In the six years she’s been at Reward Gateway, Toni Whitehouse has worked her way up from sales development rep to sales manager and is now Head of Sales Development UK. She shares what helped accelerate her path to leadership, how she found her confidence and her tips for fostering team engagement.
“Nobody ever went to university to get into sales,” says Toni. But after finishing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in fine art (she still enjoys drawing portraitures), it was Toni’s older sister that inspired her to do just that.
“I’ve always looked up to my sister Nikki. So when she said, you’d be good at this, it gave me the confidence to go and do it.”
This is how Toni found herself in recruitment, where she discovered she loved sales but didn’t enjoy recruitment itself. After six months she moved on to a higher education sales role. Then in 2014, she saw the sales development rep role at Reward Gateway come up.
“The role screamed out at me. It was everything I loved about my current role, but with a big splash of creativity and autonomy. And the type of organisation that Reward Gateway is didn’t exist in my world back then. It was innovative, with no horrible sales tactics. I wanted in!”
Being in the business of employee engagement, it’s no surprise that Toni is still in awe of the incredible employee benefits at Reward Gateway.
“It blows my mind what they offer us, and it’s not just the fun stuff but also the serious stuff. Like they recently announced domestic abuse support. They don’t have to offer that, yet they do.”
Having a child changed everything
When Toni was younger, confidence was something she struggled with, “and it fundamentally held me back in all areas of my job and life”.
That all changed when her son was born in 2016.
“When I had Albert, it was a fundamental moment where everything changed for me. I started to trust myself and my competence. I realized that the real job, the life or death job of looking after a child, I could absolutely do and it gave me this new-found confidence. I came back to work like the Terminator and I’ve not looked back.”
She encourages anyone struggling with confidence or imposter syndrome to have faith in your results.
“You didn’t end up where you are by accident. If people are telling you that you’re doing a good job, believe them.”
Parental leave support
Toni is grateful Reward Gateway supported her in “the single most important thing that has ever happened to me: becoming a parent”. Receiving a generous paid parental leave package (currently 6 months full salary), Toni spent 12 months on maternity leave.
“The business removed any worry I might have, financial or emotional, in embarking on something of that magnitude. They quite literally said, ‘Go and smash being a parent and we’ll be here when you get back’. And I took them up on that offer, so much so that I couldn’t wait to return and show them my gratitude.”
Her advice for women returning to work after being on maternity leave is to make the heartache worth it and give it your best.
“Accept that it’s going to feel a bit horrid leaving your child, but make them proud and make it count when you are at work. Show them what mum’s capable of. I take joy from being a figure that Albert can look up to.”
When Toni did return, she had a number of requests such as flexible work arrangements to help manage her home and work responsibilities.
“All these little caveats I had written down on a piece of paper and my new boss, Louis Kwakye, tore it up and just said, ‘Whatever it is you need to be your best, do it, and I’ll be there every step of the way’. And he absolutely was!” she recalls.
“The trust that was put out there without having to earn it blew my whole world apart, and it’s really influenced how I manage my team now.”
Mentoring as a leadership accelerator
In early 2019, Toni was promoted to her current role of Head of Sales Development. To aid this transition, she was placed into Reward Gateway’s accelerator mentoring program, matched with Group HR Director, Robert Hicks.
“It was the perfect match. I was able to talk to Rob about anything, from people to process, and I just learnt so much in those three months. It really accelerated my learning, particularly around strategic people management and navigating internal relationships.”
Simple ways to create an engaged team
According to Toni, her main responsibility in her job is to keep her team of 14 happy and engaged, take care of their wellbeing, and make sure that she’s a good coach and challenger.
Toni’s tips to build a happy and engaged team are:
- Have the care factor “You’ve got to employ people that you care about, and who care about others and what they’re doing.”
- Don’t be a jerk ”As a leader, you’ve got to have an open mind, be open to changing your opinion and respect the inputs of others.”
- Hire for team fit “Someone might have all the right things on paper but you also need to consider the ecosystem of your team and whether that person is going to complement the dynamics.”
- Don’t shy away from the truth “Being honest is the best thing you can do for somebody.”
- The power of a thank you “Saying thank you is so important in everything that you do.”
“I’ve got a team of superstars! It excites me to come to work and be surrounded by people with the same values, humor and determination – I’ve seen the undoable done.”