Image of Melinda Johnson

Melinda Johnson

Commercial Director Department of Health and Social Care

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced as a woman in business to date?

Years ago, I recall being the only woman in commercial meetings which felt macho in atmosphere - I used to get a picture in my head of rutting deer! I had to develop ways of being assertive without becoming macho myself, which invariably involved trying to think ahead of the arguments and discussion and come up with something more strategic to contribute and deliver that in a confident and positive way with a smile. In the last year I’ve become Gender Champion for the Government Commercial Function, building on my role as Women’s champion at the Department of Health and Social Care. The GCF Gender Network has over 85 people in it, covering 6 work strands tackling gender issues. We’ve come to realise that men’s issues are inextricably linked to women’s issues, brought into sharp relief by the pandemic lock down. Domestic responsibilities, caring for the family, home schooling, looking after parents and so on - need to be shared responsibilities. We are working through the probable implications of the ‘new norm’ for work, and how office based working will change in the future, given our expertise with digital working, brought forward years, by the necessity of home based working during the last year. How the new norm will affect women, and men, will be interesting to see.

Who has inspired you (male or female)?

My line managers have almost all been male and have all inspired me in some way. I did have one female line manager in my late twenties who encouraged a life-long learning in me, she said that keeping up to date with your CPD gives you confidence, that you should see your job description as the starting point and make your role your own. She said that every bad experience was more valuable in learning terms than a good one, and that the main thing that limits success is your own confidence and ambition.

What do you wish you’d known when you started out and/ or what advice would you give your younger self?

Get a mentor, someone who you can talk with regularly to guide your career choices. Think about how you can raise your personal profile, for example through corporate contributions – getting involved, or leading things that are outside your role. This enables opportunities for wider networking, learning new skills and shows you are ambitious to develop; it will help to get you noticed. Seize opportunities to develop yourself.

What are the character traits of successful women and/ or what do you think makes a good leader?

A good leader is someone people want to follow and work alongside, rather than someone who simply tells everyone what to do, or has the power to make them do things. I believe good leaders empower people, inspire them and let them know they have confidence in them. Good leaders invest in people and relationships, build credibility and consensus through effective engagement. Successful people surround themselves with a diverse selection of brilliant people. Trust takes investment from the leader, and is easily lost – good leaders know that; they are also great communicators.

 Do you have a favourite quote or statement that sums up your approach to life? 

When my late mum gave me her wages to go to FE college and do my qualifications, she said “Promise me 3 things: work hard, keep learning and don’t let self-doubt stop you from seizing a good opportunity – confidence is 70% of success.” I’ve tried to live by that.

What do you #ChooseToChallenge?

In terms of calling out – we are raising the profile and understanding of issues like imposter syndrome – suffered by many women, feeling insecure about their promotions; women feeling ‘they need to tick all the boxes’ before applying for new roles; and raising awareness of the menopause and how it affects women at work. There is still much to do on Gender, and the more issues are called out, spoken about openly to educate people, the faster we will reach a more equal and inclusive society.

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