Trust me…I’m a Leader

Despite its size (only 5 letters long) trust is a very big word. Yet in today’s world it seems to be becoming a scarce commodity. And this matters. We only need to look around us at our politicians, the media, large corporates, the professions, to know that trust has been, and continues to be, eroded.

Trust is vital in all societies. Trust allows us to flourish, to innovate, to collaborate, to build our resilience and wellbeing; attributes that we need now more than ever. Trust is about maintaining positive relationships despite operating with uncertainty and risk. The management professor Denise Rousseau defined trust as ‘a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another’. The world we live in is full of change and ambiguity and this makes us feel vulnerable. Psychology and neuroscience tells us that when we feel vulnerable we ‘close down’. Feeling less psychologically safe makes us retreat into ourselves, makes us become more cautious, heightens our anxiety and stress levels – traits that are not conducive to a flourishing, productive society.

So what does this mean for our organisations, both large and small? What does this mean for leaders who are steering their organisations through the choppy (and sometimes tsunami-like) seas of change that has become the new normal? How do leaders lead successful companies where employee engagement is high, talent is nurtured and developed, creativity and innovation thrives and collaboration and team work is the order of the day? How do leaders, when the people in their organisations are suffering from ‘change fatigue’ and are feeling uncertain and vulnerable, engender the traits that are needed to enable their people to innovate and collaborate, despite the unsettling realities of our current world? Building trust is one of those ways.

Of course, higher levels of ambiguity and uncertainty means that people want to trust their leaders more than ever before. As noted by Professor and Dean of the School of Management at the University of Bath, Veronica Hope Hailey, the perceived trust crisis may instead be because people need a more overt demonstration of trust from their leaders to enable them to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

So how can leaders invest in more overt demonstrations of their trustworthiness? What does the research tell us are the characteristics of trustworthy leaders? In many ways, it mirrors the characteristics we expect from the professions, be they doctors, lawyers or accountants (we wouldn’t be very happy, in fact we’d be rather scared (!), if we didn’t have faith in the experience and expertise of the surgeon about to operate on us). Having the right level of competence and capability and the belief from the organization that you can ‘get the job done’ therefore goes without saying.

Another important characteristic is found in the somewhat over-used expression of ‘walking the talk’. Am I, as a leader, being consistent in doing what I say I am going to do? Am I predictable? Of course, external factors and new findings can and will change a course of direction, but being consistent in the values and behaviours you demonstrate to lead this change go along way in building trust. Do you model the behaviour you expect of others?

When you go to see your doctor or seek the advice of a lawyer or accountant, you assume that their standing as a professional means that they will go beyond their own self interest and act with integrity. There is an asymmetry of power in this relationship, as they inevitably know more than you do, so you have to trust them. The research shows that integrity is an important pillar in being a trustworthy leader too: including being open, honest and transparent. In recent times it is the leaders who have been seen acting without integrity who have hit the news headlines. Clearly many do operate with a strong moral compass. In these uncertain times, consistently showing high levels of integrity is paramount.

And finally, another key characteristic is benevolence. I choose to trust someone when I can see that they have my best interests at heart. I choose to trust someone when, even at times of challenge and difficulty, they act respectfully and compassionately towards me. I choose to trust someone when they put relationships between human beings at the heart of what they do.

As leaders we need to know when to dial up and dial down these different attributes; focusing on one more than another could, paradoxically, risk the very trust people have in us. For example, making a decision based on compassion for a close colleague may compromise the integrity of our decision-making and show inconsistencies in our actions towards the wider group.

Nurturing and building trust within organisations and seeing it as a vital and necessary contributor to success is more important today than it has ever been. We want customers to trust our brands and wise companies do much to build and protect them. Similarly, we want our people to trust their leaders. Wise leaders do much to openly build and evidence that trust; they value it as an equally important business asset, one to be nurtured and developed.

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundation principle that holds all relationships.”   Stephen Covey

This image shows two of artist Hans Holbein’s portraits, both of which hang in The Frick Collection in New York. The one on the left is a portrait of Sir Thomas More and the one on the right is Thomas Cromwell. Both More and Cromwell served in the English court of King Henry VIII. Whatever history (and Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall) tells us about both men, it is clear which leader Holbein trusted!

A strategist, consultant and mother to two daughters, Sam Whittaker is a lover of stories with a passion for connecting people with ideas. Sam also cares deeply about driving progressive change in the world, however, seemingly ‘small’. She (& others) blog at the-change.blog. You can follow her on twitter @itsSamActually.

Searching for the F word…

Last year, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary  feminism was the most searched for term online. That same dictionary describes it as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Analysing the data, the website cites spikes in searches following news of such things as the Women’s March on Washington, DC in January last year, in addition to television dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale and the film, Wonder Woman. Revelations of sexual harassment and the #MeToo and Time to Rise movements also sparked searches.

I remember in the 90s and 00s being told by other women that we no longer needed feminism, in fact, it was all seen as a bit of an embarrassment. I used to worry that I sounded too strident, too ‘political’ (although women across the political divide are often united in equal rights for women). There was a sense, from women, that talking about feminism would damage their career prospects. Or, a sense that if they were successful then, somehow, discussing feminism would undermine the ‘merit’ that had got them there. Even more recently I recall being on a business trip with colleagues, including two more senior men. Chatting in the hotel bar after a successful day about the usual non-work things such as families and holidays, I found myself re-telling a story about my then 14-year-old daughter who had chosen sociology as one of the subjects she wanted to study. She’d connected with the idea of feminism because, as she remarked, ‘you’re a feminist aren’t you mum?’ At this remark both men looked more than a little aghast, with one commenting at how surprised he was, and that clearly, I was one of those ‘reasonable’ ones. Thank goodness for that!

So, feminism is now firmly back on the agenda.

Of course, a blog about feminism can’t leave out mention of Germaine Greer. In a speech she gave a couple of months ago (on International Women’s Day) she wonderfully argued that ‘equality is a profoundly conservative goal for women’

Greer argues:

What everybody has accepted is the idea of equality feminism. It will change nothing … women are drawing level with men in this profoundly destructive world that we live in and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the wrong way. We’re getting nowhere.

“If we’re going to change things I think we’re going to have to start creating a women’s polity that is strong, that has its own way of operating, that makes contact with women in places like Syria, and that challenges the right of destructive nations. Women needed to aim higher and achieve more than simply drawing level with men and entering into traditionally male-dominated fields.”

 I have a lot of sympathy with this. As I wrote in an earlier post, we live in a world where the overarching narrative is male. So are we asking for equality within these existing structures, or something completely new? If we look around us: war, Trump, poverty, populism and the rise of the Right, Carillion, executive pay, Russia, Palestine, the UK railway system, Grenfell Tower, an NHS on its knees…the existing structures aren’t working very well, are they?

I recognise that Greer isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ (too out-spoken, too strident, too radical) and her comments about trans women have not made her any less controversial, but let’s not forget that the women who got us the vote in the UK needed to be strident, out-spoken and radical in order to allow us the democracy that we enjoy today. Aren’t we pleased that Rosa Parks refused to give up that seat? Aren’t we pleased that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t become a typical ‘first lady’? Aren’t we pleased that Tarana Burke founded the ‘MeToo’ movement over a decade ago?

Simone de Beauvoir famously said that women are the second sex, made and not born. Society is what makes us. So how do we make a society that enables true equality, one that empowers women to be who they are, confident and bold and talented and amazing, not people tip-toeing around, nudging gently on a door of so-called respectability for a share of the status-quo? As the radical feminist Jessa Crispin argues in her recent book:

“The feminism I support is a full on revolution. Where women are not simply allowed to participate in the world as it already exists … but are actively able to reshape it.”

So, in the spirit of not being apologetic, or tip-toeing around making a case that is seen as acceptable; rather than being seen as one of those ‘reasonable ones’ I will end this blog with some lines of poetry I found in the book Fifty Shades of Feminism by the scalpel-sharp poet, Laurie Penney:

There are more of us than you think, kicking off our high-heeled shoes to run and being told not so fast . . . who dared to dance until dawn and were drugged and raped by men in clean T-shirts and woke up scared and sore to be told it was our fault . . . who were told all our lives that we were too loud, too risky, too fat, too ugly, too scruffy, too selfish, too much . . .”

I say, let’s continue to be too much!

Image: Watch out cartoon (from a postcard pinned to my kitchen notice board for the last 21 years) by the brilliant cartoonist Jacky Fleming. Jacky is also author of the wonderful The Trouble with Women.

A strategist, consultant and mother to two daughters, Sam Whittaker is a lover of stories with a passion for connecting people with ideas. Sam also cares deeply about driving progressive change in the world, however, seemingly ‘small’. She (& others) blog at the-change.blog. You can follow her on twitter @itsSamActually.

 

Emotional taxation, but not much representation

In my last blog post I spoke about the importance of stories in connecting us to people and in forming a bridge to others’ lived experiences.  So far, 2018 seems to be a year when the experiences of women have started to have voice and, I’m hoping, that voice will continue to get louder and stronger.  In this blog post, friend and colleague, Laura Harrison, has chosen to give voice to some of her experiences.

Perhaps 2018 will become known as the year when Time was really Up. When the fight for equality became supercharged. In fact, when it came into its own as a fight rather than a bashful, polite request.

It’s a weird time. I’ve found the openness of apparently powerful women thought provoking. Female actors, leaders, ‘celebrities’ are revealing that despite their fame, money and accolades, their power is limited by context and structure. Their stories have poked at buried memories from my own education and career. Buried perhaps because I normalised them. These incidents are painful to re-encounter. And I wonder how many other women are going through the same: Oh god, yes, me too.

I’m going to describe some of these recollections. All of them leave me feeling vulnerable. None of them are in any way as bad in the humiliation they aroused or the harm they did as many women suffer daily at work. But what they have in common is that I’m sure I suffered emotionally way more than the other party or parties concerned. I paid the emotional taxes for the incident. Why did I bear the larger tax bill? Because my gender is under-represented and is too often treated as the imposter or the exception to the masculine norm.

So, some stories:

I was preparing for an important client meeting that I was due to attend with two, more senior, male colleagues. ‘Don’t worry,’ one said, ‘you’re just the eye candy…’ What was the emotional tax I paid? Ten minutes of seething anger? Boredom at the effort of having to put two antediluvian colleagues straight on this crazy thing called sex discrimination? Nope. The tax was hours agonising that they were taking the mickey out of me because obviously I wasn’t pretty enough to be ‘eye candy.’ My anxiety was that I was being demeaned, objectified and called ugly all at once. I was a professional woman with a good job, but my inner thirteen year old had been needled and I was mortified. My attractiveness, or lack of it, was an issue, and I was ashamed.

A university lecturer offered to coach me. ‘You’re very bright, but you’ve a lot to learn.’ His hand was on my knee and his arm around was my shoulders at the time. The tax I paid was to avoid him for the rest of the academic year, missing all his classes and diving into the loos if I saw him coming down the corridor – and of course to only scrape through his class. Had I ‘led him on?’ by asking for his help? Was I pathetic because I’d freaked out and (literally) run away at his advances? Months more of anxiety. I imagine the tax he paid was the effort involved in shrugging his shoulders; you win some, you lose some. Who was she again?

A trusted male colleague, senior to me, took me out for a drink to commiserate over a project gone sour. At about 4pm, after a lot of wine had been consumed, he lunged over the table at me, grabbed the back of my head. It was not a romantic moment. My tax – horror and shame. Is that what you’re asking for if you agree to go for a drink, alone, with a male colleague? The next day I couldn’t look this man in the eye, nor could I, properly, again. He had no problem. After all – you win some, you lose some.

I was the only girl in my physics class for A’level. The teachers and the other students bantered and joshed – football, sex. The not-very-subtle subtext was exclusion – this isn’t for you. That was a different kind of tax, a time tax, I taught myself physics A’level from the text book. And arrived at university to study science to be greeted by a wall of photographs of the departmental lecturers. Every one of them was male.

Worse perhaps, the empathy taxes, where you want to help but can’t. Because all the channels involve revealing vulnerability, hurt and sometimes shame, which at work must be held at bay. A dear friend was shocked – I guess in the physiological sense – by being sent a digital photo of the back view of a naked woman bent over an office desk. The email came from her male boss. She never complained, she was too embarrassed, was worried she’d done something to ‘ask for it.’ I shudder and feel sick on her behalf at the memory. She was once criticised for not having a sense of humour. A friend was passed over for a promotion she clearly deserved. Her colleagues and team were behind her. An unqualified man, deeply embroiled in a bromance with the male leadership team, got the job. What can you say? Don’t fret, don’t spend money drowning your sorrows over pinot grigio or on retail therapy? See a lawyer? Speak to someone? Resign? Find another job? Whichever way you look at it, the tax bill’s too high.

I’m wondering – and hoping – that the burden of emotional taxation is becoming more evenly distributed. That those with more-than-adequate representation are reflecting on past behaviours and present attitudes and challenging themselves to be better. The media at the moment is full of men apologising. An apology isn’t a tax. The tax would be to take the time to feel the shame or horror or regret at what’s gone before and to resolve to change. And to fight for a reduced burden of emotional taxation on women, and better representation for them too. No taxation without representation.

Laura Harrison is a senior leader in the fields of business transformation and organisation development. Her career has spanned consulting and corporate roles as well as working in the non profit sector.  Most recently she was Strategy and Transformation Director at CIPD. You can follow her on twitter @LazMazHarry.

A strategist, consultant and mother to two daughters, Sam Whittaker is a lover of stories with a passion for connecting people with ideas. Sam also cares deeply about driving progressive change in the world, however, seemingly ‘small’. She (& others) blog at the-change.blog. You can follow her on twitter @itsSamActually.

 

When I grow up I want to be…

A couple of months ago a colleague of old asked me to contribute some words to a blog she was writing on what I would say now to my 16 year old self (you can find her fab blog here)  Since then, I’ve been reflecting on those words, that blog and my own experience observing my teenage daughters and their friends as they navigate the rollercoaster of revision, exams, new GCSEs, (already) worrying about student debt and looking a bit embarrassed as relatives and friends ask them what they want to do ‘when they grow up’. (With the rise of automation and reports saying 85% of future jobs aren’t yet created, how do they answer that?) For me, one way to equip our young people for the future world of work is to give them the opportunity to build those critical thinking and creative skills, to be great with people and to be resilient – probably far more than I have ever had to be (and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue at the University of Birmingham is doing some fantastic research into building the skills needed for the future). But it’s tough when you’re 16 to know all of this. As noted by experts, young people are under more pressure now than they have ever been before. Increasing numbers of under-18s are suffering from anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other conditions. In addition, more are self-harming and attempting suicide. School stress, social media and pressures to “succeed” are among the key reasons behind this rise.

As the next generation contemplate the reality of the 100 year life and the notion that they will most likely have multiple jobs, doing many different things, and with the need to constantly retrain and learn, we need to give them every opportunity and support as they start out on their working lives.

But I also recognise, as a middle-aged woman, that it’s not really for me to speak on what I think young people need. So, for this guest blog, I invited an amazing young woman, Rose, to tell her story. I met Rose via a terrific organisation, Further my Future, and they, as was I, were impressed by her tenacity, her desire to grow and learn and her bright, enquiring mind.

At 16 years old, I was in my last year of school; juggling GCSE exams, revision, college interviews and career options. I didn’t know where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do and I felt like the only option I had was to do what everyone else was doing, and go to college and then university. A few more exams down the line – and after countless all-nighters, I hated the education system, I was stressed, anxious and highly irritable! I wanted any way out and couldn’t stand the thought of going through the same repetitive process again in college.

Summer of that year came around and with exams finally done, I had some time to myself. I thought about my future and the career choices that I had made and it just didn’t feel right. It was that uncertainty that motivated my intensive research and desperate visit to the school’s careers advisor. During my meeting with her, we came to the conclusion that school, college, and uni were definitely not for me. In fact, none of the typical and “accepted” paths of education suited me. We explored other options together, one of which was apprenticeships. That idea really stuck!

I loved the idea of being hands-on with my learning and getting the training that I wanted at a young age. So, I spent my summer holidays filling out applications and preparing for interviews, but to no avail. The majority of my applications were unsuccessful, and for those that were, I didn’t get further than the interview. The worst part was that I wasn’t getting any real feedback. All the employers would say that they were looking for someone who’s older and think that I’m too young… but that’s it. I felt as though all my hard work was going to waste and that I should stop trying because my age wasn’t something that I could change. But through that process, I learned more about myself than I did throughout my entire time at school. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses are, what I enjoy and what I’m good at, and finally what I would like to improve. I didn’t let people’s stereotypical opinions of me, as a hormonal teenage girl, stop me from accomplishing my goals.

October ’17 through to March ’18, I did a traineeship in order to gain the experience that is so valued by employers. Within those short 6 months, I learned everything from incredibly important life skills such as money budgeting, to event organisation and employability. Along with that, though, came a fear of not knowing what will happen next. For those that went to college, they knew that they would most likely be in college for the next 2 to 3 years, whereas my schedule changed every week and one phone call could flip everything on its head. I worked 6 days a week at one point, at 4 different work placements, trying to learn and grow in as many ways as I could. Although I was hardly getting paid, I persevered and made myself realise that the experience that I was gaining was way more valuable and that it wasn’t all about the money. And that is what got me here, 10 months later. Having met the most incredible people, gained heaps of experience and finally secured my dream apprenticeship with absolutely amazing employers, I think it’s safe to say that it was all totally worth it!

There’s a lot of pressure on young people to achieve. The new 9-1 GCSE specification proves just that, as the A* is no longer the highest grade. Many students, including myself, feel as though they have under-achieved because of this, when in reality, they’ve obtained very good grades!

I think that so many people are at a disadvantage with their learning due to there being only one method of teaching. In my case, I can’t learn the traditional way: sitting down with someone talking at me for an hour is just tedious.

Others, like myself, were completely unaware of what’s available to them. I didn’t know what traineeships or apprenticeships were until I reached out to the careers advisor. Nor did I know that I could get help and advice on employment, education and training through the Youth Employability Service and the National Careers Service for free. In my opinion, no practical and genuinely helpful sessions were offered at school to inform about the many services available to young people.

If you are a student, take the time to know the different paths and options open to you. If your school or college has a careers advisor, I strongly suggest organising a meeting with them. If not, get in contact with your local youth support services but most importantly, believe in yourself! Be persistent and follow your dreams – even when people tell you that you can’t.

We need workplaces with people from diverse backgrounds and that includes education as well as race, gender and age. You’ll be surprised at just what young people are capable of!

Rose is currently doing an apprenticeship in digital marketing at Liftmusic which combines hands-on work in the workplace with one day a week training.
 A strategist, consultant and mother to two daughters, Sam Whittaker is a lover of stories with a passion for connecting people with ideas. Sam also cares deeply about driving progressive change in the world, however, seemingly ‘small’. She (& others) blog at the-change.blog. You can follow her on twitter @itsSamActually

Women of the World Unite

With the recent prominence of ‘gender issues’ in the news, I have been reflecting on the voice feminism gives to women (to quote my guest blogger) on the ‘margins of survival’. My recent post referenced Alison Wolf’s assertion that much of middle class society is still propped up by a ‘servant class’; cleaners, nannies, women who iron our clothes, who enable the middle classes to participate in senior knowledge economy roles. This week’s guest blogger is Caroline Raine, a UNISON organiser, who supports workers, many of whom are women, who undertake insecure and poorly paid roles in the public sector to care for our parents, our children, our loved ones.  We need to give these women voice.

Since 2010 we have all been living in the downward spiral of austerity. Few of us can still believe it’s for our own good as essential services are cut, pay stagnates and job security becomes a thing of the past. Meanwhile the government continues to dig its heels in, using austerity as a political weapon not a financial necessity. Indeed, while an injection of public spending would kickstart growth and prosperity, continued public spending cuts keep the economy struggling. While no-one escapes the stagnation there is no doubt that it is women who are hardest hit. A recent analysis of tax and benefit changes by the House of Commons Library concludes that 86% of the burden of  austerity has fallen on women.

It’s not difficult to work out why women are hardest hit. We are the majority of public sector workers. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies about two thirds of the public sector workforce are women and the highest proportion of women are in the health and education sectors, i.e. the lowest paid sectors. Since the public sector has now seen cuts to its lowest level since the introduction of the welfare state it is these women who bear the brunt. According to the Joseph Rowntree Trust, English local authorities cut spending by 27% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2015/16  Public services are labour intensive so most of these cuts have been in the form of jobs.

Not only are we being hit as public sector workers but also as service users.  Women are the greatest users of health and social care services (not least because we still tend to be the primary carers in families) so we face a double whammy of cuts to jobs and services.

It is not just statistics that tell the story. In my work as a public sector trade union organiser I see the impact day to day. While none of us are immune to the impact of stagnant pay, rising housing costs, cuts to services, etc., it is the lower paid women in insecure jobs who are worst hit. These are the very women who those of us in better paid and more secure employment depend on to be able to maintain our own earnings – the carers, cleaners, etc. And the women who are paid to work as carers and cleaners often go home to an existence of unpaid caring and cleaning.

I was recently involved in a reorganisation of local authority home care workers. Home carers do a vital job of enabling elderly and disabled people to remain in their own homes, thus improving their quality of life and saving public funds. Home carers are almost all women, they are poorly paid, they work unsocial shifts in often unpleasant and isolated conditions and have often chosen the work because the shifts fit around childcare. Some of the women I represented had young children and relied on partners who worked by day to provide childcare at night so that they could work. Even more common in the group was older women who cared for grandchildren. They did this because their daughters (it is always the women!) needed to work but could not afford the high costs of childcare so were dependant on their mothers.

Many of these women were living at the margins of survival, i.e. just earning enough to pay for essentials. So when the employer came along and said they had to make cuts in hours, for these women it meant financial survival was at risk.  But the cuts also meant the introduction of flexibility and you can’t be flexible when you need to be free to care for others at fixed times. Sadly the situation facing these women is all too common and often they are forced out of the public sector altogether as councils find contractors to provide services on the cheap. Despite limited legal protections for workers transferring to a new employer, it is always just a question of time before reason is found to harmonise pay and conditions, forcing everyone down to the lowest terms on offer by the new employer. Private sector employers are less likely to recognise unions and so it becomes more difficult to ensure decent pay and conditions in the long term.

This paints a grim picture. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe the tide is starting to turn as we have seen private contractors like Carillion go to the wall while Councils verge on bankruptcy and an inability to meet their legal obligations. The current situation is just not sustainable. But if we don’t shout about it, change will be too slow and damage too long term to undo, even in the term of a Parliament with the will to change things. Women must stand together to campaign for change. The biggest change needed is political change, a recognition that providing services on the cheap is not only painful but is counter-productive.

The Pill and the Moon

All the talk in recent weeks and months about the lack of gender equality in society, from pay through to sexual harassment, reminded me of a statistic I was told about 10 or so years ago by one of my brilliant business book authors Avivah Wittenberg-Cox @A_WittenbergCox. (I wish I could remember the source she cited but I can’t – you’ll have to take my word for it!) It was the result of a poll that surveyed men and women on what they considered to be the greatest achievement of the twentieth century. The answers spoke volumes. For men, the greatest achievement was space exploration and putting a man on the moon. For women it was the ‘birth’ of the contraceptive pill. It’s just one statistic, one survey, but it made me think if we amplify that, what does it tell us about the choices that are made in all aspects of our lives? What does society place most value on? What and who do we choose to celebrate? Where do we choose to spend our money and for what purpose?

Sarah Corney’s recent guest blog cited the journalist Polly Toynbee’s assertion that gender equality and liberation for women “means digging up the roots of human culture”. On the 100th anniversary of (some) women’s right to vote in the UK, I was delighted to hear a discussion between two academics on BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme – who happened to be women – Alison Wolf, Professor of Public Sector Management at Kings College, London (amongst other things) and economist (amongst other things) Ann Pettifor. During the interview, which debated whether feminism is too interested in the top 1% (which is an important topic for another day) they touched on how feminism stays away from the subject of the economy. Acknowledging that the economics profession is male dominated, they suggested that this has a significant impact on the economic choices that we, as a society, make. Women, they posited, would typically prioritise and invest in the public sector, in our health and welfare system, in education. If our economic narrative is male, what stories do we choose to tell, which (to mix my metaphors) ‘green shoots’ do we choose to nurture?

It’s interesting to note that, following the global financial meltdown in 2008 (from which we are still suffering) many students of economics started to question the prevailing economic orthodoxy; what they were experiencing and witnessing at first hand was not what they were being taught. As Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England wrote in the Foreword to the book that came out of this movement, Econocracy, it was not only the neoclassical model of the economy that was ‘found to be lame’, but that policy makers placed too much reliance on narrow technical models, to our peril.

Of course, what gives me, and others, optimism, is that students across the world challenged and are challenging this prevailing orthodoxy. As Vince Cable, currently leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK and former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, says in his review of the book, “It makes the case for pluralistic economics to address such questions as financial instability and climate change.”

We need a plurality of thinking, of views, if we are to change the over arching (male) narratives inherent in our key societal structures: not just in economics, but also in the legal and criminal justice system, in education, in health care as well as in business and the world of work. Of course, diversity of thinking is not just a gender issue, but it’s a good place to start.

So, in a world of finite resources, and facing the world’s grand challenges, where would you focus your efforts, what would you address? When people look back on the 21st century and speak of our greatest achievement, what will they answer? Will it be the 21st century’s equivalent of the Pill or the Moon?

Flying by the seat of your pants – why women should do this more!

I recently caught up with a colleague of old; since working with her she’d gone on to great things (I won’t take it personally, although every time I meet her she does remind me how I didn’t give her that job I’d interviewed her for! 🙂 ) having been CEO of numerous tech and start up companies and now successfully running two new start-ups of her own.

We met, as you do, in a coffee shop (in Hove actually) and she came with her usual effervescent energy and generosity of spirit. In recounting her story of her career journey since we’d last met, she said her success was based on “10% talent, 10% bravado and 80% prosecco” – she’d always been surprised at the roles she was offered. I wasn’t. Her willingness to ‘give it a go’, to challenge her inner critic, to play to her strengths, to keep growing and developing, to be generous with her time, herself, meant that those around her thrived; those around her had the courage to ‘give it a go’ too, to learn from their mistakes, to work as a team and play to their respective strengths (when running her first tech company someone in her team had to tweet for her as she wasn’t digitally savvy!).

Having arrived at the coffee shop in my usual jeans, T-shirt and boots attire, I left wearing red and white boots, blue pants, a red and gold top, indestructible bracelets and holding my lasso of truth. (The inspiration for the original Wonder Woman was taken from early feminists, in particular birth control pioneer, Margaret Sanger.)

In a recent post, I talked about the need for courage; it’s a value I hold dear. Courage to do the right thing, courage to believe in yourself, courage to try new things, courage to make mistakes, courage to fly. Not long after meeting my friend, I listened to an interview (on Late Night Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 – I know!) between the host, Lauren Laverne and her guest, Viv Albertine (guitarist with the punk female band, The Slits, amongst other things).

In the interview Albertine talked about all the brave things she’d done; play in a band when she ‘couldn’t really play’, break the conventional ‘rules’ in the 1970s (through dress, through attitude), direct films, write a book and tell an ‘untold story’. The Slits were on a mission to ‘change things for girls’ a mission that caused them to experience some threatening and scary situations. As Lauren Laverne described it, they were ‘pantsing’, flying by the seats of their pants, and challenging the status quo and existing structures as a result.

In another Radio 4 interview (I know, I know!) I heard the film director, Sally Potter (famed for Orlando amongst other films) talking about how women have interiorized the (male-dominated) structures out there, and how, as a result, in addition to battling against the lack of gender equality in society, we also battle against our own ‘self-limiting unconscious chorus of disapproval’. Potter’s brilliant response was to “try and write faster than the speed of my doubt”.

So, today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day and it’s 2018 campaign to Press for Progress, don’t limit your own selves, don’t censor your own voice, don’t under estimate all that you are capable of.

Whether it’s M&S, Victoria Secrets, Thongs or Big Pants, women of the world, let’s pantsy!