Alex Hatchman, Chief Operating Officer at Patient Claim Line, is an experienced and award-winning senior executive. Alex strongly believes in championing women in business and has shared honest advice and insight into her experiences to encourage women to inspire to and pursue management roles.
What has been the biggest challenge for you throughout your career?
I would say that the transition from being a driven, single-minded professional to being a no-less-driven professional, wife and mother has been the greatest challenge. This was especially the case after having children, as they rightly pull on much of your spare time.
If you have previously been dedicated to your career, there is naturally an element of rebalancing that needs to take place. Succeeding with this juggling act requires support from your partner and family, and it requires you to actively manage your time.
For example, since becoming a mother, I am less tolerant of sitting in meetings where the purpose isn’t clear, or there aren’t defined outputs. That time is time I will never get back!
Are there any specific challenges that you have faced in a leadership role due to your gender; in the recruitment process or within the workplace?
I, like many if not most professional women, have faced issues that relate to my gender. Some of those issues have been explicit and conscious, and some of those issues have been tacit and unconscious.
“I, like many if not most professional women, have faced issues that relate to my gender.”
Having children was enlightening as I experienced things that I didn’t expect. For example, before returning to w
While it was difficult realising that the world of work was unfair, I’m glad it happened as it opened my eyes to the world as it is, and not as I imagined it to be. In learning this lesson, I can play a small part in helping resolve it, both for my daughter and for other women who come after.
What are some factors that may put women off pursuing leadership roles, and how can we combat this?
There are several reasons for this. One of these is that the journey can be tough. I saw a video
recently which was published by the office of the Mayor of London. It takes place in an underground station and shows men taking the escalator up while women take the stairs up. Another image shows a woman with a child, and not only is she taking the stairs, but she is also carrying the buggy up the stairs! I thought this was a great representation of how tough it can be.
Another reason is that women can deselect out because they have an inaccurate perception of what it takes to succeed. Our frames of reference on what it takes to succeed are often based upon what has gone before us, which is why it is so important that we create more female role-models that other women can identify with. Those women that have succeeded have a special responsibility to then share their path, and not to pull the ladder up behind them.
“Women that have succeeded have a special responsibility to then share their path, and not to pull the ladder up behind them.”
The last one to call out is that women are yet to achieve equality at home. Research shows that women do significantly more unpaid care work than men looking after young children and elderly parents. We need to share this burden more evenly, otherwise, women will face two points of disadvantage and not just one.
Why is it important that women have leadership positions in the legal industry?
I think it is important that women have leadership positions in every industry and every walk of life. It is also important that the team who sits on the board of any organisation is similar in profile to their employees and their customers. There is plenty of research in this area (McKinsey have published several seminal papers) that shows that diverse businesses outperform those that are homogeneous.
Have you seen a change in attitudes towards women in leadership over the years?
I have seen some change in attitudes, in particular at the non-executive level, which gives us room for optimism. In addition, I am encouraged by the women and men who are leaning into this issue to resolve it. However, the rate of change is objectively slow and needs accelerating. I hope that the world in which my son and my daughter grow up in becomes one where applying the same level of time, effort, and hard work will enable them to each achieve the same rewards.
Becoming a successful and effective leader
What do you consider to be the most important traits of a successful leader?
Wisdom, kindness and strength. It’s as straightforward as that, and it’s in that order too! If we ask ourselves, “Do I want to be led by a person who does not exercise balance and judgement?” the answer for most would be no.
Equally, if we ask ourselves, “Do I want to be led by a person who does not care for my welfare and has human kindness?” the answer for most would be no. Lastly, if we ask ourselves, “Do I want to be led by a person who does not have the courage to stand up and do the right thing” the answer for most would, again, be no. When I look around the world at some of the political leaders who have lost their following, it is invariably because they are not wise, kind and strong.
Being in a leadership position and responsible for a large team can often lead to a lot of stress and pressure. How do you find and manage this in your current role?
Leading even a small team can create stress and pressure; when you extend to larger teams the stress and pressure inevitably amplifies. The key to managing this is to create a leadership team beneath you who shares the load. If you do this successfully, your ability to lead and manage can grow exponentially to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people.
It is vital that your leadership team is diverse and that each person brings different skills and perspectives to the table. Points of difference are a good thing in many areas, however, there has to be similarity when it comes to values – these need to align with yours and the organisation – and there has to be harmony in order to get work done.
A leadership position such as yours often involves negotiating and managing high-value contracts, which requires a lot of confidence. Is confidence ever something you have struggled with?
I don’t generally suffer from a lack of confidence in the same way that some others do. I think this is for a few reasons. Firstly, I believe in myself. I came from nothing, and everything I have achieved has been earned on merit. This has given me an innate sense of confidence, and no-one can take away the backpack of skills that I have acquired along the way.
Also, I am comfortable with the fact that I am not the best at everything and that I need a talented team around me to succeed. I know that I am strong in a number of areas, and I know there are areas where others are more skilled. That doesn’t make me feel that I am less, it makes me think that they are more.
Lastly, my personality type is one where I know if I have done a good job or if I haven’t, and if I haven’t there is no fiercer critic. Some personality types seek validation from the outside world, which is great when the validation is complementary but can be problematic when it is critical.
Do you have any tips for managing a healthy work/life balance?
I must confess that I don’t always succeed on this point! Something that I found helpful before the lockdown was to work from home one day a week. This enabled me to work through my priorities, largely undisturbed and gave me time and space to think and plan. Now that our home is our office, and our office is our home, boundaries have changed, and it requires an even greater degree of discipline to balance everything.
What have you learnt from your current role about how to get the best results from your team?
Having previously spent my career in large, blue-chip organisations such as Accenture, Tesco and M&S, this role was my first within the legal sector, and also my first with an SME. I have of course learnt a lot about the law, but what I have really learnt is how to apply pre-existing skills within this new context in order to turbo-charge a business of this size. The talent pool in smaller businesses is naturally more limited, and so I spend a lot of my time educating, coaching and mentoring my team.
Tips for climbing the career ladder to a management position
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to someone who aims to climb the career ladder and secure a senior position such as yourself?
Gary Player famously once said, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”. This is very true and in a meritocratic world, it is hard to progress without genuine hard work. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he argues that to become an expert or master in any field, you need at least 10,000 hours of practice. This combination of hard work and time on the tools is essential.
There are of course smart ways to learn, by for example learning at the feet of masters; and there are smart ways to progress, by for example ensuring that you raise your profile so when opportunities arise you are front of mind.
What do recruiters look for when hiring for a top-level leadership position?
Often recruiters look for what’s known as a “HiPO” which are those resources that are high performance, high potential. From my experience of working with recruiters at the senior level, they look for someone who has a genuine track record of high performance in all facets of their life. The high potential part relates to the ability to keep learning, keep staying relevant and keep progressing. The ability to keep learning is crucial as the future world of work will require us to retrain multiple times over.
Patient Claim Line is the UK’s highest-rated Medical Negligence Solicitors and is owned and operated by Fletchers Solicitors, a top 100 UK law firm. It currently deals with one in 10 of all medical negligence claims in England and Wales.