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Beyond the Rank Slide

As a women veteran myself, I know that there is so much more to a person than their gender or the rank they held in the military. This is a message that I want to share with others, especially those who may struggle with the transition from military to civilian life. It's important to recognise that leaving the military as a junior rank does not define your potential for success in the future. In my case, leaving the military as a Corporal and often finding myself to be the only woman in the room, did not have any bearing on my capability to reach the position of Managing Director.

I was able to achieve this level of success because of the skills and values that I developed during my time in the Air Training Corps and the Royal Air Force. I joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 18. I proudly served for a decade and learned to thrive in a male-dominated work environment as a junior rank Movements Controller, in 2004 I received a commendation for my service in the new year's honour's list for outstanding professionalism, sterling efforts, and devotion to duty. These experiences helped me to build a strong foundation of personal abilities, teamwork, resilience, and a strong sense of service to others.

Of course, my military career didn't end in the way that I had hoped. I developed postnatal depression, and the military were ill-equipped to support me during this time. I was discharged and left feeling disappointed and frustrated, to be honest even to this day I still feel it a little as it was a complete waste of talent and resources. But I didn't let this setback define me. Instead, I used it as an opportunity to build strength and determination, to pick myself up and start again.

Starting a new career in a new industry was a daunting prospect, but I was determined to succeed. I started as a contracts manager at a multi-million-pound facilities company and worked my way up to become the first female operational director and managing director over a ten-year period. This was an incredible accomplishment, and over the course of my civilian career I have been nominated for multiple awards, including winning the ‘Ex-Forces in Business’ Business Leader of the Year 2022.

But my success was not just about career achievements. I also had personal breakthroughs that were just as meaningful to me. Continuing to achieve personal goals with the successful completion of a degree in coaching, allowing me the opportunity to work with industry leaders to drive change and giving me the platform to learn more about myself and for myself in the process. I have learned to have a strong 'can-do' attitude, to push through obstacles, and to fully believe in myself.

However, I would say that the most important lesson I learned was that to get to the top, I had to stop waiting for other people’s permission to be a leader, I had to stop weighing myself up against my rank slide. As humans, we are often defined by the titles and roles we hold. In the military, this is especially true, where our rank can feel like the most important aspect of our identity. But what happens when we transition out of the military and leave that rank slide behind can be truly transformative.

Now, I am more socially driven than ever before, and I believe that I can lead change in my community. That's why I applied for a position on the veterans advisory board (VAB) and was successfully appointed, where I now work to represent veterans and ensure that the commitments made by the government to the Veterans Strategy Action Plan are upheld and delivered. That value of ‘service before self’ is still instilled to my core and I'm presently running as a council candidate in the local By-Elections for Stockton-on-Tees, to further serve the community.

I’ve also joined forces with The V Word to support and present the Visible Series providing a platform for other women like myself to tell their stories and share their perspectives. Through Visible, we hope to create a community of women veterans, our community, who can support one another. By sharing our stories, we hope to inspire others to continue to take action, drive progress and truly make a difference.

In conclusion, I want to remind ALL veterans that they are more than just a rank slide, and remind women veterans that you are more than your gender. You do not sit in tidy boxes, you are fluid and have the ability to grow in incredible ways. Our military experiences have given us valuable skills and values that can be applied to many areas of life. But ultimately it is just a chapter of our story and it’s important to embrace our whole selves, to recognise our strengths and potential, and to use them to achieve our future goals and make a positive impact in our next chapters.

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