Women in Business Q&A: Emma Stone, COO at Postcode Anywhere

Emma Stone if the Chief Operating Officer at international technology company Postcode Anywhere. With a background in both people management and process improvement, Emma was brought into Postcode Anywhere to help prepare the foundations for the company's international expansion.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
From a very young age my mum encouraged both my sister and I to be the best we could be; to be independent and to have jobs that meant we could provide for ourselves financially. This made me a very driven person, with a strong desire to be the best I could be. I went to university to study Consumer Services Management with the sole objective of becoming a successful business leader in the service industry.

How did your previous employment experience aided your position at Postcode Anywhere?
Over the last 18 years I've worked my way up the career ladder from a call centre agent to Chief Operating Officer. I've been able to do this through building a wide range of business skills and experience in large corporate organisations; setting up and running my own business and now working in an exciting and agile SMB. Working across the board has helped me to see all different aspects of the business and understand how they can be improved.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's a challenge. The week is taken up with school runs and work - so the weekend is incredibly important to me. The weekend if our family time when we can chill out. That said I quite often find myself dabbling in work at the weekend. As an avid reader I love researching new and exciting things that could give my teams the edge!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Postcode Anywhere?
It has to be scaling our operations to deliver some really challenging year-on-year growth targets set for the next five years while still maintaining the spirit that launched our business; preserving our culture and not losing the magic that makes us special. We've got to a size now where it's imperative to have standardised and repeatable processes in place operationally to enable us to manage 'business as usual' effectively and efficiently. At the same time we need to be ready to respond quickly to new and exciting opportunities. Being part of the executive team, driving the business forward is really exciting. I love finding new ways of doing things and looking for ways around obstacles, life would be dull without challenges!

What advice can you offer women seeking a career in a fast-growth firm similar to Postcode Anywhere?
I'd say got for it! In a fast growth business there is plenty of opportunity to make a difference, so be confident and decisive, don't be scared to take calculated risks, and make sure you speak out when you have an opinion that needs to be heard. I also think that having a sponsor or mentor inside the business, someone you can bounce ideas off and ask for advice can make a real difference. For me our CEO, Guy Mucklow, carries out this mentoring role and I really appreciate being able to discuss options, knowing that I don't have to have all the answers at the start of the conversation.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
As a woman leader I am fascinated by the gender divide that still exists in business today. I've experienced first-hand the difficulties woman can face on return to work post maternity. After my second baby I returned to work and was placed into a project role rather than picking back up the strategic management position I left. I also think the burden of child-care still generally sits with the woman, even if working full time herself.

I'm really pleased to now be working within a forward looking business that values the contribution of good people regardless of gender, I was promoted twice within six months based on my performance, drive and passion and not judged on leaving early to attend my daughter's school play!

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I completely agree with Sheryl Sandberg comments that cultures everywhere still dictate that men are the superior sex, she says men are encouraged to be strong, assertive, to speak up, but when women do the same they are labelled "bossy."

Another Sheryl Sandberg comment that resonates with me: we are all emotional beings and it's ok to share this at work. Her advice is to ask people how they feel not just what they think. For me emotional intelligence is as important as IQ in business today. I want the people working with me to know it's ok to show passion; to cry if things go wrong (and then find an alternative approach!); to make connections and to focus on how something feels not just how it works.

Has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Yes, definitely. I've been very lucky in my career to have had both personal mentors and professional coaching. Having someone you trust available to share thoughts and ideas can really help shape your thinking; progressing ideas from seeds to fully blown plans. In business today I try to offer this mentoring to people in our business, sharing ideas and experience and encouraging my teams to fully consider every opportunity and option available.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I saw Karen Brady speak at a conference a few years ago and was impressed by her straight talking approach; being the "first lady of football" can't be an easy task!

What are your hopes for the future of Postcode Anywhere?
Our goal is to grow the company by 50% annually for the next five years, which I know we will deliver. The Postcode Anywhere Team is driven; passionate and dedicated; I am privileged to work here. I don't hope because hope suggests there is a chance we won't make it! I know our plans and trust my teams to continue to work with us to drive the business forward.