Friday, 31 July 2015

Why The End Of Women's Only Business And Networking Groups Is Not Nigh

This Friday's blog is the result of a couple of conversations I have had this week with members of the LinkedIn community. The topic is women's only groups and whether there is a need for them to still exist. Also, is it acceptable that some female consultants and advisers choose to only do business with female clients? 
The frustration with some males is evident and understandable. So much for talking about diversity and the need to integrate variety and differences in business, how could anyone proactively and willingly EXCLUDE male clients and male businesses?
So what is next, excluding people on the ground of religion, sexuality, race and so on? And are we going to shut the Golf Clubs to the ladies again? 
Personally, the answer must be a clear and resounding NO, yet I believe that there are still one or two utterly compelling reasons why women's only group will thrive a while longer and why some women may proactively chase female only business.
I for one work a lot with women and not because I wish to exclude men, but because by and large I seem to 'click' with women, building a deeper bond, instilling trust and achieving mutual understanding relatively rapidly, particularly when it comes to one to one mentoring/coaching relationships in which women invest plenty of emotional capital. What I am being told by female clients is that she can work with me because we are 'on the same wave length' or I am 'like-minded'. In simple terms, the things I say or have experienced invariably resonate with other women and so we can empathise with each other. 
This feeling is in my experience amplified in group situations and ultimately boils down to one main issue: Emotional Safety.  I see this again and again and most recently, while running a female leadership group, I raised this point with the women in the room. I asked: 'Was it ever an issue for you that you were going to attend an exclusively female leadership group?' The overwhelming response was that participants had agreed to join the group BECAUSE it was a female only group and that, had men been there, they would not be able to feel safe, thus open up and be forthcoming in their interactions with me, the facilitator, and with each other.  I also know this by experience, having facilitated hundred of groups in many different contexts; the dynamic in the room would have changed totally had male colleagues been in attendance. 
Context, however, makes a massive difference.  In the example I have quoted above women come together to learn, reflect, share and grow personally and professionally and for that to happen they must be able to open up and reveal their weaknesses, fears and hope in a totally safe, non threatening environment, without bias, judgement or competitive behaviour. Whereas, in many other circumstances in which the emotional investment is not quite as strong, everyone actually benefits from a mixed and highly diverse audience....innovation, sales and R&D are just three that come to mind.
So in summary emotional and personal safety means a big deal to women and it is a key reason why female groups with a strong social and educational component won't run out of business quite as yet, and why some female professionals will chose to work with women only businesses. Like-minded and in tune as we might be, there will be always situations in which a wider and more inclusive perspective will however provide for a more effective outcome. 

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

Friday, 24 July 2015

Are Women The Unsung Resilience Heroes?

According to most research, resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. It is undoubtedly of huge importance to individuals and businesses at a times when change and instability are the norm and leaders are expected to successfully ride the next wave and turn around situations.

What interests me more specifically is: why is it that some people bounce back from the most difficult situations and others cannot? Can resilience actually be learnt? Furthermore, as women, do we actually find it easier to be resilient? The latter question probably matters to me the most and it will be also discussed at a a forthcoming event in London during World Travel Market 2015 (November 3).

I have to admit that so far I have no strong research backed up answer to this - although the panel discussion will probably provide some. But anecdotal evidence and gut feelings tell me that women are possibly just or even more likely to be resilient as men and furthermore, they are likely to transfer this resilience to their business, particularly in the case of women entrepreneurs. So why am I feeling this way?

Well, let's think about this. Women who start their own business often have had to make lifestyle choices:
1 - Set up a business in order to juggle young family/senior care and work
2 - Set up a business in order to do things differently or better that they could do in corporate life.

This means that these women have had to bounce back from corporate disappointments, such as not being able to achieve what their were hoping to in their corporate career and/or not being able to get the flexibility required to look after a family whilst working.  They have had to take a long hard look at their situation, remain pragmatic, yet practical and decide to move on - thinking about alternatives, reinventing themselves, ultimately innovating.

Secondly, there is also a huge show of resilience in setting up and growing a brand new business, particularly in getting access (or NOT as it is mostly the case) to funding and finding ways to do it anyway. That is also true for men, absolutely. However - and this is backed by research - in many countries women do not get access to loans unless they have a men guaranteeing for them. Even in western societies,  I was reading today that only 1 in 6 venture capitals firms have women at the helm, so funding is generally male-biased.  Still, research shows that women led businesses are the fastest growing sector in the global economy.

So all in all I feel that my gut feelings can be reasonably justified. The next question is, whether we are resilient or would like to be more resilient, is this a skill we can learn?

In dissecting resilience, we find attributes such as flexibility, innovation, thinking on your feet, being creative. It is not so much being optimist and hoping that everything will end up well. On the contrary, it is about taking a long, hard look at reality and saying to one self 'what can I do to prepare for the worst case scenario?' As a matter of fact, 'What can I do to prepare for scenario A, B, C,D ?' So there is a great link between resilience and preparation, and that is a skill can be thought through and learnt in advance.  Naturally though, not every event can be foreseen, so however much planning one can do there will always be unforeseen events one needs to respond to. So what then? I guess that if practice makes perfect, having had enough practice in scenario planning will enable us to be a lot more ready for sudden change. Furthermore, some will see change as an opportunity to create something that wasn't there or  adapt that 'something ' - for example a business - to fit in with change. I can think of many situations where women have shown an ability to master this, such as having a baby or leaving a company after a redundancy round.

So in summary, I feel quite strongly that women have an inherent resilient quality they can use in their personal and business life. I also feel that this quality is a mix of nature and nurture and that we can all learn to be more resilient by honing in a few key skills. But what is your opinion and have you got any examples to support (or contrast) my hypothesis?

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

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS - 3 Reasons Why Summer Is A Good Time To Start A Mentoring Relationship

You have been thinking about a mentoring relationship for some time but have never actually taken the steps to make it happen...but Summer is here and NOW is the time! Why would Summer be any different and indeed better for starting a mentoring relationship? Well, I believe that there are 3 reasons:

#1 Work slows down (somewhat)

This may not be true for each and everyone, but in most jobs there comes the time when even the hardest working bosses and clients go on holidays! This leaves most people with a little more flexibility, time to plan and indeed think. That is when you can actually find a mentor, think about the people you may approach and how. It is also likely that those possible mentors will have a little more time to consider your request, meet to discuss and help you work through your objectives.

If they know they are away at some point over the summer months it is likely that they will make space in their diary before of after their travel as they can plan more accurately. In addition, corporate travel slows down, so unforeseen, last minute trips are rather less likely too!

#2 A positive mindset

Let's face it, we are rather more willing to make space for others and give back in the Summer, simply because our mindset is more positive when the sun shines and the living seems altogether easier!

A positive mindset will help both mentee and mentor in building rapport and finding a way of working together. Getting to know each other is easier when we can stroll in the park or grab a coffee in the sun rather than being forced to stay indoor within the constraints of a corporate office. So make the most of those balmy days and meet your mentor outdoor, not just for the first meeting but on a regular basis to stimulate conversation.

#3 Creative thinking

Who said that mentoring can only happen sitting down at a table? Because we can be outdoor, we can also chose different settings to meet and discuss. A park, a garden, a late opening museum, an outdoor event... Summer enables us to be creative with our mentoring locations and select different places that can stimulates our thinking and inspire great conversations. Not only we will get to know our mentor better, but we are likely to come up with different ideas due to the environment around us.    

So, all considered, Summer is a great time to start a mentoring relationship.
By starting out with the best possible mindset and building a strong foundation for the relationship we are less likely to lose momentum or feel disheartened in those winter months when work is seriously hectic and the opportunity to focus on personal development decreases. Quite the opposite, we will have a tried and tested mentor by our side to encourage us and support us when the 'going gets tough!'

So go ahead, find that all helpful mentor now!

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


Monday, 13 July 2015

2015 WTM Women in Travel meetup

Finally the time has come!  After many weeks of hard work I am now proud and delighted to announce that the 2015 WTM Women in Travel meetup programme is out…and we have some brilliant content waiting for you!

Now in its second year, it is held on Tuesday 3 November 2015 at Excel, London during Work Travel Market. The event will start at 13:30 and finishes at 18:00. It is free to attend for all WTM visitors, exhibitors, guests and media.  Women and men are all welcome!

The event will include:

1. Two inspirational panel discussions with leading corporate women and entrepreneurs from the industry
2. Two one-on-one pre-bookable mentoring clinics with entrepreneurs and travel industry leaders
3. A fabulous key note speaker by Jacki Hill-Murphy film director, adventurer and travel writer
4. A networking reception sponsored by the University of Surrey, School of Hospitality and Tourism
5. Industry support via AWTE (Association of Women Travel Executives) 
Join us for one session or join us for the afternoon to enjoy inspirational talks, motivational speakers, to challenge yourself constructively and to network with like minded professionals.

Here are some details on what awaits you – all speakers and mentors will be announced shortly so watch this space!
Panel 1 ‘Not for the Faint Hearted:  Entrepreneurship, Resilience & the Art of Bouncing Back’

The concept of resilience originally describes a person who adapts positively in a stressful or traumatic environment, in business it is mainly understood as a set of organizational capability. So what does it take to be resilient and why are some people more resilient than others? How can you make your business as well as yourself resilient in challenging times? And as female entrepreneurs are then any specific traits to call upon to increase resilience? Our fabulous panel of speakers has seen it all: recession, failed partnerships and new competition. They will share their experience and discuss how they navigate through difficulties to come out on the other side stronger than ever!  
Panel 2 ‘4G Leadership: 4 Generations of Travel Women Share Their Leadership Lessons’

Leadership is critical to success and yet is one of the least available attribute in today’s business world. Leadership comes in many shapes and forms, but increasingly the accent is on authenticity, emotional intelligence and inclusivity. This being so, women must be made for leadership!?! Our excellent panel of travel leaders will discuss what it takes to be a leader, why there are still not enough women in leadership positions but most importantly why as women we can all lead regardless of our title and ranking.
Key Note: Jacki Hill-Murphy film director, adventurer and travel writer.

Jacki Hill-Murphy has travelled extensively ‘off the beaten track’ since leaving school. Following in the footsteps of the early female explorers has so far taken her to Cameroon, Ecuador, Ladakh and Siberia and her first book on the subject – Adventuresses, Rediscovering Daring Voyages into the Unknown – was published in December 2014.  Jacki will share her experiences during these daring voyages but also tell us why her predecessors were women of both great resilience and leadership! Jacki is now writing The Ambivalent Adventuress about the Victorian nurse Kate Marsden and has recently followed her journey across Siberia to aid the lepers in the forests of Yakutia.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

#TuesdayTRIOS 3 Ways Your Summer Holidays Can Enhance Your Personal and Professional Success

Hello Summer!

We have waited for you all winter and now you are finally here!  So if you are at all like me you are absolutely loving the sunshine and the blue sky. As a matter of fact I am currently away enjoying not only sunshine and blue skies but a lovely sea side location with my family. I would dare say this is just perfection.

As I packed for the holiday however I told my self that this was too much a good occasion to just let it happen like that. Sure enough, I would be spending as much time as possible having fun with the family and relaxing but...would that be enough to go back feeling restored and repaired and ready to face the next challenge? Or could I do something more to make it even more valuable to me, personally and professionally as well as to those most dear to me?

So I made my self a little list of possible things that I can do to make the most of this time and then decide to focus on the following relatively simple and manageable 3 things:

#1 Read, read and read some more

Of course we all like to relax with s good book or two on holidays. But I actually downloaded on my iPad a series or articles, TED talks and digital magazines that I love to read but normally struggle to find the time to engage with. As I listen or read I make notes, annotate interesting points in a little journal and begin to develop ideas. Ideas for forthcoming blogs, concepts I may incorporate in my next projects, areas I want to reasearch. I know that they will come very handy when I revise them in the coming months, especially in those rather more miserable and rainy autumn days when energy runs low and inspiration is hard to come by.

#2 Be active

I am not the type to just lie by the pool for days on end, but now I have made a conscious decision to be active and particularly to walk by the sea, or amongst green, in parks or gardens. As I walk I let my mInd wander and enjoy the natural stimulation that comes with being in the open air. This is not just about wellness,although that is an aspect of it, but it is actually about being creative and gaining a new perspective through positive thinking and a change of scenery. Whilst not thinking about anything specifically I find that this enables my mind to find answers to existing questions and challenges simply by allowing myself to take on board unusual view points.

#3 Be Mindful!

Valuing every moment and purposefully being in the present is something I strive to do in my usually hectic day to day but rarely achieve. Too much to do, too many things to think about and so many balls to juggle normally means my mind always races ahead of it self. I am thinking about the next thing, then the next again even before I have completed the first task of the day.

But here on holiday, away from the rather more stressful routine, I have promised my self I will pay attention to the small things, I will observe, listen and reflect especially about the small events, from which we can often learn the most. As well as being good training per se  this will help me build a reservoir of emotional strengths I can call upon in months to come by when life becomes rather less calm.

If we can achieve this during our summer holiday we will emotionally enrich our selves and develop personal strengths for our busy professional lives. Let's not miss out on this opportunity! 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Insights into Leadership #3

On Wednesday we concluded the first ever 'Today's Women - Tomorrow's Leaders' programme at the University of Hertfordshire. I was delighted to work with such an engaged, passionate and honest bunch of women and sorry to say goodbye (although all being well we will be running part 2 in the Autumn...).

Participants came from a variety of sectors, including National Health Service, Telecommunication, Service Industry, Academia, Marketing and Manufacturing but the differences in sectors only helped to reinforce the views that challenges to female leadership exist in every work place and that nobody should face them alone.As for me, I learnt that many of the myths around women-only groups are just that and that 'connecting' is an extremely powerful word: connecting to others, re-connecting to oneself and finding connections in particular.

I now want to share some final insights from this programme, some born out of my observations, others the result of shared wisdom in the room:

Camaraderie and Support

I have heard it over and over again, women-only groups become (pardon my French) bitchy and hellish. Yet, my group of women could not be further away from this statement. If it is true - as former US Secretary of State Margaret Albright is quoted to have said - that there is 'a special place in hell for women who do not support other women', then I tell you 'my' women most certainly earned themselves some paradise credits! The support, sharing and empathy I have witnessed over the last few months has been absolutely first class. On the contrary, I regularly experience many mix- or male only group in which testosterone-filled alpha males try to out-do each other by challenging and out-smarting one another.  

Listen, Learn, this order!  

Throughout the programme participants have been willing to listen, learn and then lead. I believe this is exactly how it should be as you cannot lead unless you have first opened up your heart and your mind to others through empathetic listening. You also need to listen to yourself, to your emotions, feelings, intuitions...and take notice. This level of listening inevitably brings about learning and programme participants also helped each other by offering real life examples of challenges encountered, good practice and bad
practice were equally shared without fear of appearing 'week'.

Fun, Food and Follow Up!

I have run and faciltated 1000's of workshops and courses and the difference a little fun and a (not so) little food can make is sooo palpable! We started every workshop with a game, a story, something to relax, make us laugh, reconnect. Food was available throughout our time together, adding colour, smell and comfort to the experience. It worked because it made the group feel safe and looked after.But in it is a big statement about our primary needs and about building trust through the simple things. This is in itself a huge leadership lesson or at least a reminder that small but genuine, personal touches speak directly to people's heart creating good will and engagement.

As for follow up...mentoring in all its forms (one to one, peer, group etc) is a key tool for leadership. The group enjoyed the mentoring and would have liked even more if possible to keep the momentum going between sessions. There is no doubt that mentoring works greatly with women, because of the intimacy and nurturing inherent to it. I for one will continue to promote it, practice it and incorporate it in all my programmes!
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.