"I believe we can have it all – but it isn’t easy" Lilly Miller, Chief Financial Officer, Planet Mark
Can women have it all? Lilly Miller is Chief Financial Officer of Planet Mark, and believes they can, but attitudes to flexible working for men need to change to make things fair. Decisive and forward moving, Lilly’s career reflects her uncompromising and fast-paced approach to life.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family so I was keen to start earning money at a young age. I left school at 16 and got an office junior job within corporate recovery and started on my accountancy exams almost immediately. In my late teens and early 20s I was working long weeks, travelling a lot and studying at weekends. It was a hard five years but I enjoyed all I was achieving.
I’ve always been told I’m too impatient but that has undoubtedly led to all I have achieved at a young age. I met my husband at school, we got our first mortgage at 18 and on the day I received my final accountancy exam result, I was heading for a 12-week baby scan. I think my keen attitude to building the life I wanted was motivated by losing my cousin at 18 to leukaemia; it put my priorities into perspective. Never wait for tomorrow.
The reaction to my pregnancy was mixed. Many people were very worried about my career after years of hard work studying and I was only 22. I’ll never forget being told that my baby was a ‘professional disaster’.
While on maternity leave, I became increasingly anxious about returning to a high pressured and un-family friendly working life. Rather than jeopardising my mental health, I took the risky decision to resign from my position and go self-employed.
It paid off. Soon after I quit, I was introduced to Steve Malkin from Planet Mark and began freelancing as a financial controller for them and many other SMEs. Juggling work and being a mum was tricky and, yes, I was that mum in the park pushing the swing with one hand while talking business into the phone in the other. Working while they napped and from 7pm to midnight most evenings. But I have watched too many people give up their careers when they had children. I believe we can have it all – but it isn’t easy.
Planet Mark grew and I was delighted to be appointed a director in 2017. Back then we had seven employees, now there are 65 and I’m so proud of the key role I’ve played in that growth, alongside bringing up my two children (now 10 and 8). My responsibilities include finance, HR, culture, digital and legal. Being a director means a lot of responsibility and decision making and it’s a challenge. I am always learning and regularly have counselling and mentoring to ensure I’m looking after myself and stopping to reflect and improve.
I couldn’t do this job, and have children, without the support of my husband. He’s a diamond mounter and was working full-time until he was furloughed during the pandemic. When he tried to return part-time so we could share childcare, he was refused, so he made the brave decision to go self-employed. He often receives derogatory comments about part time working but luckily, he’s thick skinned and hugely supportive of my career. But not all men could cope with that. I believe employers and people need to review their attitudes to men and flexible working. Two people decide to have a child and should both have equal opportunities to build the lives they desire without feeling like they’ll be hindering their careers or judged.
Being a member of the IoD gives me access to expert advice, support, training and networks. I decided to join after being part of the panel at an IoD ChangeMaker event about sustainability. I like that the IoD is reaching out to younger and more diverse audiences and understands that our business priorities are shifting. At Planet Mark we focus on how decisions feel as well as their impact. Like the rest of my life, my work decisions are about trying to do the right thing.
In March 2022, the IoD launched ‘The Future of Business: harnessing diverse talent for success commission’, to examine the key barriers to the recruitment, retention, and progression of individuals from underrepresented groups, with specific reference to disability, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Join us for the Summit on 19 October.