My head and my heart are full after a spectacular day at the OmniwomenUK summit on Thursday.
The speakers were outstanding. The stimulation exceptional. And the expectation for change huge.
But the thing that struck me most is that too many still see this as a ‘them and us’ issue. Woman fighting the men. Women solving the problems and challenging the system themsleves. Woman, alone.
I loved when Shelley Zalis said this is about ‘we, not he or she’. We are all in this together. And although some may not know it, men will benefit just as much from equality as woman will.
That’s why my friend Phil Bartlett’s speech ‘Boys don’t cry’ was so perfectly pitched. Boys and men are brought up to think, behave, and not feel a certain way. Society needs to change that. As the Mum of a boy, I’m determined that he knows that he can be anything, and that it doesn’t need to be at the expense of anyone else. And he can certainly cry, no matter what age he is I’ll always be there to give him the biggest of cuddles.
I am a strong woman. I am really very good at my job. I’m an excellent mother. I make mistakes all the time, and I learn from them. I love hard and I feel emotions. Sometimes I’m angry, most of the time I’m overflowing with optimism and happiness. I want the world to be a better place and I’m willing to work hard to have an impact. As Sam Phillips said ‘not everyone can change the world, but everyone can try and change the world for one person’. Amen sister.
The theme of OmniwomenUK 2018 was ‘Take it on’. At Ketchum in London we are going to collectively pledge to take on one initiative, so more to come on that. But I’m also going to take something on personally. And it’s this. Every single day I’m going to try and do something that matters for another woman in my life. At work, at home, for my friends. Something that makes their day a little easier, a little better, and gives them the support they specifically need. What are you going to take on?
I had a brilliant night last night at the Ivy Club where I shared a platform with three spectacular women. The topic was an age old debate about whether women can have a successful career and a family. Crazy right. How can we still be having this debate in 2017.
But it was fascinating to hear the experiences of Viv, Claudette, Julia, and the audience members. The themes that were discussed were on the whole nothing new.
Employers pre-judging pregnant women and mothers and making future career decisions based on their ‘commitment’
Lack of flexibility
Being evaluated on presenteeism rather than outcomes and impact
Women not being kind to each other and offering a hand up
The stigma of being defined as a ‘mummy’
But despite all this, what was clear was the progress that has been made over the past 40 years. The experience of Claudette, who’s eldest is 44, is incredibly different to mine with a 15 month old. And this should be celebrated. The progress made should be applauded, but there should be no let up in demanding that businesses and society recognise the importance of women in the workplace and the impact working mums can have.
Julia and Viv both work for themselves. They’ve opted out of the traditional workplace and made a huge success of their careers and home life. This is increasingly an option more and more women are taking as it allows them to define their working patterns and be masters of their own destiny.
My own experience has been nothing but positive. Why? Because I work for an incredibly progressive business. Because my husband is a real partner and shares the childcare responsibilities equally. Because I place value on what I achieve and the impact I have. Because I try to always be present when I’m at work, at home, or at play.
It’s not always easy. But it’s worth it. I love work, I love being a mummy, and I do my best to live every moment of my life.
As a senior business leader, my commitment is to do whatever I can to ensure that women (and men for that matter) have the tools and the confidence to blend careers and lives. No one in 2017 should have to choose between having a successful career and a fulfilled life.
Life is short and full of surprises. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, and not always in a good way.
There has been a rise in me first attitudes all over the world. Everyone is looking for someone to blame for what’s wrong in their own back yard, and it is easier to blame people who are different to them. The difference doesn’t matter. It can be the colour of skin, religion, gender, sexuality, or even just different attitudes to how life should be lived.
The right have done an incredible job of exploiting these fears, while those of us on the centre or the left have been too quiet and too slow to challenge and offer alternatives.
You don’t need to be influencing policy on the national stage to make a difference. In fact, it could be even more powerful if we start with the people closest to us day-to-day. How? See the best in people. Assume that they are doing things for the right reason. Challenge rude or bad behaviour. Reach out and offer help to someone just because you can.
I’m an optimist. I believe that if enough of us can show kindness, to our friends, our family, our colleagues, our community…. if enough of us can be the good we want to see – then that is enough to turn the tide. We’ve been quiet for too long. We’ve been afraid to challenge for too long. What the world needs now is love, and we all have enough of it to drown out the hate currently dominating the news agenda.