Ruby McGregor-Smith: Expensive childcare is the biggest obstacle for workers

You live and you learn: Ruby McGregor-Smith, CEO of Mitie, on being outspoken, why quotas are not the answer, and why employers need to be more understanding towards working parents.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 25 Oct 2013

Some say I'm a bit outspoken. I probably need to think more before saying what I feel, because occasionally it can get me into hot water. But I'm happy being like that. More people should say what they feel.

When I started my career as an accountant, I was a bit bored. I went to a small firm called Serco. In the 1990s the UK went through a recession and outsourcing took off. I loved the fast-growth environment, and I've stayed in the services sector ever since.

I don't agree with board quotas. You need to put talent first and focus on whether someone will be good at the job. Did I focus on being a female in business or being born in India? No, I just tried to build a career. I do think that everyone has a bias towards the kind of people they want to employ.

As a leader you need to make decisions really quickly and be brave about doing so. You also need to go with your instincts, which people never do when they're younger because they worry too much.

The biggest obstacle that many working people face is expensive childcare. Employers need to be more understanding that having kids is a big change in your life. If you have enough support, they will have a better employee for it. I found it really hard to return to the workforce after having my two children, who are now 14 and 16.

It helps that I understand finance, but I don't think the best CEOs are accountants. I studied accountancy because I wanted to have a professional qualification and I knew that one day I'd get out of it.

I wish I'd taken more time out on maternity leave after having my first child. I was quite into my career. I was sure I could manage it all, but I certainly couldn't. In business, there are things that go wrong every day. But you just need to move on quickly.

I never liked public speaking until six years ago. I was painfully shy as a child, and I had to overcome that after becoming CEO. It was just a matter of practice, and soon I wasn't having so many palpitations.

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