Throughout March, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing the stories of inspiring women in leadership positions across the sectors we work in.

We’re joined by Cait Allen, Chief Executive Officer of the British Chiropractic Association. With a career largely based in PR, marketing and stakeholder engagement, Cait has worked across a wide range of companies including charity, public and private sector, ranging from local to global. Cait first became a CEO at 35, and is currently in her third CEO role.

How do you inspire inclusion in your work and life?

We are all unique individuals, and I just try and understand who someone is as a human being — what has shaped them, what drives them and what they want to achieve. That applies to work colleagues, partners, family and friends.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in leadership positions today, particularly in your sector?

I feel that the same challenges apply to men and women in leadership: judgement from people of the same gender and assumptions from people of different genders.

Have you faced any obstacles or resistance as a woman in a leadership position, and if so, how did you overcome them?

I have been in circumstances where there were perceived obstacles, but they were not an issue for me.  I found the public sector, academic world, and armed forces very male dominated at a senior level. And I worked for an organisation of 4000 men as the first and only female CEO.  But I find that being a woman is my strength, not my weakness, and that I have lots of tools in my box – like my experience, knowledge, skills and personal qualities – that only give me an advantage.

What is the most noticeable win for gender equality you’ve witnessed throughout your career?

Relaxation of work dress codes and uniforms. I have never worn a uniform, at school or work, and whilst I recognise they are necessary from a practical point of view, I find they are restrictive and stifling to individuality and comfort.

I’m glad that uniforms and expected office dress codes have become more relaxed and gender fluid.  And it’s great that men rarely have to wear a tie these days – that was a big win.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to leadership roles in the third sector?

Identify what sets you apart, what you can offer that no one else can. If it isn’t knowledge, skills or experience, then you will have a unique personal quality that is just as strong. Be clear with yourself what that is and then tell others about it.

How do you use decision-making power to foster a culture of inclusivity?

I have very clear lines of delegated authority so every member of staff has ownership, accountability and the ability to make decisions in their area of work. This gives everyone a share in the success of the business, and every person carries value.

Do you advocate for gender equality and inclusivity outside of your professional role?

I work very hard in raising my three children to be true to themselves, embrace their gender, colour and everything that is unique about them. Children are fundamentally judgemental, especially teens.  My mantra with them is always along the lines of ‘Everyone is different, but different is not right or wrong. What is normal for you is not normal somewhere else in the world’.

Did you have any role models or mentors who have helped you on your professional journey?

I had a boss called Lisa Dunn for around six years when I worked in the NHS in my mid to late 20s. She changed my whole perspective.  Lisa taught me to make the most of my personal presence and helped me address my gaps through the right learning opportunities, which were truly transformative. Even today, 20 years later, when I’m in a work quandary, I say “WWLD?” (What would Lisa do?)

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Identify the type of organisation you want to work for and target those; do not reshape yourself to work in a culture that isn’t a good fit for your values.


James Hunt is our Head of Not for Profit Appointments, a senior executive search recruitment specialist supporting the not for profit sector since 2005. With a love for finding passionate and talented people, matchmaking leaders, experts and teams in executive appointments. You can connect with James on LinkedIn, or email him at james@peridotpartners.co.uk to start an informal chat about your career or recruitment needs.