International Women’s Day with Shauna Mullin - Mother of 4 Girls, Olympic Beach Volleyball Star & Now Head of
Here at add-victor, we are very fortunate that we get to meet with inspiring women so frequently. Whether it is within their sport, studies, or career; they lead by example and empower colleagues and teammates alike.
Whilst we are committed to promoting inspiring stories and journeys all year long to our readers, we wanted to shine a light on a particular alumna placement to celebrate today’s International Women’s Day.
Shauna Mullin is a brilliant example of an inspiring woman who seeks to approach every aspect of her life with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. Mother of four girls, Head of Digital Products at M&G, and former Olympic Beach Volleyball athlete; Shauna is at the epicenter of a bustling life, yet she continues to thrive and make the most of every aspect.
Her inspiring receptiveness to opportunities has led her pathway from London 2012 to an established career within the Financial Services. She singularly values her time at work as being the time to prioritise herself and re-energise, and shares an insightful belief about embracing opportunities, dealing with self-doubt and finding fulfilment.
🌷 Her message is a real ‘pep-talk’ for anyone looking to enlighten a gloomy day⚡🤩
International Women’s Day is devoted to celebrating women’s achievements in life, within and outside of work, and seeking gender equality. As this should be an all-year-long commitment, and not just about one day, how do you celebrate women every day? How do to embrace this on a daily basis?
For me, it’s more about equalising the playing field; don't focus on who you are, but what you can achieve and how you achieve that. I’m making sure that, within my team, we celebrate the way we engage, the way we collaborate, the way we solve problems as individuals and as teams, as opposed to being a man or woman. That’s to me the big shift that we need to make.
I have 4 girls at home. I'm even more proactive in terms of making sure that when they get to join the workforce or when they start to explore what their future looks like, there is more of a balance, and it is more about how you do things and the values you bring to people, organisations, the world, as opposed to thinking about, are you a woman who's doing well or are you a man who’s doing well?
As a mother, how do you convey this message to your daughters?
The plan was four boys, but for anyone who knows, you can't choose!! I don't know why, I just had this idea that I would have four boys. I've now got four girls and they're amazing, a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old… So they are still young to start talking about careers!
The main thing for me at the moment is making sure that they are confident, they are outgoing, and that they say more ‘yeses’ than ‘noes’ to opportunities. It's trying to expose them to as many different things as we can, in terms of activities, situations and experiences, and just trying to understand which ones make them flourish, which ones they are not interested in or they are a little bit wary of. I’m trying to understand how we can pave the way for them to find their passion.
Did you get this mindset from your own childhood? Did sport play a role too?
I got a lot from my background and upbringing; my parents are core to who I am today in terms of my dad brings my work ethic, my mom brings this feeling that there is no problem too big. We had this saying ‘whatever it is don't worry, we'll sort it out’. I've embraced that now, I love solving problems because when I grew up there was never any problem that was too big.
This got reinforced, stress tested, and enabled me to grow as a person through the challenges I faced as an athlete. Because you go to the extreme of your physical, mental, and emotional boundaries, and doing so in quite high-pressure situations. It allowed me to become more resilient but also to embed my self-identity and self-awareness, to get to know this is how I perform, this is what I don't like, which then enabled me to break it down to work on those individual bits.
The core of who I am, was established before I played, but I've solidified and built on it. I've challenged that core so that it is more resilient through the experience I had playing volleyball.
Is there a particular woman who’s been an inspiration to you?
My number one role model is my mum. What she's done for our family, how she's helped shape me, how she has made the priority, exposing me to everything that she did that allowed me to make the decisions I made to get on the pathway to, professional beach volleyball and to achieve that goal of the Olympics, is funded in the support that I got from her.
How do you juggle life with four children? In managing this, does your rigid sporting background assist you?
Back when we were training, three times a day, six days a week, and we'd be sitting around between training saying ‘I just don't have time to do anything’. And I now look back on how little time I have now, and I just think back to I had so much time then!
For me, it's just become the norm. Four kids and the business is just the way we live our life. There's always a to-do list that most of the time doesn't get fully done but at least having that focus and the ability to write it down, know it's there, is key. Everything's crazy and manic, but there's always energy in our house, always someone dancing, singing, crying. It brings something at home that keeps you grounded. Nothing can really be more important than that.
But I also highly value the time when I go to work because that is the time when I get to focus on just me. That's the biggest difference between what I did as an athlete versus my life now is the time I got to focus on just me was 100% when I was an athlete but now the time I get to focus on just me is the time I'm at work, so I cherish that time in terms of being able to get back to that selfish place.
Would you say that the reason you’re able to prioritise yourself at work is because you have managed to find your passion, specifically around solving problems?
Absolutely. I love my job. I love going to work, and solving those problems. I like bringing a fresh perspective to a problem that might have been around for a long time or a new problem. I like collaborating with people. I'm lucky because I don't believe many people can say that they absolutely love their job and like running out the door in the morning.
I think I get the best of both worlds; I get to come home and be surrounded by 4 amazing girls, building a family with my husband, and then I thrive at work, I thrive in both places. And I think I'm very lucky for that.
What would be your advice for someone who is still looking for his/her passion or is unsure of what is really fulfilling them?
1/ Think day in, day out
There are lots of people who are willing to help as long as you know where to go and know what jobs you want to learn more about. That's something I really struggled with having not had the longevity in the industry to know what opportunities were out there. So instead, I took it back to focusing on what I like doing rather than thinking about a role title, trying to think day in, day out; What do you want to be doing? Do you want to be with people or not? Do you want to be part of a team? Do you want to solve problems? Do you need to be creative? Do you need to be analytical?
Thinking more about the parts of what would be your every day is directly linked to your happiness and your passion. If you can then understand that and then get access to someone who's able to help you to answer; based on what I like doing, what kind of roles are out there that have at least 80% of what I enjoy doing?
2/ Go for it & try
I think the second thing for me is and maybe this is partly contradictory but you don't know until you try. Don't be one of those persons who say no more than yes, always push yourself and back yourself, fake it until you make it as they say!
There's this perception that coming into a new industry, ‘I can't do that’, ‘I've never done it before’. What I've learned over time is not many people know how to do their job 100%. And if you did, you'd be bored! You won't know about it unless you say yes. So be brave. Go out there. But know that by being brave you're not a fraud because you don't know how to do it all, but just realise that by applying your soft skills, you'll absolutely be able to do it.
What’s your experience around lacking confidence, being afraid to be judged or feeling out of place, which is often experienced by women?
1/ No one knows everything
It's a real hard one. The biggest kind of light bulb moment I've had during my career has been about understanding that no matter who's in a role, no one knows everything. They're learning too because the world we live in is changing, so the rules never stay the same. If you can accept that, the chance of doing that role seems less scary because you wouldn’t be replaced by someone who knew it all anyway.
2/ If you knew everything, you'd be bored
If you knew how to do everything, if there was no challenge, you wouldn't enjoy it, you'd get no buzz out of it.
Those two bits in themselves [no one knows everything and if you knew everything you’d be bored], they don't take away that it might be scary but if you can ground yourself in those two pieces, it keeps you floating and keeps you pushing. Over time, when self-reflecting and looking back you can look at how far you have come and use that as a chance to build your confidence. It's also not something that you don’t have one day and you have the next day. It's like a commitment with yourself of knowing you're building yourself and it is going to be a progression, a journey to get there and that will just continue to grow as you become more established in yourself in your career.
How do you feel today? After your impressive background and life experiences, being a mum, succeeding in your career, and having had some wins in elite sports,… do you feel more confident, more relaxed, and happier with yourself?
Personally, for me, there is no end. In my career, I'm still meandering my way to what is next, where I am today is not the end. In terms of stress and relaxation, that’s never-ending too. I don't really feel stressed, it's more that I get tired and I just have to go to bed and have a sleep, recharge to be energised again. I can only assume when people say they feel stressed, they embody themself in tiredness. In terms of sense of achievement and happiness, it’s an ongoing blowing thing that I need to keep balancing to stay energised. I get energised at work because that's the time focusing on myself. Whereas kind of other times, I use a lot of energy.
Why did you decide to retire? How hard was it for you and do you have any regret?
It was a difficult decision. I think I had quite strong career aspirations, having completed my university degrees and I always knew that I wanted a job outside of sports. I had the opportunity at that point to review what I wanted to do and how I wanted to get there, so I made the hard decision to hang up the bikini and join the real world.
I didn't have any regrets. It was hard but also easy because although I was leaving behind an amazing lifestyle that allowed me to focus on myself, my body, my mind, my performance 100%. It was very much an opportunity and something exciting. With the change in direction in terms of retiring, I knew that there were a lot of possibilities that I had not explored and not experienced, that lay ahead.
Did you understand straight away that you had developed some useful skills through your sports experience? And how powerful and useful they were?
There are loads of transferable skills if you take the physicality out of what we did every day; we were solving problems, we were talking to each other, we were being competitive. If you read any job advert those are the skills and types of people companies want. The challenge I find is that sometimes we're talking in different languages and the connexion doesn't happen into industry, but if you focus on the skills around your achievements, and manage to translate them, applying that learning and pathway to those sport results into industry is critical. I find that a lot of people would bite your hand off for those skills because the skills, the level, the resilience are not found in many people without that experience through sport.
How was London 2012? How was it like?
London 2012 was amazing. I think we were very lucky as the British team to be able to compete on home soil and to have family and friends at our events. To be competing in London at Horse Guards Parade was something that we can only ever dream of. The support we got from the British public was phenomenal and the energy that we got from those people watching in the crowds surrounded us for those two weeks in London was something that I will never experience again. It was just amazing to be part of such an iconic time in the UK, to be competing and showcasing our sport, which is not something that often gets to happen in the UK at that level. There are a lot of tournaments abroad in Europe and further afield in Asia and America, but bringing beach volleyball to London was really special.
How were the representation of women versus men in your sport and has it evolved?
Everything was very much about ‘ohh, you wear a bikini’ and that's what every interview was about, which got frustrating and a bit tiring towards the end. That was the biggest disappointment; it wasn't about the physicality or the challenge of the environment like the wind and the sand and how that impacts your ability to play, it was about what we were wearing. The funny thing was that, you wouldn't imagine wearing anything else because, could you imagine wearing a tracksuit on the on the beach? No one does it!
There's still some way we have to go but the biggest thing for me, as I said, is just trying to talk about who you are, how you're doing, how you approach it, and what value you bring as opposed to are you male or female?