As the UK’s leading gift voucher, corporate rewards and Christmas Savings business, we want to turn our attention to recognising the incredible women in our company to celebrate International Women’s Day 2023.
International Women’s Day has said its focus lies with embracing equity – creating a fairer society by adapting services and policies to people’s diverse lived experiences. As a company, we also believe that equity is not just a nice-to-have – it is a must-have.
To celebrate a world where difference is valued and celebrated, we have invited five especially inspiring women from our company to talk about their experiences of work during their careers. Here is Brenda’s story.
Early on in Brenda Mills’ corporate career she often found herself as “the only woman in a room of 10 men”.
“I have never been intimidated by that – but I would think ‘but where are all the women?’” said Brenda. “Over the years I have had to develop a tough skin.
“I am quite tough anyway and if I think morally or ethically something is wrong, I will not be afraid to say so – I will dig my heels in.
Brenda joined Love2shop (then Park Group) in 2002. She had never worked in an office in her life before and initially felt like a fish out of water. But having left her home in the Dingle in Liverpool to work overseas aged just 17, she is nothing if not adaptable.
Two decades on and Brenda plays a pivotal role in the Love2shop operation. She is Head of Services and Experience Operations, overseeing the customer care centre with three teams – Park Christmas savings, High Street Vouchers and card services – employing 33 people.
She is also head of the team that supports the Love2shop sales force. This is as well as overseeing the travel department and the warehouse and redemption site in Birkenhead and a small team in Newcastle MBL. The fraud risk and change managers both report to Brenda.
Back in her teenage years, Brenda’s career path looked very different. She trained in dance at Liverpool Theatre School and at 17-years-old, she was offered a place on a dance show tour of Spain.
Her dad told her, “You are not going anywhere!” But, in the end he gave in. She added: “I had worked in multiple countries before I was 21, including Spain, Greece, Egypt, Croatia (then Yugoslavia) and Oman. I was in Cairo for a year which was amazing.”
Brenda settled in Bahrain where she established a ballet centre. Teaching children from 3 – 16 years old. Working with children from all over the world was a privilege.
“But I was also a bit of a Del Boy! I was the only person on the island to have two bouncy castles, which I rented out! And my friend and I provided magazines for the ex-pat clubs; that’s where I learned about sales and putting catalogues together.
“Travel has shaped my life enormously, especially from a people perspective. My husband was a money broker so we would mix with expats who were experts in their field from all over the world. You could have a top surgeon and advisors to kings at a dinner party. And there is me, a little scouser, in the middle of it all.
“That period was probably one of my steepest learning curves. I met a real mixture of people, from all cultures and works of life. It made me look at people differently and understand that everyone has the same fears and that we are not that different.”
Brenda lived in Bahrain for 13 years before returning to the UK in the early 2000s with “a husband, a daughter, a cat and a 40-foot container”. She then joined Love2shop.
“I think I have been quite fortunate in the way I started at the bottom in this business. Before working for Love2shop I had never worked in an office in my life, or even in the UK,” she explained.
“I would think, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing’. “If someone would have said to me back then that I would eventually be training and developing people myself I would never have believed them.”
However, within a year, Brenda had found her feet and started to move up the management ladder.
She said: “I am from a big and very hard-working family. My dad, who I lost quite young, was such a hard worker and he instilled that into us. We don’t expect anything for free and my whole family is pretty much like that. He also taught us never to take ourselves too serious.”
She took another leap of faith and moved into the corporate side of the business. Last year, the departure of her manager gave Brenda the opportunity to step up into her current role.
Reflecting on her work and philosophy, as well as the changing role for women in the business, she added: “Things have changed so much over the years.
“It is really important to bring my guys along with me. I have some amazing people in my team and I love watching people develop. In the last 10 years I’ve seen a shift. There are now a lot more women in important and senior positions – which I hope inspires the young generation.
“The culture here is so good now. I am very approachable and as managers, we have a responsibility to be approachable and to really listen to the people in our teams. You have to bring everyone along.
“Two of the team leaders on my previous team were apprentices. In the last year or so, there has been a big move in internal recruitment and that has shown people what they can aspire to.
“We cannot become complacent. If things change, be on-board and listen [to others]. It is about me listening to people and understanding that not everyone’s needs are the same. Fairness is a big thing for me.”
And does Brenda still like to dance? “Only on the dancefloor on a night out- or when no one is looking.”
What have you discovered about yourself during your career?
I am resilient and I am not afraid to face my fears.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?
Things will be ok and spend less time worrying
Best advice from a mentor?
Always keep the customer at the forefront and maintain a balance between the business and the people. Work smarter not harder.
What would you do differently if you had to do it again?
Not disregard what I have learned from awful things that may have happened. Always pocket the learnings.
Biggest lesson learned?
Invest in your team, listen and communicate.
What would you say to someone starting out?
Build internal relationships, knowledge is key, don’t be afraid to speak out and always know you are in control of your own path.