Interview : Vanessa Vallely
Vanessa Vallely is the founder of leading women’s network, job board and website, WeAreTheCity and CareersCity which serves an audience of over 200,000 women each month in the UK and India. She also co-founded the UK wide diversity network, The Network of Networks (TNON) which includes the heads of women’s networks from 70 FTSE firms. Vanessa has had an extensive 25 year career in Banking and Finance in London. She also sits on a number of charity boards and has won various recognition awards such as Women’s champion for Women in Banking & Finance, TIAW’s Top 100 global women, Financial News Top 100 as well as Brummells Top 30 Inspiring Women. Vanessa was also named as 1 of 50 Influential women by Good Housekeeping. She is a published author and her book ‘Heels of Steel’ tracks the trials and tribulations of one of “the most networked women in the City”.
How do you juggle your career and family life?
If I am totally honest, sometimes I don’t juggle as well as I would like. Like everyone else I have peaks and troughs of activity and sometimes I balance things well and sometimes I fail miserably. What I have learnt is to pat myself on the back when I do feel balanced and enjoy the moment. I am hopeful that once my new is fully established that things will get easier as I will be able to lift myself out of the doing and focus on the strategic growth of all my interests. One thing I won’t compromise on is family time with the children at the weekend. I work before they rise then once they are up it is their time.
“I have had a number of role models in my corporate career and now in business. These individuals have inspired me in so many ways.”
Do you think having a positive work life balance is important?
Absolutely, I have always ensured everyone who works for me has balance. Over the years I have realised that sometimes as a leader you are also a role model and have to demonstrate balance too. I have struggled with the concept of what constitutes life balance for me personally. I rise at 5.00am most mornings and I don’t watch TV or read magazines, so any time outside of tending to the kids is invariably spent working in some form. I wouldn’t want anyone to pity this routine because I absolutely love my job so working isn’t really working to me, its just spending time doing what I love.
What does an average day look like for you?
Up at 5.00am, check BBC news and all social media channels. Then it is 1 hour of work before the kids wake up. The pre school routine gets done with limited contact with anyone outside of my family, then the kids go off to school. Invariably I will then jump on a train to London and spend the day meeting clients, mentoring or visiting schools. I tend to speak at corporate events at least three times a week and this is a part of my job that I absolutely love. I do my best to keep two days at home to focus on work or to follow up on my meetings, I expect this to be slightly more towards the end of 2014 as I will need to spend time in the new offices getting my new team up to speed.
You’ve achieved so much. Are there still things you aspire to achieve in your professional and personal life?
I don’t feel I have achieved everything by a long stretch and I still aspire to do many things. My ultimate long term achievement will be to see my children grow up as balanced adults who are able to do whatever they love to do and to live in a world where everyone is treated equally, regardless of difference. If I see that in my lifetime and have contributed even in the smallest of ways then hopefully I will have made my mark.
Do you think Role Models are important?
Yes I do. I have had a number of role models in my corporate career and now in business. These individuals have inspired me in so many ways. They have given me a kind of “if they can do it, I can do it” motto. I encourage people to be role models,to be accountable and to share their experiences with future generations. I believe we all have a duty to pass on what we have learnt in some way and to giveback to the greater society, especially the youngsters.
We hear of people who choose not to use all of their annual leave and it’s all work work work. What’s your thoughts on this?
I believe people should take all of their leave. Even when I was a corporate worker I always took my allocation of holiday. Things were different then and I could shut off to a certain point as I had a team who were perfectly capable of handling things in my absence. However when you run your own business with a very small team, it is hard to shut off entirely as you always want to be there to respond to clients whenever they need you.
What’s your idea of a relaxing day off?
A day when I get to go for a run. I am a lover of running and have been for around eight years. I love the freedom of running as for me it’s the only time I truly get to myself. I remove my watch, I plug in my music and off I go. If my day or week starts in this vein, I am happy.
“Working isn’t really working to me, its just spending time doing what I love.”
What has been the proudest moment in your career?
Probably mustering up the courage to actually leave my job and pursue my passion. It’s almost a year since I ventured out on my own and at the time the only person who backed the idea was my husband and my gut instinct. I don’t miss the corporate world because I am very much still part of it. I still walk into the same buildings and I still deal with the same people. The only difference is that I am now my own boss and I am helping women full time.
Did you have a Role Model growing up?
My mum. She went through a great deal bringing me up and ensuring I had a good set of values. I listen to myself on occasions talking to my children and I have to laugh as I have morphed in to her. My grandmother was also a strong role model to me. When my grandfather died suddenly she literally had to pick up and run his business the next day in order for the family to survive. She didn’t have the first clue about how the business ran or what to do, but she got out there and taught herself. She became an extremely successful businesswomen despite being a young widow with two young children to raise. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother as a child and she taught me a great deal. It’s a shame that she is not still around to see what I went on to do with all the great things she taught me.