LIFE & LIVING
Rachel Gilbert talks to another local inspirational woman.
Jeanette Wheeler’s favourite place to be is out of her comfort zone. She is constantly pushing herself — as if being a partner in a law firm, a single mother and holding a seat on the UEA council don’t keep her busy enough. Jeanette is always seeking out new challenges and roles, all for the benefit of self-improvement.
“There are often challenges or glass ceilings within an organisation but don’t let it end there,” Jeanette said. “Nearly all of my self development came from taking other opportunities elsewhere. Each one is a stepping stone and confidence builds.”
Jeanette’s CV is possibly the most interesting read of its kind — she has nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, is the former chair of the Norwich Business Women’s Network and is a previous president of the Norfolk and Norwich Law Society. In recent years, Jeanette has continued to add to the list with even more roles and experiences.
On a day to day basis, Jeanette’s job differs from other lawyers. As a partner in Birkett’s employment team, she looks after businesses, organisations and the people involved when issues arrive. With the personal aspects of her job, she said there is never a dull moment.
“People are so unique that there is no day that is ever boring or the same really,” Jeanette said. “Even if it’s the same type of claim or issue arising, it takes different tactics and strategies to resolve those people’s problems.”
In her “free” time, Jeanette sits on the council for the University of East Anglia, a significant role during the pandemic. Universities will feel the financial impact of the pandemic for years to come, she said.
Yet another hat Jeanette wears is as deputy-chair of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership which aims to support sustainable business growth in the region. The partnership between the private and public sector aims to source government and European funding for business growth.
Business growth and development during a global pandemic may seem like an oxymoron, but not according to Jeanette. “During the pandemic is one of the best times to start a business.” she said. “If you can survive now, in the most difficult times, then the world is your oyster when everything starts up again fully.”
Jeanette is passionate about business development in east Anglia. She said the area has so much to offer but has gaps in the STEM and technology sectors.
“We need to foster children’s skills in those areas rather than just simply going on about how good their English grammar is, if that’s not their forte,” Jeanette said. “That’s one of the reasons I like being on the LEP. We look for skills shortages and how we can support training opportunities.”
Jeanette says that the key to her success with such a hectic schedule lies within her support network. She is constantly reinforcing it and renewing where needed. The people in place help her juggle a busy schedule in which she fills many roles.
When it comes to her career, Jeanette credits her mentors within the trade. Martin Hopkins gave her opportunities to develop and network, and acted as an ambassador for Jeanette’s career. She said no matter what stage you are in your career, a coach is essential to get you out of your comfort zone.
Jeanette’s support network extends far beyond her professional life, however, with an army of people helping from the wings. Despite struggling to find a moment for herself, Jeanette said she wouldn’t change a thing and that the perfect balance between work and personal life doesn’t exist.
As a single mum to two children with different learning needs at different schools, Jeanette never stops for a minute. She teaches her children to follow her example of persistence and hard work. She said society is eager for people to conform but she stick’s to the UEA motto of “do different.”
“I think we have to value the particular skills we have,” Jeanette said. “We need everybody’s skills and we have to find ways of harnessing those skills instead of trying to straitjacket everybody.”