Today I had the privilege of taking part in a ‘Role Model Relay’ with Girls Out Loud. This is an organisation who seek to inspire teenage girls to have confidence, self belief, resilience and positive self image. To encourage them to think big, embrace risk and reach for the stars. All things I think we all need to do.

Just over 130 girls aged 12-13 attended the afternoon, where lawyers, singers, make up artists, civil engineers, restaurant managers, to name a few, volunteered their time to talk about our careers and answer any questions the girls had. We started with inspirational talks for the whole room by three amazing women with very different careers. They talked about what they do, how they found their career, and how they overcame challenges they faced. These ladies enthused not just the girls in the room but all the other women in the room too. Then, two role models sat with a table of 10 girls and we chatted for 5 minutes before moving on to a new table.

Challenge number one was to explain what you did, quickly and simply and still leave time for the girls to speak and ask questions. I brought my Co-op bag and produced my trusty calculator to explain I worked in finance at the Co-op. I explained that I asked the same three questions from someone nearly every day. ‘How did you make the money you have made?’ ‘What did you spend the money on?’ and ‘Why did you need to spend it?’ This is most important part of my job. Really understanding the business. Knowing the right people to ask. Finding the right people to ask or the right place to get the information I need. I get to see and speak to the whole business. For example, I need to know how we build our shops, how do we pay for the lorries that drive the food around to the shops, how do we make our websites work, what charities do we support and how do we give them money? Through asking these questions and getting help from many other people in the organisation, I can start to do my job. The rules I need to understand and the sums I need to do, only work if I have the right information to work with.

Challenge two was the questions from the girls. Each one of their questions was an absolute gift. If you want a coach, talk to a twelve year old I say!

‘Is it hard?’ the girls asked. Yes it is, but as I answered that question, I realised, I wouldn’t like an easy job. I need to learn new things. I get to read, which I love. I stay informed about the business and my specialism. I work out how rules apply. I work out how to explain hard things in a simple way. I get to ask questions and be inquisitive daily. I get to work with interesting and helpful people who help me do my job. This makes the ‘hard’ bits of my work possible and enjoyable. So yes, it is hard, but that is actually a good thing.

‘So, did you love maths at school?’ the girls asked. Not especially, I didn’t hate it but didn’t love it either. I was simply ‘ok’ with Maths. I then reflected that at school I gravitated to Art, Music, Drama, English and History. I honestly assumed I’d be a teacher when I was their age. I even tried teacher training for a few weeks after university but realised it was a job I could never switch off from. Working in an office lets me leave work at work (those who have seen me at work may not fully believe this, but it is true!). But a love of Art, Music, Drama, English and History remains with me and I still get to do those things outside of work. At this point, I ‘showed off’ my access all areas pass on the back of my calculator, from the time I was part of Susan Boyle’s backing choir. A cue for a wonderful mix of reactions (which I always get from colleagues I show this to!).

‘Do you get free stuff? ‘ Yes, we get to taste the great food the co-op sells every so often and we get a discount in our shops and other products the Co-op sells. This was a massively popular response. I think people were ready to sign up to work for the Co-op on the spot!

‘Do you work in that cool building? ‘ Yes, and it is a cool building. I explained how I was in it before it had the glass put on the outside. I explained I needed to know what they spent on building that cool building to do part of my job, so I got to speak to architects and surveyors who helped design and build it. Nobody expected that from the lady with the shopping bag and calculator.

‘Do you ever want to do something else?’ I always want to do new things, be challenged and learn. No two years of my career have been the same, and I would hate it if it stayed the same. I have done other things like running a network for other people who do what I do to meet and support each other. I have helped charities and schools. I have run 10k and 5k races. I have sung in choirs and helped in theatres in my free time. I also need a fulfilled life outside work too – getting the two to work well together is something I want to be better at. I need to leave a little more time for fun & joy. They help me be better at work and in life. Work is just a bit of life – but if it is right, it can be an absolutely wonderful part of your life.

‘What made you get into it?’ Honestly, I applied for so many types of jobs after leaving university. Marketing, sales, store management, factory management, HR, accounting, in every part of the country. I would have worked at anything if I got the independence of my own money. I eventually got offered one job in London, one in Manchester and I liked Manchester as a city best. I explained that my first job sent me on loads of training courses and eventually I did exams to get a professional qualification. I worked at it until I started to understand it. I soon started to feel ‘as good’ at it as the people who always wanted to be accountants or had studied business or accountancy at university. I worked hard, asked questions, asked for help when I needed it. Sometimes I should have asked for more help. The people who support you and you learn from make or break any job you do. I have been lucky to work with lots of supportive people.

‘Do you get more money the more you work?’ If you work hard, and prove yourself then yes there are chances to increase the amount you are paid. Keep asking and keep trying new things, ensure you enjoy it first. Money is only part of what makes a job good. It isn’t enough on its own.

See? How good are those questions? I got coached by about 50 girls today and it was perfect timing for me as I am about to embark on a new part of my career. I got to remind myself of what I have achieved and learned in my career so far. I have been reflecting what the 12 year old me would make of the 30 years older version of herself. Especially if she only met me for 5 minutes. I am not sure she’d understand what exactly I’d ended up doing. I do think she’d always love to be learning something new. She’d appreciate the chance to be inquisitive. She’d like explaining things as she liked writing and talking. She’d like doing something ‘hard’ and the rewarding feeling of working it out & getting it right. She’d like the independence. She’d like helping others understand things. She’d definitely like the free food thing! (I mean who wouldn’t?) She’d like the I do other stuff like singing. Realising that makes me feel quite proud and a lot more positive about myself than I would have if I hadn’t volunteered today.

Being part of a group of women helping girls start to glimpse at what is out there was a true privilege. They say you can’t be what you can’t see. You can’t be what you can’t see inside yourself too. I think I got to see a bit more of what I might still be today too.

By Lisa O’Hare – Head of Direct Tax, Co-op