Sandra Cowley on International Women's Day


To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with our Executive Leadership Team to ask what embracing equity means to them.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role at Futures? 

My name is Sandra Cowley and I’m the Director of Strategy, Growth and Partnerships and that includes all of our marketing, our brand, our bidding, looking for new funding, working with key stakeholders, and also our business engagement. I’m responsible for making sure that we know what our local and regional employers want and making sure our services meet their needs. 

Can you give us a quick overview of your career journey so far? 

It’s a long one! Initially I left school at 16 with very few qualifications and didn’t have a great experience at school or much self-belief, and that’s one of the reasons why I love working at Futures. When I started to look for a job luckily the employer saw some potential in me. In my early career I’ve been very lucky as different employers have seen the potential that qualifications don’t always show. 

My career really started in my 30s when I became a Careers Adviser. I worked for a college and really saw the benefit of working with individuals and helping them to identify their career paths. It also helped me to identify my own career path, and I set myself a challenge to progress in my career and get a degree enabled me to become a senior manager within 10 years. 

I’ve worked in the Education and Skill sector for the last 23 years in a range of roles and progressed into the Director role that I have now. I love what I do because it shows that just because you’ve not had a great experience in education up to the age of 16 doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful.  

How does it feel for you to be a woman in leadership? 

I feel it’s a great responsibility and I take that responsibility really seriously. I like to present myself as an ambassador and help to empower women particularly. All the negative thoughts that you have of yourself in yours 20s and 30s and into your 40s – if we can change those into positive thoughts, women in particular can succeed far more than they think they can.  

It’s a great role, and with it comes the responsibility to be open, authentic and transparent.  

What changes do you hope to see in the future for women to continue being successful in leadership positions? 

I’m a mother and I have worked full time while my girls were growing up. Sometimes I was made to feel I had to choose what was my priority which created a great deal of mother guilt.  I think there’s more we can do to make sure women aren’t made to feel guilty about wanting a great career and wanting a family or making the choice not to have a family.  

I think it’s down to the women of my generation to encourage younger women to go for more senior roles and take the opportunities to develop themselves. Also we should all be ambassadors for women of all ages, and help to promote each other and really be a supporter of women progressing and succeeding.  

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Embracing Equity – what does that mean to you? 

I’m a real people person and I’m also a very feeling person so for me, it’s about understanding the person under the name and the person under the job role. It’s important to really get to know each individual and what makes them tick, what makes them love their job or what elements they don’t enjoy. It’s not about treating people all the same, it’s understanding and appreciating differences. 

As an ELT, we’re all very different but it’s respecting and embracing those differences that makes us stronger. We come at problems with different thinking – we don’t always agree, but that’s what makes us stronger.  

So, for me, it’s about really embracing and understanding differences.