San Johal is a HR director and consultant for her own independent HR consultancy, SJ HR Consulting. In this blog, she explains how her traditional Punjabi upbringing, desire to work more flexibly and strong supportive bonds with other female leaders, has shaped her leadership journey.
I had a traditional Punjabi upbringing; being the youngest of five to Indian immigrant parents meant that career aspirations and following your dreams was never really discussed, my parents were busy making ends meet and playing their part in the local Sikh community.
My dad had a very strong work ethic and worked two jobs. As a result he was rarely home. One distinct memory I have is pulling an all-nighter for one of my A-level exams, my dad coming into my room, having just finished a night shift and telling me how proud he was of my revision effort.
This is the first time I can remember positive feedback from my dad with regards to my education. My dad came to this country when he was 11 years old, and despite not knowing the language, managed to complete his secondary school education and an engineering qualification at night school, while working during the day at the foundry.
Looking back, that was the point at which I was truly inspired. He had achieved so much despite the odds and I would grab any opportunity I could to honour that. I went off to university, the first female in my family and extended family to live away from home whilst studying, due to insecurities about Punjabi girls becoming ‘too westernised’. My dad had faith in me, and I was not going to waste it or do anything that would embarrass him or my family.
I completed my degree in social and political studies and graduated unsure of next steps. Following some work experience, I began my post graduate HR qualification and loved it, my natural curiosity and nosiness finally had a purpose!
Since then, I have steadily worked my way up the hierarchy, taking my first HRD role in 2010 and remaining at that level ever since. Midway through my career, I went to a three and then four day working week as I had two kids under the age of three.
It worked at first, but I soon realised I was working more than four days, so I switched to full time and made it my mission as HRD to make flexible working a way of life in the organisation. Not explaining why I was leaving at 3pm made me feel anxious at first, but I soon realised that nobody really cared apart from me. I started walking out confidently, making sure I said goodbye to everyone rather than slipping out quietly. Women took notice and remarked on how emboldened they felt to do that same and to stop apologising for having family commitments that they needed to leave work early or on time for.
Inspiration from fellow leaders
Aside from my dad, I am continuously inspired by eight women that I was lucky enough to meet as part of an action learning set on a Women in Leadership programme run by Windsor Leadership Trust. We all come from a range of backgrounds and have varied careers yet have become friends, forming a strong and supportive bond as female leaders in our respective fields.
I am in awe of these women and they are a source of enrichment that I didn’t realise I needed until they came along We listen, we ask open questions, we give honest views (without judgement), we coach and make suggestions. We also connect each other into our own networks as needed. I just wish I had found a group like this sooner!
San is a member of the Health & Care Women Leaders Network, a free network for women working across the health and care sector, which connects through events and tweet chats and shares learning through podcasts, blogs, videos and key reports.
Join the network and connect on Twitter with San @SanJohal or the network @hcwomenleaders
The network launched the #WonderfulWomenDo campaign in November 2019 which encourages, supports and celebrates women working in health and care. Join the conversation on Twitter by thanking a colleague that has inspired you and made an impact on your career using the hashtag #WonderfulWomenDo.