Celebrating Career Diversity: The Value of a Squiggly Career

Written by Allyson Stewart-Allen, CEO, International Marketing Partners Ltd

You could say – on studying the wide range of roles I’ve had since starting my career in 1985 – that I’ve been opportunistic, impatient and get bored easily. And yes, all of this would be true.

Having a squiggly, non-linear career is a direct result of starting it with 3 global management consulting firms after completing an MBA in my Los Angeles hometown. First, as a marketing/branding consultant for PwC (before the addition of the “C”), then PA Consulting Group in London 2 years later, followed by the London office of Hay Management Consultants. 

Collectively, they taught me many things. First, how important it is to have good leadership in a business. Seeing its power when it inspires people to greatness, and the costs to its people and the business when its lacking was lesson one. Being keen as a 20-something to use my French and German languages having been raised in Munich and studying French thereafter for many years, being told I’d have to wait 10 years to be at a certain job level before qualifying for an international assignment was not going to cut it for me. 

Given I had 2 university degrees in Marketing, best I try to market myself which project led to 120 letters (before Windows or email existed, thanks to WordPerfect!) to top European-based consulting brands and other businesses. With enough agreeing to meet this 25 year old, I took the 6-week “gap year” to interview and left the Grand Tour with 2 offers: CBS Records in Paris and PA Consulting Group in London. How sweet it was to be able to get myself to London under my own steam. And 32 years on, I’m still here with a successful international marketing business (International Marketing Partners), a book (Working with Americans), a wonderful British husband and smart 24-year-old daughter now by my side.

This Grand Tour was a critical turning point for me, as was the 14 month wait for the British work permit, as it truly tested my resolve given I’d resigned from the PwC role assuming I’d shortly be UK bound, paying the bills in the meantime as an LA paralegal with all the conscious bias that came with it from the fee earners. There have been many others too, including my 30th birthday when deciding I had to master my own destiny outside the politics and protection of a large corporate. Yet others have been the chance to offer my expert views across the BBC and several other outlets, to speak at events/conferences, to write a best-selling book and be associated with the world’s leading brands as clients including London Business School, Said Business School Oxford University, the FT, Burberry, Lufthansa, Pandora and many others.

Projects such as the 50:50 initiative are so important to ensure a wide range of perspectives are heard in our increasingly narrowing world of media and news. Research shows social media is now an echo-chamber reducing our exposure to a variety of perspectives, leaving many with views of the world that can be dangerous, are based on “alternative facts” and potentially creating more polarised and atomised societies.

The risk of this narrowing process for women is that their valuable lenses and experiences are neglected, leading to the persistence of gender pay gaps, homogeneous boardrooms, poor business decisions and commercial results.

While women sadly face corporate cultures around the globe that limit their climb through the ranks, this has been proven to lead to commercial underperformance which the fund management industry is finally now starting to act upon.

For us to create a more gender balanced society in the UK, we must start with how we educate our young boys, transmitting a culture of equality through role models. The more the media represents these role models through their content, the more they help us all see them while accelerating the realisation of a fairer, more appreciative Britain.