Friday, 21 April 2017

The Power of Silent #Leadership

In this age of noise pollution and information overload I have found myself longing for moments of silence, away from everyday clatter. With silence comes mindfulness, reflection and learning as we take the time to stop and consider what is happening around us and within us.

Silence has indeed many benefits, not least because it can enable personal grow as well as growth in others when used well.  

- Silence can help you develop your other senses - in particular your intuition - as it enables you to focus on your internal thoughts and feelings;

- Silence can help you grow your own self awareness as it enables you to pay attention to and understand your emotions;

-Silence enables you develop deeper active listening skills and in so doing it encourages you to interact with others at a deeper level.

When we are engaged in a meaningful conversation and we allow silence to happen, instead of rushing to fill the space between sentences, we find ourselves able to explore a topic in greater depth by allowing the other person to develop their thinking on the topic.

Leaders are often expected to be vocal - not to mention 'loud' - about their wishes but in some contexts greater impact can be achieved when silence is used in role modelling desired behaviours.
It is often said that 'actions speak louder than words'   therefore if in doubt opt for silent leadership, role modelling rather than preaching about the behaviours that you wish to see happening amongst the people you are surrounded by.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

#IWD17 Is Upon Us...So What Can I Do About It?

#IWD17 is upon us and this year more than ever is important to celebrate yes, but to also do something about it! The theme in 2017 is  #beboldforchange… so especially (but – be warned - not exclusively! ) if you are a senior professional, whether a woman or a man, here are few ideas that you can implement at an individual level to support and encourage women to thrive in thein the work environment:

Support female colleagues through mentoring. Mentoring is a very powerful development tool and can be done informally as much as formally at a pace that suits the mentee as much as the mentor. Within a mentoring relationship many different issues can be addressed from promotion and career, to work-life balance and skills development that may not be otherwise freely discussed. As mentoring conversations are totally confidential and based on trust the relationship can be extremely beneficial and long lasting and may also raise the mentor’s awareness of otherwise unknown challenges the mentees are encountering.

Give them visibility by showcasing their good work and in so doing raising their confidence. Research shows that women often lack the confidence to ‘blow their own trumpets’ and therefore are more likely to be bypassed when it comes to allocating important new projects. 
Encourage them to network internally and externally; even more importantly, take them to a networking event and ‘show them the rope’. Women are often quoted to find networking difficult, citing lack of time as the main reason. Often however confidence is the real hurdle. So give them the chance to ‘test’ networking and ‘break the ice’ in a room full of strangers by inviting them to attend with you. Eventually they will feel confident enough to do it on their own!
Ask questions and give them a voice. If you manage women in in junior or middle positions, ask the question: What does success look like for you? What matters? What bothers you? What works or doesn’t? Too often women in more junior positions feel they cannot raise their concerns or ideas unless they are given ‘permission’. Chances are if it matters to them it will matter to others too.
Be a positive role model and inspire them with your behaviour. If you do one or more or the things above you are likely to be already a role model. Young women need to know that there are senior figures in the industry who are women and men they wish to emulate in their behaviour and in their thinking. Make sure to point out these people to young people when you meet them, make sure their success stories are described together with the mindset and behaviours that enabled that success.

Happy IWD 2017!
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Trouble With Empowerment

Online female magazine Broadsheet reported a couple of weeks ago that in her latest column for Fortune, Ellevest co-founder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck writes about why she's over so-called women's empowerment. "The term has always bothered me," she writes. "I thought it was because it was so widely used, or that I've been involved in too many toothless women's 'empowerment initiatives,'" writes Krawcheck. "But then I looked up the meaning: Empower (verb): to give power or authority to. That’s it. That’s the issue: to give power or authority. To give. So, to empower women, power must be given to them. Presumably by an entity that already has it.'  She then goes on to say that  instead of hanging our hopes on empowerment the conversation must be about "power—using and growing the power we women already have."

I want to share my thoughts on this, because I actually disagree with Sally. Personally I believe that the term 'empowerment' is absolutely correct, precisely because of its definition. Women need to be given power. But - and here is the 'hard nut to crack' - not by the 'patriarchy' as Sally puts it or by the establishments. I actually believe that women need to give themselves that permission, to hold that power and make s*** happen! 

Unfortunately women often deny themselves that power, take away the permission to feel that they can and must pursue their dreams, their mission, their opportunities. As a coach and as somebody who works with women on a regular basis I see this happening again and again: even women who are already in position of power can be ridden with self-doubt and impostor syndrome and deny themselves the chance to grab that power with both hands.

To be empowered we first of all must think that we can and we must hold and use the power that's within us. We must give ourselves permission to aspire to powerful roles, positions and opportunities or simply aspire to identify and use power in whatever way we choose and see fit.

The fact that often other people think they can withdraw power from us is often a reflection of our own self esteem and self-belief. The 'patriarchy' picks up on the vibes in the room... If we don't believe in ourselves, if we don't believe we can why should anyone else?

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Why I Set Up #Women in #Travel As Part Of My Commitment To Women

It wasn't a new year resolution as such, it just happened to take place in early January. In the first week of the new year 2017 my registration for Women in Travel CIC finally came through. CIC stands for Community Interest Company; in practical terms, it means that it is a limited company with a (BIG) social aim. That to me makes all the difference and I hope also the impact.

So why did I do that?

The answer to those who know me is very simple. I have a background in travel and tourism and over the last decade and a half I have worked tirelessly to support women, not just in travel but across other sectors. However travel (and tourism, hospitality and events by extension) remains the industry that is closest to my heart because that is where I started all those years ago.

Some people don't see an issue with #gender and #diversity in travel and tourism, but I have spent the best part of 15 years proving otherwise. Women are very much attracted to the sector, I agree. But are they retained? Are they fully supported? Are they enabled to climb the ladder or even simply to maximise their contribution? Well, that's where our opinion may differ.

Beside, there is the very important issue of entrepreneurship.  You see, female entrepreneurship is touted around as the next big thing. But although it is the fastest growing area, in the UK women owned businesses only amount to 17/18% of all businesses. Surely we can do more and better - after all women are the ones who will keep the economy going in those difficult years according to some. I quote here Womanthology :  'research from McKinsey tells us that it’s women who are capable of driving economic growth, to the tune of, wait for it, $12 trillion if we only give them the chance.

Travel and tourism as a sector continues to grow. We love our leisure time and notwithstanding economic and political uncertainty it is becoming more and more difficult for many of us in 'lucky' parts of the world, to forego our hard-earned holidays. So the sector is thriving according to United Nations World Tourism Organisation: 
  • International tourist arrivals grew by 4.6 % in 2015 to 1,184 million
  • In 2015, international tourism generated US$ 1.5 trillion in export earnings
  • UNWTO forecasts a growth in international tourist arrivals of between 3.5% and 4.5% in 2016
  • By 2030, UNWTO forecasts international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion (UNWTO Tourism Towards 2030)
I want women to share in and contribute to the growth of the sector. I want them to benefit through entrepreneurship and through connecting, learning, mentoring and upskilling.  So this is my mission  for Women in Travel CIC:  Women in Travel aims to leverage a thriving global travel and tourism industry and its suppliers to provide women with the opportunity to fulfil their economic and individual potential through education, engagement and entrepreneurship.   

This will be done by:

1.   Providing women internationally with a platform for coming together, learn from each other and feel inspired to progress their career through a variety of events, workshop and initiatives, most noticeably the ones already taking place successfully in London and Dubai during World Travel Market – the premier B2B travel fair globally – which we hope to expand to include WTM Africa (Cape Town) and Latin America (Sao Paulo)  

2.   Working in partnership with industry, governments and other interested parties, empower women to set up and grow their own travel and tourism business by undertaking projects aimed at reducing common barriers (such as access to funding) and acquiring practical skills.

As for my vision: 1. To become a recognised catalyst for women empowerment in the travel and tourism sector. 2. To provide communities in key regions ( specifically UK, Middle East, Africa and Latin America with a sustainable livelihood by enabling women to become economically independent through entrepreneurship and a thriving career in the travel and tourism industry.
I want to dream big because there is nothing stopping me. I know it will be a long journey but I hope many of you will join me.  Please get in touch if you think you can help, if you have any ideas or any feedback to share.

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 


Saturday, 31 December 2016

5 Leadership Skills We Will Need To Succeed In 2017

Yes, the end of the year has arrived. I don't know about you but as I reflect on the year just gone by, well, I can firmly say that 2016 had its number of challenges, both on a global and on a personal level. Some we were not ready to face or faced rather ill-equipped, as individuals but also as leaders in a globalised world.

Personally, I doubt 2017 will be any different. In fact we are likely to face more of the same...from economic uncertainty, to social injustice, inequality and the likes. So which skills do we need to develop and nurture if we are to face and positively address these challenges, starting at a personal level, in our private and professional life|?

It is increasingly clear to me that unless we all, each and every one of us that is, take responsibility for addressing these challenges in our own lives, we are unlikely to see the change that is required to thrive and progress in this complex world! This means thinking of yourself as a leader, whatever position and role you have in your community and society and therefore focussing on strengthening and displaying skills that will enable us to make a positive impact on the people around us.

So here is a list of skills that in my opinion would serve us well in 2017:

#1 Reflecting Skills

We most certainly do not take enough time to think about our past experiences and how we may use them to learn and inform the future. The beginning of the year is a perfect time to sit down and analysed what has happened in the year past and what lessons can be derived. however, we should not stop at January, 1st, but develop a reflecting habit and apply on a weekly or daily basis. It only takes a few minutes to think through the high and lows of a week, what has happened to us and what it means to us....what we learn from it can in turn serve us for a life time!

#2 Resilience

It is tough to jump back up when we have fallen, one, ten or a thousand times. Every time I find it is almost as hard as the first one. Hard to put my pride side, hard to admit I have made a mistake...but it is the only way to go! I am certain that 2017 will deal to me as many blows as it will deal successes and it would be unrealistic to think otherwise. So by being flexible, adaptable and ready to move to plan B I can get back on my feet faster. I can also help by surrounding myself with positive people; people I can count on; people whose love is unconditional - they will no doubt soften the blows! 

#3 Emotional Intelligence

In 2017 our ability to deal with and capitalise on emotions - our emotions as well those of others - will be critical. We need to listen, understand, empathise as people around us might struggle for direction, might lack support or require an extra push to believe in themselves and get out of their shell. The more we will give the more we will get back, ten-folds.
At work, emotional intelligence will be critical to engage, inspire and get our colleagues and staff to achieve what's needed, keeping motivation high when other financial incentives may not be available or may simply not be enough.

#4 Streamlining

Multitasking is out. Bring on focus, fewer but clearer objectives, the power of NO. With our limited resources there is only so much we can achieve and if we wish to make an impact in 2017, we'd better focus on what really matters and where we can make a real difference. So let's re-evaluate our daily tasks and what we spend time on. Leaders in 2017 do not need to be 'one trick ponies' but with so many opportunities and so little time, they do need to concentrate efforts on practical and tangible outcomes to ensure best results.

#5 Feeling and being grateful

Gratitude is a powerful word and one I love.  I am convinced that authentic leaders in 2017 will feel and openly admit their gratitude more often in order to help themselves and others thrive. Gratitude is not about settling down for 'good enough' but recognising all we already have and value in order to motivate ourselves (and others) to do more. Gratitude fosters a positive mindset and supports us through tough times. Gratitude inspires us to achieve by reminding us of how far we have come already and how many reasons we have to celebrate our lives.

Happy New Year 2017 Everyone!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Female Travel Leaders - On Leadership and Courage

On the 8th November 2016 the third Women in Travel Meetup took place within the context of international, B2B travel trade fair, World Travel Market (London).

Female and male attendees alike from places as diverse as India, Kenya, Switzerland, US and many others shared their stories over an afternoon that included two panel debates, one on leadership and one on entrepreneurship, group mentoring sessions heaving with women looking for advice from insightful and experienced industry mentors and networking.

I organise this event with the aim to build an international, supportive community of women and like-minded men who can share their stories, challenges, opportunities as well as mentor and learn from each other.  It will never cease to amaze me how much energy, positive mindset, collaboration and friendship filled the room on the day or indeed the buzz on social media that followed.   As I reflect on some of the stories and the wisdom that was shared I cannot help but being amazed at the quality of work that is being done across the world, as well the sheer determination, the enthusiasm and desire to make a difference that I have heard on and off stage!  Some of the key points that I brought home from this year’s event are relevant to all women and worth sharing with a wider audience. I am sure they will resonate with many of you reading this article, whether you work in services, manufacturing or agriculture!

There was an agreement that, as women, we must take ownership of our careers. Ultimately no corporate will now a day present you with a plan as to how you may get to be the Chief Executive! This is true for men and women alike according to Giles Hawke, MD of CosmosTours who spoke on the leadership panel, but if you are a woman, and especially one in her fifties, it is possibly even more important to ensure that you keep your skills up to date, relevant and refreshed. Another speaker, Rachel O’Reilly of Kuoni UK, mentioned how her mother had retrained and specialised in her 50’s continuing to add valuable knowledge to her experience. Ageism appears to be an issues particularly affecting women, with a member of the audience stating that at 45 she had been deemed too old by her employer to become Cruise Director.  The travel industry has historically enjoyed and perhaps supported a ‘young’ image, yet ‘silver travellers’ – as we were reminded by members of the audience – are a growing opportunity and besides, we all expect to live longer and are healthier and are active for much longer. So what exactly does ‘old’ mean?

So what stops women from rising to the top in the travel industry? Well, more and more women are on their way up, but there is still a lot to do! Self-confidence was highlighted on and off stage as a key issue for women, hand in hand with what is known as ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling of being a fraud, of not being deserving of the role one has achieved.  It makes perfect sense that women appear to grow in confidence with age and experience but at the same time that is when they begin to encounter ageism… There is no doubt that women have a lot to offer to the industry at all ages. It is a question of talent as mentioned before and we only needed to look around the room to find talent-a-plenty!

When talking about leadership, ‘authenticity’ was a concept women kept referring into in conversation and in the debates. Knowing yourself and being yourself are key to success, key to deciding what success is for you and how you wish to live your life. ‘Do I have to grow and seek funding as entrepreneur?’ asked Natalia Komis on stage. Yes, that is kind of expected of you as entrepreneur but can I instead give myself permission to stay who I am and measure success by doing things I love. These words resonated with many in the audience…

We heard throughout the afternoon that learning is critical to improve ourselves as professionals, as leaders, as human being. One member of the audience made the point during the discussion that ultimately if one is passionate about her work or about an idea or product, one has just to go for it, and either win or learn. Failure as such was not even contemplated!

When it comes to talent it was said that it needs to be continuously nurtured and developed. Perhaps more could be done in this industry to ensure talent is retained and maximised. The point was also made that talent should be as diverse as possible because this is what organisations need to succeed in today’s fast pacing and ever changing world…and talent rises above every other distinction, it is not dependent on race, cultural background, religion, sexual orientation and the likes!

It was interesting that all speakers in the first panel mentioned that at the start of their career they had been inspired by some leading women who acted as their mentors and supporters. This is a critical point because we all need to be able to look up to somebody and we all need to see ‘people like us’ in positions we aspire to achieve, in order to believe that we too can get there one day. Role models can be found anywhere and honestly speaking throughout the afternoon I engaged with many women that in one aspect or another could be deemed as role models.    

Many women shared stories about the obstacles and hurdles they had encountered along the way to leadership, entrepreneurship and success. It takes incredible resilience and courage to sell your house to start a business; to denounce sexual harassment in the workplace, to attempt to cross the ocean on a canoe, or put yourself forward for a senior position when you are possibly the only female candidate. But that is also the only way to go and women recognise this and do not sit still, they do what’s needed. ‘You just get on with it’ said somebody from the audience…and that perfectly summed it all up!    

[A slightly amended version of this article was also published on the HRZone magazine and can be viewed here ]

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

It Is a Slippery Slope For Gender Equality

Oh my, what terrible weeks we are experiencing. We started the month with  more refugees losing their lives trying to cross the sea to safety; Calais Camps misery and unexploded bombs in London. We then progressed with the American election. But there was another important piece of news  however that appeared lost in a sea of information and that I wish to discuss in my blog today as it is equally relevant to women and to equality (or lack of it):  The World Economic Forum published its Index of Nations for Gender Equality. 
The index measures equality around some key parameters: economic empowerment, political empowerment, education and health. Some pretty key criteria if you ask me, but - guess what? - UK has gone down from 9th to 20th place. Not to mention US and Australia, even further behind at 45th and 46th place respectively. So now it is estimated that there won’t be gender equality for another 170 years – an increase on last year’s estimate of 118.

On the other hand, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines, Slovenia, New Zealand, and Nicaragua are all at the top, even so, only the first five have closed the gender gap by 80% or more. I am sure many of you won’t be surprised that most Scandinavian countries are there. But, had I asked you to guess the top ten, Rwanda, Ireland, Philippines and Nicaragua would have not exactly come to the front of your mind. Surely here in the UK we are better, more progressive, more open minded and make decisions based on a meritocratic system?

Let me tell you, as somebody who has lived in this country 23 years and has been a passionate advocate for women for over 10, OH NO WE ARE NOT! And so we are slipping inexorably towards the bottom. But why?

Well, I have my theories.

First, it’s that ‘old boys’ network cliché.  Except, it is not a cliché at all, it is true. You want to look at the private sector, public sector, educational institutions, you name it. In most places the same people rule, who met in the same schools, went to the same universities, enjoyed a similar upbringing. Those networks are made up by ‘boys’, and dominate the establishment so you are either in or you are not, women and men alike.

This approach is pervasive and affects most areas in society, but especially those linked to political and economic empowerment. The British 50:50 Parliament initiative says that only 3 in 10 MPs and Peers are women, equivalent to 30% or so. Rwanda’s figure sits at 64%.

We also know that in the UK men continue to denominate top-table seats across the FTSE 100. As for hundred private companies that are not required to publish any figure, I fear the worst.

‘Old boys’ continue to choose ‘old boys’ as their successors, protégés and mentees.

Nothing can change that unless some important but still fringe government-led initiative becomes mainstream and an increasing number of women rushes through the flood gates, making it possible for the younger generation to push ahead. Or more likely, let me tell you, it will be by introducing quotas.  I can see your noses curling up in disdain, but here’s the proof: 
  • Board quotas have been introduced in countries such as Norway and Iceland. Top spot.
  • Quotas have also been introduced in many African parliaments, including Rwanda, another top spot holder.

Then, of course, we must talk about childcare, share of caring responsibilities, flexible working, and paternal leave. 

In Scandinavian societies the State has legislated in favour of working families  (of whatever denomination) and granted the flexibility, child care and leave necessary to retain women in the workforce and grant them the economic independence that ultimately adds £££ to the country’s GDP.  In some of the other top spot country, I suspect that community network and extended families come to the working woman’s rescue. Here in the UK most of us have the worst of both worlds. No community network and not supportive legislation and company policies to speak of.  And even when the company policy exists, its ‘old boys’ culture is decisively against it.        

So here we are, down to the 20th spot. With a woman as country leader, we hope that things will improve in due course, but – as the recently launched Women Equality party (WE) has already publicized – her first 100 days have made no difference to gender equality. I am waiting impatiently to see if the next 100 will.    

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.