By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
“My advice for women is to know yourself,” said Julia Fuller, VP of Environment, Health and Safety at Thomson Reuters. She explained, “Focus on what are the things that you really hold dear as your core values. What are you really good at? Know your real strengths. Having that knowledge about your abilities is really powerful.”
After growing her career at the Reuters Foundation and then becoming global head of corporate responsibility for Reuters, she shepherded the program through the 2008 merger with Thomson. Then Fuller turned her attention to women’s advancement. Fuller leads the UK chapter of the Women @ Thomson Reuters network, and also leads the London network Women on the Wharf, a multi-firm women’s networking group which is focused on helping women stay in their careers at the challenging mid-level.
“Be true to yourself and know what makes you tick,” she advised. “Don’t try to be someone else and don’t try to live up to someone else’s dream. Follow your own dreams.”
Career in Corporate Responsibility
“I completed my degree in physiology in 1986 – I wanted to be a forensic pathologist, but then I decided not to go to med school,” Fuller explained. She took a job as a research scientist, but longed for a job that was a bit more dynamic with more opportunities. “When a friend offered a job at his company as a junior accounts clerk, I jumped at it.”
That first position at Reuters also included the opportunity for study, and Fuller took evening classes in accounting, moving up through a series of promotions before qualifying as a certified accountant. After taking maternity leave in 1996, she moved into the Reuters Foundation as a finance manager. “It was a great opportunity for me,” she explained, as she moved into a management role as opposed to being an individual contributor.
Through a series of moves, Fuller eventually became the Global Head of Corporate Responsibility at Reuters, and after the 2008 acquisition of Reuters by Thomson, she became the Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety. “It’s about shaping and helping the business understand responsibility in terms of our environment impact and our health and safety obligations,” she explained. “It’s my most challenging role to date.”
“When I look back, many of my achievements have been about enabling others to achieve their successes,” she reflected. One of her proudest achievements, she continued, was making corporate responsibility more visible to senior executives at Thomson Reuters.
“With the coming together of the Thomson and Reuters businesses, I merged two radically different community initiatives into one harmonized program and positioned it to the CEO and executive committee. I got the buy-in and sold that to the company to help them really understand what community engagement is about, particularly the ability for your staff to develop soft skills through volunteering.”
Currently, Fuller is thinking a lot about the future of the world of work, she said. “The workplace of the future, the flexible workplace, the virtual workplace.”
“Are we going to be coming in every day and sitting at the same desk? I think that’s the workplace of the past. The next generation wants more flexibility, more technology. But with four generations in the workplace at the same time, the challenge is finding one workplace that works for the ultimate success of the organization.”
Power of Networking
“I wish I had known earlier in my career about the power of networking,” Fuller said. “The power of networking means having a visible profile so that others know who you are, and having the understanding that it is important to be known for the right reasons.”
“So when a manager has a vacant role, straight away, they think of you as a candidate for that role,” she added.
“The other thing I wish I had realized is not underselling yourself. I think, as a gender, women tend to downplay their achievements. We need to get out there and talk about our successes. Don’t brush off praise. Get out there and take the praise!”
Fuller has played an integral part in the London-based women’s networking group Women on the Wharf. It began in 2009, when women from a number of Canary Wharf based companies attended a lunch hosted in the Thomson Reuters offices. “We had women from the affinity groups of nine companies, and we had a feeling that we wanted to do something collectively as a broader network. And very quickly an external network called Women on the Wharf was born.”
She continued, “In January of 2010, we held our first event. It was hard work getting to that point. It was a huge learning opportunity for me, observing the variation in risk appetites the various companies had and working to get our name out there. It was seen by some as being risky in the current economic environment.”
In October of that year, Fuller brought the steering committee together to establish the group’s mission. “What are we here for, what is our particular purpose?”
She was appointed the formal chair of the group, and tasked with leading the agenda. “It really helped us to sit and articulate what we’re really about. As a network we are unique because ours is the only network exclusively hosted on Canary Wharf, which make it easily accessible to our members.”
Coming together as one network, Fuller explained, enables women across different companies to share resources and best practices. “We’re all in this together,” she said.
While the group’s events are open to women at any level, the network is focused on mid-level women in particular. “When our companies came together, we realized we all had the same problem, that we were losing women in the 35 to 40 age group, from second line manager to senior manager roles. At least a good proportion of events are on that level, so we tailor our subject and discussions so it will attract that level of maturity.”
“It feels like we’re making great strides forward to establish who we are and build our profile.”
Advice for Professional Women
Fuller said one of the big challenges women face is not having sufficient visibility. “Sometimes we are too modest. When a job is offered we say, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly do that.’ We need to go for it!”
“The other challenge is breaking into a closed community of business leaders. This is a broad generalization, but executive committees all tend to look and feel the same. It’s very difficult to break into that structure. This can be a challenge for women’s progression.”
She also believes that senior women should reach out to younger women at their firms. “If you got a lucky break, you can’t forget that there are others behind you. That means mentoring and sponsoring once you’re up the ladder. Don’t pull the ladder up behind you.”
Fuller said Thomson Reuters has a number of women’s initiatives, and she herself has been particularly involved in the company’s mentoring circles in the UK. “We have a strong culture of mentoring here. It’s very successful and I’ve taken part as a mentor and as a mentee.”
In Her Personal Time
Fuller is married with a 15 year-old daughter. “She has her school exams coming up, and I’m trying to support that without telling her what to do,” she said with a laugh. She is also a Brown Owl, leading a Brownie pack of 24 Girl Guides, aged seven to 11 years.