Cath Allen: Nominated by Béa Ercolini, Managing Editor of Elle Belgique, she described Cath as having “the patience of an Olympiad! “
Cath Allen is Director of Cath Allen Associates, a company which specialises in creative transformation and strategic development and delivery. She worked for the BBC for 27 years, both in production and management with 10 years setting up and running BBC Cymru Wales’s Political Unit. A member of BBC Wales’s Board of Management for several years, her portfolio included BBC Radio Wales, Sport, Partnerships, Events & Communities, and Diversity. The Board had responsibility for a budget of £155m per annum. She was responsible for several Change initiatives at times of significant financial cuts in the organisation, under Director-Generals John Birt, Greg Dyke and Mark Thompson.
Cath has designed and delivered internal and external courses on leadership, creativity, collaboration and innovation. She is an EMCC accredited coach, working with executive leaders and potential leaders through storytelling.
She also delivers vision transformation and presentation and confidence training.
3Plus caught up with her a few weeks ago
How did you choose your career path?
I thought about which organisation I would be proud to work for and that I felt passionately about in terms of values and creativity – the BBC did both. These filters have been crucial for my career and personal choices ever since. There were many development opportunities if you were prepared to put the work in and I moved from PA to Head of News & Current Affairs to producing and directing political programmes, into strategic roles and management. I made an effort to treat everyone I met in the same way. I constantly looked for the next challenge, but many people were also generous with time and advice.
What are your greatest challenges?
Creating a conversation about myself that’s based on my strengths – to own a story that serves me, and more importantly others, well.
Impulse control – with effort I’m improving but still need to think more carefully before I leap into situations and decisions.
Tell us about one special success story
It’s a success out of sadness story.
My mentor early on in my career was a producer called Eifion. He gave me so many opportunities – I learnt so much from him – about the technical processes of production, but more importantly, about emotional intelligence and how to treat people.
Eifion died suddenly at the age of 45. We were in the middle of preparing to cover a General Election – an enormous operation. He had been the executive producer on it – I was the PA. Everyone was devastated. None of us wanted to work on, all of us had to. And the only person who knew what he had planned for the big night was me. I was asked to step up and take over his role – I was absolutely petrified. It was a learning curve I honestly thought I couldn’t achieve at the time. I was the only female on the team – I was 24. I worked like I had never worked before for 7 weeks – with his voice in his my head each step of the way, and with great support from colleagues who wanted to make it work for him. On the night of the Election we delivered four live programmes overnight – in English and Welsh, on television and radio, as well as the campaign itself.
I was so proud of what I’d achieved, as Eifion would have been of me. Yet I would have given anything not to be the person accepting the plaudits that morning. It made me realise how important a role our mentors and coaches can play at each stage of our lives. We take responsibility for ourselves for sure, but to have that sort of inspiration from someone who can guide and ask the challenging questions along the way, is crucial.
What are the challenges facing women in broadcasting today?
Confidence – I see so many capable women who could be streets ahead of where they are.
A reliance on how we look as women. It’s improving slowly, but will take a long time to change significantly.
As in other fields of work – that on going guilt about work/life balance
Has any one person influenced you and how?
Apart from the person mentioned in my story above, Controller of BBC Wales when I worked there called Menna Richards. She supported and encouraged me when I was on a steep learning curve, but more importantly perhaps, she challenged me and made me think – creating self-awareness that allowed me to create change in myself and become a valued leader. This allowed me to become strong and empathetic, and better able to try and inspire the people I was working with. In seeing how she mentored me, it inspired me to mentor and coach within the BBC, and now, with my own business, to be able to do this full-time for individuals and organisations across the globe.
What value do you place on mentoring?
Everyone should have a mentor – someone who understands what you’re going through in that moment and can share experiences and lessons learned in order for the person being mentored to think and talk about the possibilities and options that could work for them and help take them to that next level.
If you could give one piece of advice to any woman about their professional choices what would it be?
What made this time so special – what were the ingredients of it and how did you feel? If the opportunity you’re thinking of doing doesn’t make you feel like that then really question why you’re considering it. Make choices that will mean you feel more passionately about life and that play to your strengths – choose next steps that will make a difference, even if they are small steps.
Which profession would you have hated to go into?
Although I love reading, it would have to be a librarian – I would never be able to keep quiet all day!
Which song would you choose as your anthem?
Something Inside So Strong – Labi Siffre
Who would you nominate for the women who inspire series?
Sian Thomas – Head of Scheduling at BBC Wales – she’s clever, creative and has buckets of integrity and empathy. She’s also great fun – something we often forget is totally necessary as we have our ups and downs.
Cath Allen is a 3Plus Mentor. If you would like Cath to be your mentor please contact us.