Leading Bluestones Medical from the front
Bluestones Investment Group
In 2011, only 11% of leaders in the top 100 recruitment firms were women – this is something that is slowly changing, but there is still a long way to go. Bluestones Investment Group spoke with Elizabeth Pringle (pictured), managing director and founder of Bluestones Medical, a specialist medical recruitment agency based in Chester, about her experience as a female in recruitment and launching a recruitment agency in partnership with the Bluestones Group.
How did your career in recruitment start?
I worked for a company called Hays many moons ago, within the accountancy and finance sector as a junior. I went through all their training and that gave me the recruitment bug really. I also worked for a financial training company called Kaplan. My job was to find people that were interested in being an accountant, going to schools to carry out presentations to convince pupils to go to Kaplan as a trainer and then find them placements so that the company could get government funding. That was my first initial introduction to the elements of recruitment although it wasn't officially a recruitment job.
When did you get into medical recruitment?
I had always dabbled in it a little bit with Hays because we had some NHS contracts and I realised what sort of gross margins they were making on that. It wasn't until I came to Bluestones that I started focusing full time in the medical sector.
When you first started working in the recruitment industry what was the representation of women like?
It was very much "the boys from London" in medical recruitment when I first started. There's still an element of that, but it has been diluted a little bit. There tended to be more women in the lower level consultant roles and account manager roles, whereas “the boys from London”, as we call them, used to do the business development and the more managerial roles like Financial director or managing director. Over the years that's lessened slightly because there's less focus on medical recruitment being solely in London. The NHS prefers local businesses now. And so the spread and proportion of women have also increased and there is less focus on London.
Why did you want to launch a recruitment agency?
I had worked in recruitment for many years and done very well out of it, but had been very frustrated because I’d had my wings clipped by some of the companies I had worked for. The larger companies could be rigid and inflexible which can be very disheartening to someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was presented with an opportunity to launch a flexible business and make the money that I was used to making as well as a comfortable basic, it meant I had the scope to achieve my full potential.
Did you ever feel, as a woman, you would reach a point in life to be able to launch your own recruitment agency?
No, I never had a plan. I've always wanted to be self-employed, but I never envisaged myself looking after so many people. My team now consists of 18 people, we've opened an office in Cardiff and we're looking to open in Leeds and Birmingham next. I never imagined that when I started in recruitment. I just knew what I wanted out of it for me as an individual. So, no, it was never part of my plan and if I'm honest, I think probably 10 years ago when I thought of the typical stereotype that's connected to the title "managing director", straight away an image of a gentleman came to mind rather than a female.
Do you think that's something that's quite prevalent with men and women in recruitment? They just automatically picture a man at the top of the business?
I think so. I think recruitment is quite white male dominated in lots of different sectors. Not to say that there haven’t been women in it for years and generations, there have been lots of influential women, we can’t ignore them or say that their part isn't significant, it really is, but the general consensus of our industry is that it’s male-dominated, and it is “big boys together”. A lot of the larger recruitment companies are owned by the same male individuals. So, I think men feel the same. I think men are quite surprised when they see female Managing Directors out there.
What do you think needs to be done to change people's perceptions and opinions?
I think women have always worked really hard. If you want to do well in recruitment, then just continue with the same hard-work ethics. I think there are more and more women coming up through the ranks as a lot of them become more career focused. That's not to say that there are women out there that haven't been career focused, but they've always had to balance their careers alongside their family. It's expected that you have to do both, whereas with men we've always found that their careers come first. If women have wanted a career, we've had to accept that we have to do this alongside raising families. I think that is still there a little bit and this is why women like myself have chosen not to have children because my career is more important to me. I think we're seeing that, or women having children later in life, more and more these days.
Do you think that there is this perception if women want to be successful in their career they should choose: career or family?
I think so yes. I can only speak for myself, but I think I would be taken less seriously and my choices in my career would be taken less seriously if I choose to have children. I always assume that people will question my loyalty and that might be wrong for me to assume that, but it's something that I've chosen just not to do so that I can focus on my priority, which is my business.
Did you have any female or male role models?
No, not really. I had a couple of female managers that were great, but I didn't really aspire to be like them because they were individuals that were quite happy with their lot. I've never been happy with my lot and even though I'm doing much better than I was when I first started the business, I'm still always reaching for that next goal. I think I'll never be somebody that's satisfied, and I don't think the word satisfied will ever come into my life. I knew what I wanted out of life and what was important to me and I saw an opportunity and a way to get that. I wasn't particularly influenced by any females, but also no males either if I'm completely honest, I just knew what lifestyle I wanted and had a strong focus on how to get it.
What would you tell children now about being a strong, successful leader?
I think every generation has different focuses. When I was at school it was you need to be as successful as you can be and earn as much money as you can. I think everyone's definition of success is completely different. When I was at school the teachers, the parents, everyone, were pushing for finance as a measure of success. I think nowadays it's more the influence and the money that comes with the influence - it's not so much about having a traditional career anymore. You've really got to go out there and work hard for what you want. There's a terrible attitude now within younger generations that they genuinely feel that just by turning up and sitting down for the day that they deserve their annual wage. I think that entitled attitude needs to go, and people need to realise that to get somewhere you've got to work hard regardless of your gender or age. You've got to know what you want and be focused and determined, just absolutely go for it and work as hard as you can. There's no fault or apology needed for hard work.
How do you inspire your staff to reach their potential?
Before I walk into my office every morning I have a discussion with myself to choose my attitude, regardless of what's happened that morning or the night before. How I walk in and how I come across to my staff influences every single person in that office, every single day. So, I have to walk in and be extremely chirpy, motivated and determined even if I feel like I can just go to bed for the day or I've had some really bad news. I've got to ensure that my leadership is making them feel positive and affirmed about themselves and about their own achievements. I've only got two men that work in my office and the rest are ladies. I believe they're more focused and determined because they mirror my determination and motivation. They know I've got to where I am because of my hard work. I'm only young still and have people in my office who are older than me and they realise from what I've achieved that they can do exactly the same thing with just a little hard work. The best compliment I've ever had was from one of my members of staff who said “You're just so positive all the time and I just don't know how you do it. But it's absolutely amazing and makes my days go like a dream.” That's the best thing anyone has ever said to me; the best compliment I've ever had.
What advice would you give to people who want to achieve in your sector?
It's tough. It's a very competitive sector. You have to have very broad shoulders, you have to take criticism very well, you have to take a lot of knockbacks. You just have to keep going with it and not take things personally. Nurses, because of the way the industry is at the moment, are registered with up to five agencies and they will just switch overnight for no reason and you can't take that personally. You’ve got to look at their priorities and why these nurses do what they do and why they work agency and put yourself in their shoes and try to understand. But also try to understand the NHS and its own individual challenges too - why they need to use you, why they want to use you and why they don't, and try and overcome those challenges as well. But being determined and never taking no for an answer is definitely something you need in this industry – we’ve just got to keep going and got to keep plugging. We're a well-established, NHS framework approved agency now and we still get told, "No, we don't want you to supply us". Sometimes you could take that to heart, but you can't, you just have to keep going at it. You'll get there in the end.