Notes from the top: Women as Leaders – Making an Impact


Ten days ago, I had the great privilege of being given the opportunity by Edwina Dunn, founder of The Female Lead, to attend the Institute of Directors’ conference ‘Women as Leaders 2016: Making an Impact.’

It was one of the most inspiring of days. With seriously inspiring speakers.

In this blog post I’m going to share what I heard. It was hard to make notes fast enough during the day, so things aren’t verbatim, however, I have done the best I can to replicate the words of the speakers. My notes are restructured into a narrative that will, I hope, be maximally helpful for you.

I’m going to share what the speakers had to say about:

Where are we at?

We’ve got a problem
We have rising indebtedness and there’s nothing we can seem to do about it – it’s a structural not a political issue. There’s increased devolution, shrinking of the public sector, and lowering of taxes – the UK has the lowest corporation tax in Europe. We have non ring-fenced government departments like the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We’ve got a problem and we’ve got to think of a better solution to this long term. – Yasmina Siadatan

We are far from having parity in the workforce, and it’s costing us
How much economic gain do we lose by not having equal numbers of women and men at the same levels in the workforce? Globally, 28 trillion dollars in additional GDP. Globally,  workforce parity is worth the entire economy of the USA and China; it’s a commercial imperative. In Europe alone it’s 200 billion dollars. If we don’t start to change things, on our current trajectory it’s calculated that it will take over 100 years to reach parity. We need intervention and a step change. Edwina Dunn

There’s an imbalance in business too
Only 18% of firms are majority run by women in the UK.- Yasmina Siadatan

Women aren’t progressing
What’s holding women back in financial services?
Women identify three main areas: 1) the company’s culture; 2) their own line manager; and 3) inflexibility. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

BUT

Women-owned firms excel
Women-owned firms outperform those owned by male counterparts, with 13% higher revenue.- Yasmina Siadatan

And diversity is good for business
Companies prioritising diversity see a significant lift in profits. A 10% increase in gender diversity leads to a 3.5% increase in pre-tax profits. Greater diversity leads to richer discussions, more conversations and less hierarchy in companies. – Juliet Morris

We need balance, representativity of everyone, full vibrancy of diversity, views and cultures. The more we encourage diversity of thought and expression, the better. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

There’s a new kind of capitalism emerging
Traditionally the worth of a business was measured by its revenue, but this traditional capitalism no longer serves people’s needs. 80% of millennials want to work for companies that care about having an impact. There’s a new way to measure a business’s worth and its impact: the triple bottom line. This measurement takes into account: 1) social, 2) environmental and 3) financial factors. There’s a new kind of business organisation framework: the B corporation. It’s a business that creates its value in these three dimensions. – Yasmina Siadatan.

So what does all this mean?

It means we need to get out there, be leaders with a capital L and change things. Here’s how…

How to be a leader with a capital L

Sacha Romanovitch on changing the leadership paradigm

Think about the next and the new
So much of life is focused in the now, but if we want to create a future for our children, we also need to think about the next and the new. Look around. The world is reaching its limits in resources. Things that once seemed esoteric are now really important.

Change the leadership paradigm
The prevailing paradigm of leadership in the world has been that leaders are heroes who save the world. The old view was: I’m perfect; I have all the answers. In the old days we held our hands tightly. If we open our hands to others, we can do something together, something better. Let’s have leaders where it’s okay for them to ask questions, it’s okay for them to think about how to bring things together in different ways. We need it to be okay for leaders to say I got it wrong, and yet for those leaders not to then be mullered. We will get the leaders we deserve.

Create meaning for people, build community
For me it’s all about creating the environment for others to do their best thinking. It’s brave leadership, trying to do something different. Creating a community to do something different, possibilities emerge; strength emerges. How do you create meaning for people? By enabling people to bring their best, whole selves into the office. You have to create space for people to ask at work: why am I on this earth? What is important to me? How does that connect to what I do every day? When you go into the world of possibilities, people won’t step forward straight away. It takes time. You’ve got to create a space for them to shine. You have to believe that people are good.

On instigating change
How do you carry people with you when instigating change? By creating time and space for them to express what they are uncomfortable with. By not necessarily waiting until you’ve got everyone onboard. Sometimes you’ve got to get on and do stuff and show people it works rather than wait for them to approve the theory.

Love and encourage
We need to bring love, kindness, thoughtfulness, mindfulness. With leaders like that we can change the system. I want to be a leader who is progressive and changes things. I know I won’t always get it right. Through community we can encourage each other, pick each other up and create the world we deserve.

On the language of leadership
So much of our language in business and leadership is to do with fear and destruction. What does that do to your brain? In that place of fear you aren’t set up to think, to be creative and constructive. When our toddler falls over we don’t tell them they did a rubbish job, we support and encourage because that’s what we do. We need to bring that language into leadership.

Challenge assumptions
The world puts assumptions on you and you have a lot of assumptions in your head. The assumptions we make? We create them in our head; we write that narrative. We can rewrite them. You’ve got to start with yourself. Once you can challenge your own assumptions, it equips you to work with others.

Chose what to fail at
You can’t do everything. I never buy clothes that need ironing. I outsource things I don’t have to do.

Make choices, pause and be clear
For you to make wise choices, you need to create those pauses so you are making a choice, rather than life happening to you. A minute sitting, breathing, thinking ‘what’s happening to me right now?’; in the world where it’s so relentless it’s a lost skill. It’s hard to pause. When you’re clear you can make things happen, you can change the world.

What else?

Make your company better through its personality
If you get a company, institution or business to think a bit differently by coming up with something innovative and creative, not just talking about it, but delivering and getting everyone to come with you, you’re adding brand worth. If you’re making your company better through its personality, then you’re improving it.Kim Winser

Be a leader with a capital L
Sometimes people say “it should be that women are leaders because we are softer, nice touch, collaborative” Ehhh? We are competitive, dammit! It’s perfectly respectable to compete. I don’t accept the softer thing. It’s incorrectly placed to suggest that women as leaders are softer. It’s really important that when we are leaders, we are leaders with a capital L.Kate Roberston

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How to achieve

Kim Winser’s five tips for achieving

1) Knowledge
When Marie Curie started in the world of physics, she wouldn’t have been saying I want to change the world and break records. She would have been passionate about what she believed in – physics. It was more about her knowledge and expertise and talent. Whatever field you’re in, make sure you’re really good at it, because that’s how you’ll get to the top. Learn from others. Watch different people doing different things and learn from them. Look at people that are so good in their space. It’s knowledge and expertise that will get you to the top.

2) Energy and determination
If you’re going to do anything, really do it. If you’re really do it. If you’re really determined, that will drive you.

3) Delivery
If you’re going to have thoughts and you’ve got energy and talent, then deliver it.

4) Gut
If you’ve got knowledge, experience, and a team, if you have a feeling for something, you have to follow it. Sometimes people are nervous of that. The chances are if you’re knowledgeable and up to date and are really thinking, listening, watching, reading, your gut is going to be pretty good.

5) Confidence
Dressing is so important because of what it does for you. It does say something about you, but that’s secondary to what it does for you. If you’re well dressed and confident in a meeting, the rest of the day you’ll focus on business, your talent and your gift to the meeting. If you feel confident, everything flows from there. 

What else?

Take opportunities
It’s not a question of nature or nurture; it’s being brave enough to take the opportunities that you are faced with. Never run away from an opportunity. Grasp it and make it yours.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Be yourself
You have to be genuine, truthful, authentic and honest. You shouldn’t change personality just because you are leading a business. Every personality can fit. Be honest to who you are. It’s about being giving. Be generous; give more than you take and then you’ll stand out. Don’t worry if someone else takes the credit for something, just give, because you will stand out and more and more people will see that.– Kim Winser

Be yourself
The most important thing is to be yourself; be proud of who you are. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. In this difficult world, be yourself; be brilliant take your opportunities and make a difference because we can definitely do that. It’s important to know what you believe in and stick to that and not change your principles. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Learn to let go
Figure out how to let go. When you ask someone how to do something and then they don’t do what you want, ask yourself ‘is this going to crush my business?’ No. You’ve got to learn how to pick your battles – so that you can make your business run without you. If you want to go on holiday you have every right to.  – Tara Mei

Learn to love guys
I’ve learned to love men because I spend all my time with lovely, lovely men. If you’re going to be a CEO, you’re going to end up with lots of guy friends, so just get used to loving them. – Celia Francis

Plan to scale up
Put scaling up into your strategy right from the start, so that where you are now is just part of a bigger picture.– Tara Mei

Talk to the market
It’s about education, talking to the market. Get out there and talk to people: show them the value of something, show them the problem, then show them the solution.Emma Clarke

And finally

Be a girly girl full of swagger
Why do we get lots of women managers, but fewer CEOs? Because girls don’t have quite the same swagger. You have to be able to feel and be confident if you are going to attract great people to work for you. The winning combination for the future leader? A girly girl full of swagger. – Celia Francis

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And when adversity, insecurity or fear strikes?

Starting and picking yourself up
I didn’t know what a business plan was when I started. I had YouTube videos on, working out my finances. I wanted to raise money, went to meetings to get money, they listened to me, then said no. I felt stupid. Today the business is a success. My business thrives because of me. I have a strategy, a plan. My Sat Nav is set to go where it’s going to go and everyone is going that way. I had no self-belief. I didn’t understand that I could do it and had no one telling me that I could do it. I’m bloody-minded and bright as hell, but there were places where I was scraping myself off the floor.Geeta Sidhu-Robb

Asking the stupid question and feeling things
When I was young, asking the stupid question, I realised that half the room didn’t understand either. I learned that lesson, and I realised that asking that stupid question was how I was going to learn most. Sometimes I think we have a desire to find the answer that’s intellectually right. Sometimes when I get stuck I think about how I feel about something. Rather than intellectualise, I feel things. I’m instinct first and analysis second. If you can work out what you’re feeling it’s sometimes much more powerful.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Staying calm
Advice I would give to my younger self? Try to find a way to stay calm. There are a lot of times in my career where something seemed like a total disaster. Things that seemed terrible, but ultimately turned out to be good. I think you have to go through it a few times before you realise that if you get through it it’s fine; as long as no one’s dead, you’re fine.– Celia Francis

Being in the right environment
As women we set our sights and boundaries at a particular level, whereas men do it differently. It’s about surrounding ourselves with the right environment so that we are enthused and inspired to do more. – Yasmina Siadatan

Taking risks
You have to be a bit more confident with taking risks than a girl might be. Boys are better than this. You’ve got to be able to say: it’s a high risk, but we are going to jump. You have to be able to do that and be okay with it.
Every week I secretly do something that scares me. It’s about getting used to the idea of risk and ‘the fear factor’. If you can think of something to do that’s low risk but that will give you the experience of getting over your fear, something you normally wouldn’t do, then you do it and it works out okay and you realise you’re fine, if you can do that you can do anything.– Celia Francis

You will shine
The thing about developing your own business: everything that’s weak about you will emerge, but everything that’s strong about you will shine. Geeta Sidhu-Robb

This too will pass
In moments full of doubt I’ve remembered: this too will pass.– Sacha Romanovitch

You will make it work
If you’re desperate enough and hungry enough you will make it work against adversity. – Emma Clarke

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How we can change things?

Firstly…

We aren’t fighting hard enough. – Kate Robertson

Things haven’t fully changed. It is our responsibility to make the change; for ourselves and our daughters.  -Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Edwina Dunn on changing perceptions and surfacing new role models

What can we do to achieve parity in the workforce? Two things:

1) we can change the perception of STEM subjects for girls; and

2) we can change girls’ perceptions of who they can be.

If you talk to people in the UK, you hear comments like “I’m not very good at maths.” People wouldn’t say that about English. It’s not like that elsewhere. The government says we are going to be the number 1 economy in the world in a digital future, but we are currently number 21.

We need to change perceptions and we need role models. Girls need to aim at somewhere and know that they can be successful. Having role models is imperative in helping us drive future success. Looking at social media, we see that boys follow a diverse collection of people, individuals, groups and organisations, whilst girls follow singers, actresses, models and celebrities. If we keep gazing in the same direction, at the same people, we aren’t going to change anything.

How can we celebrate, enjoy and learn from people who have amazing skills? By surfacing them and creating new role models.

ACTION points:
1)
Get involved with The Female Lead – a non-profit project that celebrates women’s achievement, endeavour and diversity, it aims to make women’s stories more visible.
2) Get involved with  Your Life – a campaign inspiring and informing young people about the transformative power of studying maths and physics.
3) Offer yourself up as a role model – this is awkward for women, but we have a responsibility to tell our story, to share it.

What else?

We need to teach girls to be comfortable as leaders
We need ways to teach girls to be comfortable being confident and having swagger whilst being able to retain their core femininity. – Celia Francis

We need to encourage young women
It’s really important we go out of our way in our own communities and networks to encourage young women to be the best we can be. – Yasmina Siadatan

We need to pay attention to young leaders. – Kate Robertson

ACTION point: get involved with One Young World  a UK-based charity that gathers together the brightest young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change.

We need to get the media using different words
If we can get the media to start using different words, replacing ‘pretty, kind and likeable’ with ‘ambitious’ ‘clever’ and ‘strong’, then we have a chance.– Edwina Dunn 

Ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word
We need to get over this issue where girls think ambition is a dirty word. – Edwina Dunn

Send your daughter to coding classes. – Celia Francis

We can’t sit within our own boundaries
We are starting to see a global movement; there is an erosion of physical boundaries. No longer can we conform to a particular idea in one nation. People are so interconnected; ideas are shared from one to the next. We can’t sit within our own boundaries. In emerging economies there is a rise in the middle classes. We have connected cities and educated, informed, moving populations.  –Yasmina Siadatan

We need to invest in training line managers in building relationships
If we do nothing else we should invest in the training of line managers to understand the people they are managing, not just the businesses they are managing. The most important thing in any business is the relationships you build. With strength of purpose, together we can help each other to succeed. People want to be more flexible in the way they work. Richard Branson said the most important thing is for people to work where they are happy. Do we do that enough for our people? It’s a hugely empowering thing enabling this. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Hire both men and women
This is the most powerful outcome for your company. Celia Francis

Sometimes you need the help of people already there
All barriers that have been broken down for me have been helped by the support of a more powerful man. In our lives there continue to be men who are very powerful. In my experience the support now for women exceeding in business is better than before. In particular it’s men who have daughters. Sometimes you need the help of people already there. But none of that would have happened if I hadn’t taken the opportunities with both arms open.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

We need leaders with a capital L across sectors
In business you will find more leaders with a capital L than you find in government and elsewhere. I wish that the leaders in government were of the calibre of the ones in business. In the global business we change things; 12 months later? Oh my god it’s changed!– Kate Robertson

So, ladies and gents, are you up for it?

To help us begin, I’ve made a wordcloud of some of the verbs the conference speakers used. We can use them to be inspired, and to drive our actions.

I’ve also made an inspirographic with some of the conference highlights – do feel free to refer to it and share.

WaL wordcloudIoDwal3

pdf here.

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How to love your office job…

* If you’re pushed for time, or just want the action points, scroll down to the last paragraph! 

Aged 15 I sat down with the careers adviser and told her the one thing I knew was that I didn’t want an office job. What I didn’t tell her (because I was too polite) was that this was because I thought that office jobs looked and sounded dull, boring and generally unpleasant. I held this belief until May 2015.

May 2015 marked the beginning of my first office job: a three-month fellowship in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).  You might think that, as the weeks of the fellowship went by and the novelty wore off, the appeal of going to work diminished. In fact, it did the opposite: as my time went on I loved going into the office more and more.

So that belief I held about office jobs being dull, boring and unpleasant? I was wrong.

The office job I’ve just finished was enriching, enjoyable and fun. I’ve been thinking about why this was. In part it must be because the work I was doing was fascinating. But that’s not all of it, and this is what I’ve concluded: Going into work, it didn’t feel like an office of colleagues, so much as a community

So, beginning with a bit of etymology (I am a linguist, after all), here’s the origin of the word ‘community’:

  • ‘Community’ comes from the Latin commūnitātem, which means ‘community’ or ‘fellowship’.
    • (fyi: fellowship = ‘friendly association’).
  • Commūnitātem comes from commūnis, meaning ‘common’ and, originally, ‘sharing burdens’.
    • (fyi: the ‘sharing burdens’ bit is because commūnis is made up of com-, which means ‘together’ and mūnia, which means ‘duties’).

And this is exactly what it was like in my office: friendly association and burden sharing. It sounds a bit odd like that, but look at it this way: my colleagues and I got on really well and, when someone had work-related problems, someone else would gladly come alongside and help. But there’s more to it than that. And communities are built on more than that. Think about the different communities and networks you participate in: sports teams, friendship groups, family… What ties you together? Several – or perhaps many – things, but I bet one of the significant ones is ‘shared experience’.

My colleagues and I clocked up quite a lot of shared experience. We gathered outside of work on several occasions: not just post-work drinks, we also did an escape room challenge, a pub quiz, and visited a city farm! Importantly, though, we also built up shared experience in the office. So, for example, you know that 3 pm lull? On fairly regular occasions, several of us got up from our desks, took to the floor, and attempted the ‘crow pose’ from yoga. We managed it to varying degrees of success, but that’s not the point; we had fun together, creating a shared experience which we could look back on, forward to, talk about, and bond over.

What else do you know about communities? Think about sports teams. Here’s a clue: striker, defender, winger, goalkeeper…

Everyone has a role. Or, to sound less utilitarian, each member of the community brings, and is valued for, their unique contribution. And this was how it was in my office. How’s did that come about? Well, I think to a large extent because we talked to each other: we actually took lunch breaks most days and chit-chatted in the office. Through this we got to know each other. By that I don’t mean we heard about each other’s home lives etc; we did a bit, obviously, but it wasn’t just that. We chatted about all sorts of things: work; current affairs; popular culture; whatever, and through doing this we got to know each other and each other’s personalities and approaches to life. Moreover, spending so much time together (9 am to 5 pm x 5 + more), we got to know each other’s habits and quirks and, somehow, collectively and unconsciously, it seems we chose to celebrate them with affectionate teasing. So it was that everyone had a place in the community.

Finally, and I suppose this last point is the result of a combination of all of the above: there were in-jokes. Okay, so, any examples I try and give of these from my family and friendship groups would be totally lost on you: if I say digestive biscuits and cheese or Lee Mack then you don’t have a clue what I’m referring to. But some people know exactly what those are references to, and that’s precisely my point. Similarly, in the office, and over time, we came up with our own in-jokes and in-stories. Maria Sharapova, for example, will mean nothing to you, but a lot to my colleagues. The in-jokes we created were another kind of shared experience: a way for us to form and strengthen ties in our (office) community. And here’s something else important: these ties didn’t just go between peers, but also across levels of seniority; they were a great way to form connections with more senior members of staff.

So, beginning this final paragraph with the huge caveat that this was my first experience of an office, so I’m well aware of my relative ignorance, I’m now going to attempt the advice promised in the title of this blog post. If you want to love your office job (or maybe hate it a little less?!), why not try any or all of these:

  • Invest time (minutes add up to hours) in getting to know your colleagues – not necessarily the ins and outs of their home lives, but rather their personalities. Celebrate affectionately each person’s quirks.
  • Create shared experiences with your colleagues in and out of the office. (If you’re struggling for ideas, might I suggest beginning with crow pose?!)
  • Develop in-jokes. I can’t give you more specific advice on this; the whole point is it’s got to come from you and your colleagues.
  • Share burdens: help one another when you have work-related problems.
  • Finally, and I think most importantly, see your office as a community. For so many people the words ‘work’, ‘office’ and ‘colleague’ have negative connotations. ‘Community’, on the other hand, tends to have positive ones. Perhaps just by simply seeing the group of people you spend ±40 hours a week with as a community, you will love it a little more.

Crow pose

Etiquette-and-graffiti Tuesday…

I have a problem with lifts. Having never worked in a place with a lift, and only recently reconciling my irrational childhood fear, I found out I’m not down with lift etiquette. I’m trying to work out what to do when you have the ‘first one into the lift’ role. I’m taking a Grounded Theory approach to it, though, and working it out as I go along.

Attempt number one last week consisted of: getting into the lift, pressing the button for my floor, then standing next to the buttons doing nothing – including when a fellow passenger followed me in.  This felt wrong; by standing where I was, I had assumed the role of Lift Monitor and yet had failed atrociously in my monitoring-the-buttons task. I vowed to myself never to make such a faux pas again.

Tuesday’s attempt started much better: I got in, pressed my button, then when the next passenger arrived didn’t miss a beat in asking which floor they wanted and pressing the button. Success. However, the journey is a perfect length for awkwardness to kick in. The second after pressing the button, I realised that as Lift Monitor I had initiated a verbal exchange. Was that the beginning of a conversation? Was I being cripplingly rude in not following my “which floor?” with at least an anodyne comment about the weather? Was this also bad lift etiquette? I still haven’t figured it out.

Something else I haven’t figured out is if Banksy has been in the Houses of Parliament. As I turned Sombrero Corner on my way to the Tube on Tuesday evening, I noticed on the wall a graffitied electrical cable and cable box in the style of Banksy – or at least that’s what it looked like. I suppose it could have just been grime where such objects once were. But I’m not certain; I’ll keep my eyes peeled for further evidence.