and encouraged me to be very reflective in my leadership. The result of this is that my leadership style has completely changed, and I continue to develop my leadership every day.

The course also helped me realise how important it is for me to pass on what I have learned. Typically, people find themselves in leadership positions because they are good at their job, and when they get promoted they suddenly find themselves responsible for leading a team having had no experience or training. Every year I take 12 individuals within our organisation through a 12-week leadership programme which I developed to be tailored around our organisational needs.

One thing that is quite prevalent as a challenge for women, is perfectionism. I think this is something that I will always battle against to a certain degree, however now that I understand a lot more about how perfectionism can hold me back and hurt the others around me, I try to identify in what areas I need to give 100% and in which areas 80% is enough and will allow me and others to be more productive.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the industry you represent? What do you wish you had known?
I’m very fortunate to have gone to an all-girls secondary school where it was made very clear from day one that your gender does not dictate your ability to perform a role. I never appreciated this at the time because it was simply the normal day-to-day environment for me. As I moved abroad, I understood more about how some women have very different experiences as part of their cultural upbringing and how for some women, this can hold them back from the things that they want to achieve. Some women have a fear that people will perceive them to be inadequate simply because they are female; I have never had that fear holding me back.

My advice would be to any woman to not see this as a weakness, but rather as an advantage. I often find I am in a male-dominated environment and rather than worrying about being the only female in the room, I have seen how having a female in a room can change how that room operates and interacts. I can often give a unique perspective which adds value.

What do you do to unwind after work?  
One of the great things about working in a job that you love is that you don’t feel a need to ‘unwind’ as such. However, life is short and there is a lot that I would love to do so trying to find some kind of balance is important. I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old son so whilst they are still young, we try to spend most of our free time as a family. Aside from that, I like to keep fit – cycling, running, weights, and of course, the occasional swim!

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