Moya Greene, chief executive at Royal Mail, urges women to be more courageous and ‘take the risky jobs’.
‘There are big opportunities out there – but too many of the women I speak to in the UK are afraid of those roles. They are holding themselves back,’ she says. ‘I always say to other women: "Don’t let the worry about your children defeat your ambition". The best jobs I’ve had were the ones I was most afraid of.’
Greene is a member of a small club of female FTSE 100 chief executives, alongside Alison Cooper at Imperial Brands, Alison Brittain at Whitbread, Liv Garfield at Severn Trent, Veronique Laury at Kingfisher and Carolyn McCall at easyJet. [And they will be joined by Emma Walmsley next year when she takes over as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline.]
Greene joined Royal Mail in 2010 when it was technically insolvent, had a huge pension deficit and had just been through three national strikes. ‘It had the worst regulatory model on the planet and it hadn’t made any money in ten years – nevertheless the government wanted to privatise it,’ she says.
It was a tough gig for any executive, let alone the first woman and first non-Briton to head Royal Mail since Henry VIII established a ‘master of posts’ in 1516. But Greene came with the right credentials – she’d headed up Canada’s postal service and had overseen the privatisation of the country’s railway and deregulation of its airline and ports systems – and managed to steer Royal Mail onto the London Stock Exchange and straight into the FTSE 100.
Greene modernised the company and reshaped the business away from letters, the service’s historic mainstay, and towards parcels, taking advantage of the boom in internet shopping. ‘We have a lot of sophisticated competitors – Amazon, Fedex, UPS – but we’re now the number one parcels delivery company in the UK,’ she says. ‘And we beat them all by a country mile. We deliver one billion parcels a year in the UK; Amazon delivers 300 million.’
But very few of those parcels are delivered by women. ‘Even though the jobs at Royal Mail are perfectly suited to combining work and family responsibilities, only 11% of people who deliver the mail are women,' says Greene. She compares that to the war years, when Royal Mail was run by women. ‘If you look back at photographs from those days, you’ll realise that the lifeblood of the company was female. By 1941, around 100,000 women were employed in the postal service. They organised cooperatives in their neighbourhoods to make sure their children were looked after while they, quite literally, kept the economy running. They had a lot less help than us and they were less educated than us, and yet they managed it all.
‘But then something happened. In the post-war years, all that skill, initiative and ability went back to the kitchen. What is it about our generation that makes us think we can’t do it all?’
Greene, who was awarded a pay package of £1.5m this year, says she’s always had a ‘posse’ of women around her who have supported her and encouraged her to take the risky roles instead of the ‘easy, clear-sail jobs’. ‘You need someone who will put their hand in the small of your back and say, "You go, girl! You can do that job!"'
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