Beverly Owen, strategic director for place with Newport City Council, tells The Business about her life as a woman in the business environment...

The Business: Tell us a bit about yourself...
Beverly Owen:
I was born and bred in Merthyr Tydfil and grew up in a business family. My father grew his haulage and salvage business from scratch and all the family, except me, worked in it. 
At the time it was a male dominated business and, while I could have worked in the company, my parents wanted ‘something better’ for me I suppose.
They wanted me to be the first one in the family to go to university. I always loved travelling when I was growing up and always thought I would have a career that took me further afield, which is why I chose languages as my initial choice of career.
I did go to university straight after school to study French and Italian, but left at the end of my first year when my mother became terminally ill. 
I then took a temporary job in local government while I explored other options. At that time, I never expected to stay, but I’ve never regretted that I did. 
I successfully pursued an alternative degree course, this time in housing and regeneration and also completed my professional post-graduate qualification in housing, while continuing to work my way through the ranks at Merthyr Tydfil Council
At the age of 28 I got my first head of service job in Blaenau Gwent Council
After a few years here, I went back to Merthyr council to lead its regeneration service, before moving to Newport City Council as head of regeneration, investment and housing three years ago. 
In July 2016, I was appointed strategic director for place, which oversees a wide range of place-based services across Newport.

TB: How do you think being a woman dictated your choice of career?
I don’t think it did really. I can see how it probably affected my choice not to go into the family business – they didn’t do protective footwear in a size 3 back then! But seriously, my career path was more as a result of my personal circumstances. 

TB: Who were your inspirations when you were younger?
It may sound clichéd – but my parents mainly. They were both very hard-working and entrepreneurial. They supported me and said I was good enough to do whatever I wanted to do.  
My mother, in particular, was a very strong, independent person, whose determination really set an example for what I wanted to become professionally. And in some ways, the family business ethic has also influenced how I want to help shape NCC services to respond to businesses.

TB: What sort of barriers have you come up against?
Certainly in my early days of local government, women were viewed differently. 
You had to be quite determined to make people look past that and judge you on your ability. That probably made it more difficult for a woman to climb the ladder as you had to work harder to prove yourself. 
I do think that this position has changed a lot and there are now more women in senior positions. At Newport City Council for example, we have a number of women in senior positions both at officer level and politically, including the leader, who is also the first female leader of the Welsh Local Government Association.

TB: What qualities do women bring to the workplace?
The ability to multi-task! I think it is about an individual’s personality and ability, not whether they are male or female. Although we may approach situations or issues slightly differently sometimes, I don’t think the qualities of leadership are gender specific – it is down to individual personalities and leadership styles.

TB: Do you think it is more difficult for women to get into business?
I think times are definitely changing but lots of businesses are still male dominated. 
It has been difficult for women to get onto boards, for instance, but they have to develop the sort of self-belief and confidence that is needed to get your voice heard.  
Organisations have to be responsive, but it is a journey we all have to champion, with women themselves having to set the agenda and take it forward.

TB: There is a movement called #ThisGirlCan – did you ever feel you couldn’t and how did you overcome that?
Yes, of course I have doubted myself on occasions and thought I wasn’t good enough – hasn’t everyone? However, over the years I have reflected, taken support from others and tried to use any setbacks as learning opportunities. You have to change your own mindset to be able to influence others and stay positive.

TB: Have you ever experienced the glass ceiling?
Yes, on a couple of occasions. I have come up against some negative perceptions of women from some individuals in most organisations I have worked in, but I worked hard, stayed determined and looked for opportunities when they arose. 

TB: How do enjoy working in Newport?
I really enjoy working here, as it’s such a friendly city, with a real heart to it. 
Yes, like many communities across Wales, there are challenges but also so many opportunities. 
I want to be at the forefront of some of the changes that are being made and really want to do the best I can for the people of Newport and Newport City Council.

TB: Have you seen the city change?
In the three years I’ve been here, there have been significant developments. Friars Walk opened and the Vibrant and Viable Places programme has transformed some key buildings and spaces in the city centre. 
Record numbers of homes have also been built. We have seen major investment in the city centre and beyond. 
Cardiff University’s National Software Academy has expanded and the University of South Wales Cyber Academy is also now well established – both important components for our ambition for Newport to become a digital hub. 
We know there is still more to be done and the council has been consulting on what priorities people would like to see included in the city centre masterplan. We will continue to support and encourage businesses and developers who want to invest in the city, as long as it is right for Newport and its residents.

TB: How can Newport create its own mark?
We are not competing with Bristol and Cardiff. We are working in partnership with them and Newport has a pivotal role to play in those relationships. We are a coastal, urban and rural city – which is fairly unique in itself – and we have a rich heritage, with great road and rail connectivity. Our economic regeneration plans and target growth areas will help the city grow in its own right!

TB: What advice would you give women wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Work hard, be confident and believe in yourself. 
Learn from negative experiences, don’t dwell on them. 
Don’t have a chip on your shoulder for being a woman and build and rely on strong support networks. If you think yourself as equal, and act as an equal, there is more chance you will be treated as an equal. 
I also think it’s important to have a good work-life balance. I’m a married mother of a 14-year-old, so he always helps me keep a healthy perspective, but I think this is really important no matter what your personal circumstances are.