What easyJet's UK boss learned from Carolyn McCall about leadership

Sophie Dekkers shared the airline CEO's advice on ditching the guilt as a working mother at MT's Inspiring Women Birmingham conference.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 06 Sep 2016

Rising the ranks at easyJet (five roles in seven years), Sophie Dekkers quickly realised she needed to adapt her approach to work – particularly in meetings.

Now UK Country director, Dekkers joined as a market researcher, and had grown accustomed to making tea and taking notes during meetings. ‘I was so used to being junior in a meeting – taking notes, making the tea – I had to stop myself from doing that,’ she said at MT’s Inspiring Women Birmingham conference. ‘So I wouldn’t be the first to volunteer to take notes. It’s about knowing when to make the tea and when not to. When I’m the most senior person in the room I will make the tea so everyone feels equal.’

And Dekkers says McCall completely changed the culture at easyJet when she became CEO ‘away from a finger-pointing one’. Under former CEO Andy Harrison, Dekkers says the atmosphere within the business was ‘quite aggressive, quite a bully culture with people standing up and slamming their fists on the table’. All the female leaders she saw at that point ‘were turning into men when trying to get a point across, starting to use the F word, swearing’.

She recalls someone telling her that McCall was ‘the sort of person where you can go into a meeting with her, she will fire you in that meeting but you’ll still come out feeling positive about yourself and it’s absolutely true’.

Carolyn McCall’s advice to Sophie Dekkers as a working mother:

1. Be there for the dates that matter – make sure that you’re there for school plays and sports days. Make those times sacred in your diary.

2. Go home early to balance the nights away – even if you have to work after they’ve gone to bed. 

3. Be prepared to be an anomaly in the playground – you won’t be there every morning to drop them off and every evening to pick them up

4. Don’t feel guilty – you might be a better person for working. If I was a stay at home mum, the first day I'd probably get my nails done and a massage then the next day I’d be bored and nagging the kids, and I'd be a worse mum to them

5. Sometimes you just have to put on your game face

Sophie Dekkers’ tips for getting ahead in the workplace:

1. Networking is key – get on their radar

2. Understand the business – opportunities might be in other areas

3. Move sideways – breadth is good

4. Give 100% (it won’t go unnoticed) – put your hand up

5. Don’t expect opportunities to come to you – go get them

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