Sidonie Kingsmill: 'One woman on a board won't make a difference'

35 WOMEN UNDER 35: WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Sidonie Kingsmill, brand director for Tesco and former MT cover star, on why British businesses need to wake up to boardroom quotas.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 28 Jul 2014

What have you been up to since you appeared in our 35 Women Under 35 list?

I joined Tesco the year after appearing on the list, and have been leading their own brand business in various guises since then – UK, internationally, new brands, existing ones, strategy, execution! I’ve also had my two boys since then: Caden, now aged 4.5; and Torin, now aged 1.5.

Which businesswoman do you most admire and why?

It’s difficult to choose one – there are lots of senior business women now, and there is something to learn from all of them. Karen Mattison [founder of Timewise Jobs] has done a great job championing flexible working and trying to de-stigmatise it via the Power Part Time list. My new board director at Tesco, Jill Easterbrook, has risen through the ranks at Tesco and has been hugely successful at balancing a demanding career and her family.

Do you have (or have you had) a mentor? If so, who and why?

There are several people I am lucky enough to call a mentor. I learn different things from different people in different contexts. What is possibly more important for women to have is a sponsor – someone who will speak up for you when you’re not there, spot opportunities for you to shine, and protect you when unkind winds are blowing in your direction.

What's been your biggest business setback/mistake?

Getting carried away creating a very cool, innovative advertising campaign for Felix cat food while I was at Nestle, and having the CEO change before we were quite finished. The new guy was horrified at what we had done, and canned all our brilliant work immediately!

What are your top tips for negotiating a pay rise?

I have been utterly unsuccessful at negotiating pay rises. However if you don’t ask, you definitely don’t get.

How do you juggle the work/life balance? Any advice?

Work really hard at identifying what is important to you, and prioritise that. Also, recognise that what’s right for someone else might not be right for you, and vice versa. Search far and wide for ideas to solve your particular 'tension points'.

What's your take on boardroom quotas?

One woman on a board doesn’t make a difference – you need some critical mass to effect major change with anything. Sometimes a business needs a boardroom quota to provide the catalyst for change.

What nuggets of advice would you give to young women starting out on their careers?

Firstly, be yourself – no-one else can do this better than you! If you’re trying to copy others, you will always do it worse than them. Secondly, choose your career based on the people you meet. If you like and admire the people you’re working with, you’re more likely to want to spend time with them, more likely to communicate effectively with them, and as a result you’re more likely to be successful at your job.

As a high-flying businesswoman, have you ever faced discrimination in your industry?

Probably, but nothing explicit. I’ve chosen to avoid sectors in which I had to be something I’m not. However, I expect my life would have been different in very many ways if I had been born a bloke, and I’ll never know the true difference being a woman has made – both positively and negatively.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Richer, more successful, and having more sleep.

Sidonie Kingsmill appeared in our 35 Women Under 35 back in 2007. To check out this year's list, click here.

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