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International Women's Day 2021 #ChooseToChallenge: An interview with our female leaders

In celebration of this year's International Women's Day, we've decided to shine a light on the women leading some of our portfolio companies, asking them key questions around their careers and what this year's #ChooseToChallenge theme means to them.

Below, we speak to Sue Packer, Managing Director at CMOStores.com and Jackie Lindsay, CEO at Routes Healthcare.


Sue Packer, Managing Director, CMOStores.com

My name is Sue Packer and I’ve been an SME Finance Director for almost 30 years, although I can’t actually believe it’s been that long. Most of these roles have been transformative with businesses suffering from growing pains and my greatest pleasure has been derived from getting things back on track. I’ve recently become the Managing Director of CMOStores group after a period of two years as its CFO and am thoroughly enjoying the role.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

I’ve never felt insurmountable challenges in the practical delivery of what I do and I’ve always believed in my ability. The challenges have been invisible and therefore harder to counter. People are comfortable when dealing with those made in their own light and those who do things as they picture themselves doing them. Most people choose their friends this way, they choose their mentors this way and they recruit, manage, assess and reward this way. Board room numbers speak for themselves and I have only once had a female board colleague. Although I’ve always delivered results, I’ve sometimes had that “must be a fluke” response from those who would have done things differently. As I’ve got older, I’ve developed a much more “I don’t really care what you think, just judge my delivery” approach but I used to be very conscious of my own non-conformity. Now I just go with what feels right for the organisation concerned and it works.

Why did you choose a career in Finance?

Like many I know, Finance chose me rather than vice versa. I did scientific A levels, then set up a design business, then found I needed business skills so did a Business Studies degree from which I specialised in Accounting and Finance. I’ve always been interested in the thumping heart of a business, so audit was never for me, but manufacturing and construction were and I joined Gillette as a Marketing Analyst immediately after graduating. I was a Finance Director a few years later and simply never looked back.

Do you have any advice for other women pursuing a career in Finance?

In all things, simply be good at what you do and keep your integrity at all times. Don’t feel the need to please anyone else other than through your success, never succumb to anything that compromises your integrity and don’t fuel any bigotry you might face, tangible or otherwise, by paying it any heed. Be proud to be you and know that you should be rewarded for it – demand to be rewarded for it!

Did you have a female role model early in your career and what did they do to help/change your path?

I joined a very male dominated industry very early on so there was no work-related female role model. Back in the 80's, most women in business thought they had to be men – remember the Dynasty shoulder pads? Having said that, my Mum was an old-school nursing sister and her dedication, hard work, sense of responsibility and compassion, meant that it was impossible to walk through most of the streets in Warwickshire without being accosted by an ex-patient, a nurse who had trained under her or a consultant who she had supported. She was widely revered and shopping trips meant putting the whole day aside. I remain very proud of her.

What does this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

We’re generally lucky in the Western world. Things are getting better all the time, opportunities are opening up all the time, there are places to go to report problems, and the authorities, often staffed by women, are obliged to listen and treat you fairly. It’s not perfect but it’s headed in the right direction.

The far greater challenge for women is in those countries where they are widely abused and this often goes unchallenged due to cultural norms. We have the opportunity to speak out for those women, not our far luckier selves, and this is another thing most women do well – put others first!


Jackie Lindsay, CEO, Routes Healthcare

My name is Jackie Lindsay and I am CEO at Routes Healthcare. I previously worked as Group Managing Director for Complex and Community Services for ICS and I also founded Pulse Community Healthcare. Originally, I worked in ‘hands on’ Social Care before moving into recruitment and then healthcare service provision. Prior to joining Routes in January 2019, I was General Manager of Out of Hospital Clinical Services for Healthcare at Home.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

As a woman, growing up I was often informed of what I could and couldn’t do, what was acceptable and wasn’t as female in this world. My energy and interests as a child were labelled by gender specifics like “Tom Boy” and can’t you be more “ladylike”, I didn’t feel like I met people’s expectations. Often being told what was and wasn’t acceptable and appropriate for a girl and what I couldn’t do rather than what I could do. That narrative drove a desire to change those stereotypes recognising the damage and insecurities they inflicted and the deep feeling of not fitting in that I felt.

That negativity led to an incredible sensitivity for the underdog and a fight rather than flight response in my career. My biggest challenges have been rooted in the self-doubt created and the perception that the person I was somehow wasn’t quite right.

Why did you choose a career in Healthcare?

I always had a passion for social care and starting with voluntary work when I was at school and going on to study a Sociology Degree. As students, we used to joke saying we’d learn everything that was wrong in society but have little power to change anything. It was simple, I was idealistic and wanted to make the world a more inclusive, accepting place where we cared and nurtured people, not criticised and controlled them. I am still driven by that same simple idealism today. My interest in health developed as I understood that the two sectors were so often inextricably linked and solutions should be integrated.

Do you have any advice for other women pursuing a career in Healthcare?

Believe in yourself and challenge the “norms” in a sector that is inherently undervalued, because it is seen as “women’s work” an extensions of women’s roles in society but where the power, control and wealth is in the hands of a few men.

Did you have a female role model early in your career and what did they do to help/change your path?

Not one in particular but the words that encouraged me the most invariably came from women. When I first changed direction from being a frontline worker to moving behind the scenes, I attended a week-long residential training course run by a woman who had successfully held many different roles for the company. Her feedback to my seniors was that she was “impressed with my versatility and that I could do anything at all that I choose to do”.

The other was a colleague who was also a Labour Councillor. In her not so very free time, she was casually imagining everyone’s futures and where we may all be heading and I was the last person in the room her eyes rested on, she fell silent looking at me and said exactly the same as the trainer many years before, “you are different Jackie…you could do anything at all that you wanted to do”.

I thank both woman to this day. Their words have returned to me time and time again, showing the power and influence of positivity and encouragement from women who have shaped their own career paths before you.

What does this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?

To challenge the status quo, the spoken and unspoken rules of white, male, heterosexual norms in business to design and build new organisations that place value on emotions, feelings, embrace new ways of working where people can flourish, celebrate difference, nurture authenticity and encourage each other to challenge everything that tries to prevent us from realising our true potential. I #ChooseToChallenge, so that I can take a step towards the wealth, in all its forms, created by women, being owned by and used for the benefit of women.

Posted in All on Mar 07, 2021