Celebrating International Women’s Day
In advance of International Women’s Day which takes place this Sunday (8th March), we sat down with Sheena McCallion, Chief Executive, to ask about her role in Apex, her aspirations as a young girl, her female influences and what this year’s theme #EachForEqual means to her.
1. What is your role in Apex Housing Association? What does it involve?
I am Chief Executive so that means I have responsibility for managing operation of the organisation and its resources. I am responsible for ensuring we implement our corporate strategies and plans; and that we work to apply our vision, mission and values. Finally, I’m the public face of the organisation and in taking on this very important role I’m very conscious that I’m representing our organisation.
2. When you were a child, what did you want to ‘grow up to be’?
When I was at primary school, I wanted to be a teacher. As I grew up I realised that my mission was to help people and when I started my degree I could have decided to go down the route of social work or social policy; but eventually opted for housing. I’ve never regretted it; I can honestly say I work for a fantastic organisation, with wonderful people and together we do great work building and supporting communities.
3. What advice would you give your younger self?
Believe in yourself – I think self-doubt is a big obstacle for many women. If you try and don’t succeed, at least you tried!
4. What do you consider female attributes?
I think most women are caring and empathetic. We’re also taught to be social from an early age and so our communication skills tend to be well practised. When I’m making hard decisions that I know will affect the lives of people, I always come from a place of empathy and try to communicate in the most appropriate way.
I don’t want to generalise though, as I know and work with many men who demonstrate these qualities.
5. Who are your biggest female influences in life?
My biggest female influence was my mammy. She always instilled in me the importance of hard work and believing in yourself. Her work ethic was amazing and she always encouraged me to work hard and try new things. She balanced our family life with working part-time and would have tried her hand at anything – baking, wallpapering, knitting, making clothes.
During my career in housing while my mentors have been men, simply because more men held those more senior positions in the sector, I’ve been lucky that they have been extremely supportive of me and my progression. Throughout my career and every day in Apex I work alongside many fantastic women and men, whose passion continues to influence me and hopefully in the years to come we will see a greater balance of women in more senior positions.
6. Have you ever felt being a woman has held you back?
No, I’ve never felt that way. At times, my own insecurity has made me feel that maybe I shouldn’t be there, but that hasn’t been as a result of anyone making me feel unwelcome. When I became Chief Executive many people congratulated me for breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’ but that was never something I’d thought about. It is true that the leaders within the housing sector in Northern Ireland are predominantly male, so there’s certainly more progress to be made to encourage women into those more senior positions; however that’s not to say that women aren’t made to feel welcome. That certainly hasn’t been my experience. We need to be brave and put ourselves forward.
Even when I was a child, I was never told I couldn’t do something because I happened to be a girl. The message was always ‘work hard and you can achieve anything you set your mind to’.
7. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual; what does that mean to you?
We all come into this world and leave it in the same way, so in my eyes we should all be treated as equal. No-one should be judged based on their gender, age, religion, political opinion, race, sexual orientation or the fact they may have a disability. I think everyone has potential and should be given the opportunity to succeed.
Apex’s workforce is predominately female as the services we provide, especially care and support, are traditionally delivered by a female workforce. Over the years it has been great to see government policies developed to give equal rights to men and women; for example in areas like parental leave. I’m proud that Apex has demonstrated strong commitments in relation to equality and we have gone above and beyond government requirements to support everyone, regardless of gender, to enjoy a good work-life balance. For many years, we have offered flexible and part-time working opportunities so parents and carers have the freedom they need, whilst our well-being programmes ensure all our staff take care of themselves first and foremost.
For me, ‘Each for Equal’ means showing respect to everyone regardless of who they are. I am delighted to support International Women’s Day as the first female Chief Executive of Apex.
Find out more about International Women’s Day via the IWD website.