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An interview with Capita's COO

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

We asked Dawn Marriott-Sims, joint COO at Capita, a number of questions about her success, her experience of working at Capita and her advice for bright women at the start of her careers. Here's what she had to say... 

1. How does Capita demonstrate its commitment to the professional development of its female employees? Do you have any specific examples that relate to you and/or outsourcing?

Capita has always believed in the importance of developing its people. Every employee, whatever their route into the organisation, is offered a range of training and development opportunities to ensure they have all the tools to develop their career.  To help us do even more to develop our existing colleagues and to identify fresh, new members of the Capita family, we recently appointed our first talent director who is committed to helping employees access all the opportunities available within Capita to enrich their careers.

As an organisation that has constantly grown, we learn and adapt all the time but maintain our belief that it is essential for all talented and ambitious people to develop, progress  their careers, be satisfied and be valued. Our employees are key to our continued success.

We’re proud that we’ve recently been recognised as one of the top FTSE companies (no.2) with the most women on our board and we continue to employ a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve.

Having a diversity of people at all levels within the business ensures that we have a breadth of experience, thinking and approaches. This helps us to build teams that really understand and respond to the needs and challenges of our clients and their customers. We’re proud that we’ve recently been recognised as one of the top FTSE companies (no.2) with the most women on our board and we continue to employ a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we serve – driving innovation, supporting local businesses and improving services for customers.

In my own career, I was encouraged and supported in building my skills and developing my team and business. I profitably grew our managed recruitment and training businesses and acquired new companies to expand our services. The success of these businesses was reflective of my enthusiasm and hard work and that of the team I led, guided and inspired. This was recognised and resulted in my swift progress within Capita, leading to my promotion to the Executive Board as Director of our Workplace Services Division. Soon after, I was appointed to the group board as Joint Chief Operating Officer, with operational oversight of half of Capita’s divisions and more than 50% of our 68,000 employees.

When graduates join us we immediately give them opportunities to participate in and lead projects. A great example of this is one of our 2013 Lead the Way cohort; Becky. Becky had been working as a sales assistant in a fashion retailer before joining our Graduate Scheme. Unsure of which sector best suited her skills, joining Capita gave Becky the opportunity to develop her creative talent in an entirely new area. We have a quote from Becky below...

"I have completed two placements at Gas Safe Register, a business run by Capita. My first six month placement was in digital marketing. I created and supported a range of marketing campaigns and had ownership of the company’s social media platforms; Facebook and LinkedIn. In my second six month placement, I was project manager of Gas Safety Week 2014; a major national marketing campaign.

Both these placements gave me the opportunity to develop my understanding of the business, learn new skills and gain experience of managing a project. I now have the confidence in my ideas to achieve them and will have the support of my line manager behind me to do it."

2. What makes a good future female leader?

Good leaders are not defined by their gender, they are defined by their hunger to gain a strong set of skills, learn from their experiences (both their triumphs and their mistakes) and listen, respect, inspire and be inspired by their colleagues and business associates.

I believe that good leaders are those that recognise where their skills lie and where they need to improve and ensure that their teams include people with complementary skills and attributes. They calmly overcome or find ways around barriers and recognise or create opportunities and grasp them at the right time.

Good leaders always remember basic but valued ways to conduct themselves in business:

  • Be polite and respectful of everyone
  • Acknowledge people – you can learn something from every interaction
  • Be open to new challenges and experiences
  • If you make a mistake – be honest about it, learn from it and don’t hesitate to seek support

One of Capita’s values is “Give autonomy and embrace responsibility” and we’re committed to bringing this value to life by empowering our people. If you are in an industry which doesn’t recognise the importance and business benefits of equality then start knocking on doors, asking questions and being open to opportunities.

3. What three things would you advise the generation of women who are at the start of their careers to consider?

  • Gain a variety of work experience, placements and internships to really make an informed choice regarding your career paths.
  • Be open to following a career path in industry sectors that you think are traditionally dominated by men, but instead where you could stand out and bring different thinking.
  • Ensure you stand out from the crowd in a good way – be confident, bring good energy into a room and always have a clear plan to reach your goals.

4. If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you now know, what would you do differently?

I think it’s important to be able to make mistakes, particularly early in your career – you learn far more from them than your triumphs.

5. How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I love my work and thrive in a changing environment, in an organisation as diverse and acquisitive as Capita. No two days are ever the same. I balance my work with a busy family life.

6. What one piece of advice would you give to our members to help on their journey to becoming a female leader?

Be confident and embrace opportunities as a great lady once said:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt