Rhonda Halliday: Making it big in a man’s world


Rhonda Halliday, 56, was brought up in Suffolk but moved to London some years ago. She has worked in business for more than 30 years, mainly within the City of London financial sector in both insurance and banking. She has worked closely with board members in project or office managerial positions, incorporating HR, and is currently studying for a BSc in Psychology.

Rhonda is an example of how a motivated, capable and determined woman can not only succeed in business, but offer a shining example to others.

WomenUp spoke to her to learn more.


How did it all begin?

My career started in Suffolk, working for the company that produced Trivial Pursuit. It was a design and typesetting company and I applied for a role as PA to the MD. Fortunately it was a very varied role, working closely with the MD which meant I was able to be involved in what was going on from the ground up to board level.

Are there benefits in working for a small company to begin with?

Oh yes…… it meant I learned about the many aspects of running a company, from looking after clients to sales and marketing, accounts, recruitment and board structures. It was good grounding for moving on to local offices of blue chip companies such as BT and Lloyds.

What was the general perception of women in the workplace at that time?

When I started working it was very usual for women to take on supporting roles, become teachers or go into nursing. There was not really a lot of choice or direction from school career advisers. However, by becoming a trustworthy and reliable employee ensured confidence from the management team which allowed me to progress into other positions; this resulted in me becoming an office manager.

Many women still believe that if they stand up for themselves, it will backfire on them. What are your thoughts?

It is difficult, especially if they feel no-one will listen. It is important for senior management to ensure that there is always an open door policy for reporting workplace problems; they must not turn a blind eye and hope it goes away as it invariably become a bigger issue and then is that much harder to deal with.

How did you find career opportunities for women in your sector/industry?

I followed what is a predominantly a female route into management, but part of my work has included building management which meant I had to hold my ground with engineers and building contractors – an area dominated by males.

What differences exist for the younger generation and their opportunities for the future?

As there is now a wider range of job opportunities – especially for women – I think it is a far more exciting  time for the younger generation. It’s definitely improved from when I first set out to work.

Has the balance/ imbalance between men and women affected you?

It is extremely frustrating if you carry out a role more efficiently than a man – knowing that you are being paid a lot less. Even the recognition of doing a job well doesn’t help when there is a significant imbalance in financial remuneration.

Have you noticed a big difference in attitude between different countries/cultures on this topic?

Having worked with American, European, and Chinese companies I would say there has been little difference in the treatment of women. On the whole, they have mainly had supporting roles within overseas businesses too.

How could this change in the future?

Education is important – from schools through to businesses. Business management needs to be more aware in order to implement fairness to women, and schools must educate women to be more confident in knowing that they can do more senior roles – and do them as well as a male counterpart. This is on the basis of using mental ability – physically, we women have to accept we are built differently.

You’ve had a long, interesting career with what appear to be several lives packed into one.  Your decision to now follow a different path and go back to university to study in a totally different field is courageous in most people’s eyes. Do you find it a challenge?

Fortunately, I love learning and the opportunity to learn something new is exhilarating. I do find a challenge in the different disciplines I encounter whilst studying, as these are different to those encountered in the workplace.

Do you think this is a common trajectory for women in the workplace in Europe? For example, is it common for women to change industries, careers, etc?

I think it depends on whether or not having children affects the career progress. Stopping to look after children may mean that leaving work completely means starting all over again, and therefore it can be a case of readjusting and finding alternative roles – rather than taking one single shot at a career like men tend to be able to do.

What do you notice as a common denominator issue among your women clients? What’s top in their list when it comes to their careers?

Women clients or women suppliers are probably all the more determined to succeed and provide a higher level of service than their male counterparts because they feel that they have more to prove. It doesn’t make any difference whether they have had a family or not – it is an underlying self-imposed high expectation of the self to exceed.

What were some of the messages you heard growing up in England about women in the workplace, and how have they affected your career?

Some of the negative messages have been about why I needed to go to London to work, and not stay working locally [in Suffolk]. For me, there was not enough career progression locally – even though there were blue chip companies. Despite the City being a very male-dominated arena to work in, there was more opportunity for potential earning, plus the opportunity to learn on the job.

Your job has taken you abroad quite a lot too. What was your role there?

I used to fly to Europe and the US in order to attend insurance conferences organised either by the industry, or by the company. I used to look after clients whilst working closely with the insurance business press in order to ensure the company had good coverage for such events. This was a wonderful opportunity to widen my horizons, use my interpersonal skills and interact with business people – men and women – at international level.

What advice would you give to young women starting out in business?

I would say…observe the environment you are working in and look at the dynamics of the management structure. You will often be able to see who the decision makers are and who is on the rise in the corporate structure; work out who you can work with. Finally, do not treat any work colleague differently from another–  no matter whether it is the MD, a secretary or an engineer, dignity in the workplace and a respect for others will ensure a happier work environment in which all can succeed.

And finally… women often face considerable additional stress – for example when they are combining raising a family etc with forging a high-flying career – so have you any tips on how to deal with this?

In order to relax from everyday pressures and stresses – and not being a gym enthusiast! – I joined my local dance studio. It is a place of escapism; it doesn’t matter if you are single, married, old, young, fat or thin. Whatever pigeonhole society tends to expect you to fit into, the dance studio allows the freedom to just be! It is a great environment to relax in whilst learning new fun dance routines and exercise at the same time. No-one is judgmental and regardless of your dance expertise, the members and teachers are always supportive.  I usually prefer a tango to a waltz…but on some days it might be that I just want to glide around the floor. If that’s the mood I am in, then that’s what we will do. That’s the beauty of dance…you can’t get that on the cross trainer!



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