Niamh was in investment banking for 11 years – working for global multinational Morgan Stanley, before making the move to the entrepreneurial environment of Board Intelligence. The change married seamlessly with her involvement in the 30% Club, whose focus is on getting more women on UK corporate boards. We caught up with Niamh recently to talk about her career, and at six months pregnant, how she is coping with maternity dressing in the office.
I am now Market Director at Board Intelligence. We aim to help boards have better conversations and make better decisions by providing them with the right information. It’s incredibly powerful working directly with boards and senior management teams to help them be more effective. It was a completely opportunistic move that seemed a logical way of linking the 30% Club work, about who should be around the boardroom table, to the decisions they made once they got there. It was a big change to go from a structured banking environment to a much smaller, more entrepreneurial culture, but I’m a huge believer that opportunity never knocks twice!
The financial crisis was a huge challenge for everyone…
Not just for people working in finance. It effectively put paid to the idea that careers are linear as it completely changed many industries and added a huge element of uncertainty into people’s working lives. But then, a lot of positive came out of it as well – it forced companies to look at their existing systems and business models and ask ‘what happened?’ and ‘what did we get so wrong?’ Without that willingness and appetite for change, something like the 30% Club might never have come about and my career path would have been very different.
I have found that being a woman can often be an advantage.
You are the one that the client remembers in a room full of men in suits – you naturally stand out!
Getting more women on boards…
Since starting the 30% Club, we’ve seen more women on FTSE 100 Boards – from 12% at launch to 27.9% today. The trend is steadily continuing upwards as more and more FTSE CEOs, not just Chairs, are actively involved in cultivating the pipeline of women in their organisations, helping to create a pool of board-ready women.
What Helena Morrissey has achieved with the 30% Club, and the way she has led it has been nothing short of extraordinary.
She gave me responsibility very early on and then trusted me to run with it. It has been a very steep learning curve but one which I have enjoyed.
I’ve always been against quotas…
They only give the illusion of change. The only way to create real, sustainable change is to create a new way of working, and create a new system, that will allow women to thrive.
I think it is important to make an effort when you dress for work.
Being well presented makes you feel more confident and shows respect for your clients. Women are lucky in that they can express themselves more through what they wear, rather than just the typical male suit-and-tie uniform.
Over 50% of women admit to finding it challenging to dress for work, and that’s without the added complication of being six months pregnant. We sat down with Niamh Corbett to ask if there’s ever really a good time to tell your colleagues you’re expecting and how she’s navigating office maternity wear when nothing seems to fit…
Maternity dressing in the office…
At four months I started growing out of my non-maternity clothes. I remember sitting in a serious client meeting on a swelteringly hot day, but unable to take my jacket off because the only way I could fit into my dress was to have the zip completely open at the back!
By seven and a half months, my bump ‘popped’ and nothing smart fit anymore, plus I couldn’t really wear heels (which were always my go-to for looking smart) for fear of wobbling or falling over!
There’s always a quandary about the right moment to let your work team know about your pregnancy…
I did it in two phases –
I told my immediate colleagues quite early on, as I found that took away the pressure of having to hide the fact I was pregnant. At one point, all I could eat was crisps and watermelon! I then told the wider team a few weeks later when I was more comfortable with people knowing, and I was worried that my non-existent bump was becoming obvious!
Telling a select few early on also gave us a good head-start on planning client work and my maternity leave – we felt way more organised than we would have if I had waited until the last possible moment to tell them.
Telling a select few early on gave us a good head-start on planning client work and my maternity leave – we felt way more organised.
You don’t just suddenly lose your fashion sense when you become pregnant, you still want to retain some way of looking like you did before…
I have really struggled to find any middle ground between pregnancy body-con and tent-like clothes – neither of which I was comfortable in.
Buy a size up and find a good tailor!
I stuck to non-maternity dresses in bigger sizes for as long as I could. That worked up to a point, but after a certain size, the top and arms became so baggy that I had items altered to get more wear out of them.
A good jacket hides a multitude of sins
I have found long jackets and blazers, with smart black trousers or black jeans and a floaty top the way forward.
You don’t just suddenly lose your fashion sense when you become pregnant, you still want to retain some way of looking like you did before you were pregnant
The Fold’s Northcote was my pregnancy saviour. I bought it in two different sizes and was tempted for a third!
Pregnancy go-to outfits…
Black is my go-to, navy looks equally flattering and stylish if you don’t love black. I’ve worn smart black trousers, a black or white loose top or a chic knit and a blazer on repeat. I also have a good pair of kitten heels and some black flats. If you want to add a splash of colour or pattern, a long scarf always works well.
The Fold’s Northcote was my pregnancy saviour
I bought it in two different sizes and was tempted for a third!
Shorten your hemline if you dare…
If you feel comfortable, a slightly shorter hemline can distract from a growing stomach – the Duchess of Cambridge is an expert in this!
Recommended maternity options
I have lived in Seraphine jeans and my smart black trousers from Isabella Oliver. Two brands I found that did naturally more flowing or boxy shaped clothes were & Other Stories, and COS. Zara has been a staple for simple floaty tops and long jackets, and H&M Maternity has also been amazing for good quality cheap cotton tops.
I also found my husband’s t-shirts and white shirts quite handy! As I’ve gotten bigger, I’ve definitely raided his wardrobe more than I’d like to admit.