Monday, 30 November 2015

3 Things I Have Learnt from Running Women Leaders Event

Last Friday I run another women leaders panel, this time at the University of Hertfordshire. Needless to say it was another animated discussion about the why and why not of women leadership. Reflecting on the fact that I have now run several of these panels/ events across different sectors I have found a number of commonalities that I think are worth while sharing :

#1. When women get together in a room to discuss career related issues emotions run high. 

When the curtain eventually draws on any such debate the one thing that continued to linger on is the incredibly high level of emotions charging the room. These emotions span from a strong sense of empowerment and opportunity, to sisterhood and a feeling that we are all there to share, learn from each other and celebrate our achievements and just as well, our mistakes. I jsometimes get  the impression that women are being told to hide their true emotions, as if they were a bad thing, something to be almost ashamed of, especially in a professional environment. Yet, far from it, emotions are a positive force for movement (emotions, from the Latin verb’ movere’ , to move) and they are natural, ancestral forces that push us to act, originally on the all important, survival ‘fight or flight’ question. So emotions also enable us to analyse, process and review information. If we are able to positively harnessing emotions we can drive actions and ignite our thinking process. Furthermore, I believe that natural, positive, emotional responses such as laughter can engage the hearts and the minds of people and really show our authenticity.

#2. There is one critical question...and several possible answers

I always ask the one all important question: Why are there not enough women in leadership roles? 
In response to that I get a range of answers:

- It is women's own lack of confidence, not wanting to negotiate, not asking.
- Women do not buy into the senior lifestyle, it is about work life balance and ethical choices too
- It is a mix of obvious and hidden biases in organisations. 
- People recruit people who are similar to them especially if they are in a hurry.
- Not enough mentoring, sponsorship, networking.
- Not enough role models and ambassadors.
- There are policies, but practices are different, companies do not walk the talk.

#3. And what about the solution?

It seems that top leadership and most immediately line management is critical to finding a solution. 
Line managers must encourage and develop the next generation of talented women, put them forward for more challenging roles, make them visible to the organisational eye. Unfortunately it is often the opposite and women get sidelined.

So here we are, AD 2015 still talking about female leadership as a thing of wonder. While I do not wish to sound disparaging, I am starting to feel rather here I say, bring on the quota....! 

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, 20 November 2015

Why we need to talk about elderly care to engage male colleagues in discussions about women's career

Yesterday I attended an excellent conference here in London called Inspiring Women, organised as every day by management focussed publication Management Today. In summary: inspirational speakers, insightful debates, excellent networking.


An all round worthy way to spend a day!

Throughout the day, the debates ranged from how to climb all the way back up after adversity, the future of female leadership, work life balance and so on. On of the things that came up many times is the old child care conundrum.  How can women reconcile career and family and live without guilt? How can employers offer more flexibility in order to keep their talented women?  Can women have it all? Childcare is in my opinion a forever-brought-up-and-never-resolved-issue for women. That is until such time when child care policies are designed with women ambitions in mind. Child care - it was repeatedly said - is simply too expensive and especially for young women, reason why mothers tend to be older and older. Hats off therefore to law firm Vardags that declared at the conference to pay pre-school childcare cost for all employees....if only more employers took that step, the world of work would be populated by many happy, talented and loyal professional women (and their happy families...) ! 

Of perhaps three hundred or so attendees in the conference room, only a handful were men. And here is where all the ambitions, intelligent debates, insightful discussions and challenging ideas end up wasted. Because unless the men, the male colleagues, the CEO, the employers are in the room, how can we move forward the discussion? I would be utterly hypocritical if I said a women only conference has no value, as I run a women platform myself (Women in Travel at World Travel Market). But we need the decision makers to be in the room and we need to engage them at the right level if we want dreams to turn into possibilities and ideas into actions. Take for example the issue of flexible working to suit child care hours. Nobody will dispute the relevance of this, but why not speaking about that looming catastrophes with awful financial consequences that is Elderly Care?

You don't just need flexible working because you are looking after little people, you also need it if you have senior and possibly ill parents and by the way, most of us will need the support of their children if the cost of care continues to rise at this pace plus there are not enough structures and infrastructures to accommodate us all, at least here in the UK. Certainly men need the flexibility as much as their wives in this instance? Certainly the CEOs, the MDs, The Senior VPs who do not have to worry about looking after their young kids because of the mums and the nannies can however relate both on an emotional level and in practical terms to the fact that their aging mums n' dads need time, care and looking after?  By extending the reasons behind flexible working we make the whole more inclusive and democratic, a debate that involves men as much as women, women without kids as well as mothers, stay home dads as well as super charged career dads. And I really believe that all voices must be heard in the room if we want things to become better for women and ultimately for society.

So I do hope that more male colleagues will be in the room next year and that we open up the discussion to include other, perhaps less obvious but equally important areas. I would love to know if you agree and what else we could add to the discussion pot.   
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, 13 November 2015

Learning from leaders: how successful entrepreneurs define resilience

If you have read my earlier blog from last week you know that I have been recently running a Women in Travel platform at travel trade fair World Travel Market. 

The first of my two debates was dedicated to the big R word: R.E.S.I.L.I.E.N.C.E. Or - as I call it - the art of bouncing back. 

As somebody said, it is not about how many times you win, but how many times you are able to pick yourself up after you've fallen.

To discuss the topic and provide some really genuine insights into the importance of resilience there were 4 leading ladies, each at a different stage in the development of their business, start-up, growing and mature. Although from different backgrounds in the industry at large, all four ladies talked emphatically about the importance of being resilient both in your business and personal life. 

Whether you are an entrepreneur or not, the following insights into resilience will hopefully help you with building few more ammunitions for when challenges arise and you need to find that extra element of strength in you.

Resilience can be learnt. True, some people are born inherently more resilient than others but ultimately as life goes by and we experience different challenges we build our self confidence and our set of resilience tools.

Resilience can be nurtured through strong relationships. Family and close friends are some of our most vital resilience tools. Their love and care for us helps us define who we are, helps us develop self confidence, self esteem and self worth which we need to maintain intact at times of crisis or difficulty.

Resilience can be strengthened through helpful routines. Finding a little time for ourselves in our busy life can be critically important to maintain some balance, particularly when you are building a business full time or giving all you have to a job. One of my speakers, Carolyn Pearson of Maiden Voyage, spoke in particular about the fact that to avoid burning out she practices daily meditation, watches her food, makes sure she drinks enough water throughout the day and so on. Carolyn actually has a schedule which she keeps close by and checks throughout the day to ensure she sticks to it.

Resilience increases when challenges can be shared. Building a business or focussing on delivering a top performance takes a lot of energy out of any individual and besides, it can be a lonely business especially right at the outset. All my ladies stressed the importance of being out there and making sure you network and mix with other like minded professional and entrepreneurs on a regular basis to avoid the risk of becoming anxious and even depressed. Finding groups to network and sharing challenges or celebrate success helps us keep loneliness and self doubt at bay even though we might be building a business from scratch and from our kitchen table.

Resilience requires courage and self belief. At the debate speaker Daniela Wagner shared some very personal business experience and spoke openly about the need to trust your instinct and follow your guts or intuition when the world seems to collapse around you. Ultimately you know what needs to be done, you know what is right and must find the courage to do it even though it may appear scary or out of your comfort zone. 

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.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Lessons in leadership from top travel executives...the Women in Travel meet up

This Tuesday just gone I facilitated a Women in Travel meet up at World Travel Market, the leading travel trade fair taking place in London every November.

Piloted last year, in 2015 the event consisted in two panel debates, mentoring sessions, a key note and networking.

The first debate discussed entrepreneurship and resilience, while the second focused on leadership, authenticity and what it takes to be a woman leader. The panel was chaired by Prof Graham Miller from the University of Surrey.  

My speakers were 5 senior ladies from the industry holding positions either as MD or Directors in their respective companies. They provided genuine, insightful and bottom-of-the-heart views on women in the sector and what paths are available to them. Over an hour the discussion span from positive discrimination to the need for retention, from describing leadership traits to helping women shine under the spotlights. We also discussed ways to increase gender equality and how to ensure women are fully engaged in the work place. Below I highlights some of the comments/insights that resonated the most with him and we can all - as women - learn from.

Leadership Insight #1

In leadership be fair, treat others as you would like others to treat you. However as women we must be careful not to appear 'weak'. Carol Hay, UK Director of Marketing for the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, said that the risk is that people will mistake kindness for weakness...'Nice girls do not get the corner office' she concluded.

Leadership Insight #2

Jo Rzymowska, MD for UK and Ireland at Celebrity Cuises, suggested that it is crucial for women to lead a diverse team and that team diversity is more important to the leader than recruting the right person for the job. Great Goals are achieved through great teams, thus it is essential that the 'sum of the parts' becomes bigger than the individual components if we are to succeed in business. We need to recruit from a wider pool, from a least-obvious pool, in order to incorporate a wide variety of skills, background, gender, races and perspectives to create the 'winning team'.

Leadership Insight #3

All speakers agreed that Emotional Intelligence is a critical aspect of leadership. It was also said that women generally demonstrate great EI traits but to be a great leader emotional intelligence has to be used in an authentic, non manipulative way. Authenticity, with passion and tenacity, were identified as key leadership traits.

Leadership Insight #4

Mentoring, networking and role models were identified as very important tools for women. 'The more women there are in leadership roles, the more inspirational role models there will be' said Julia Lo Bue, MD of the Advantage Travel Partnership. Women leaders must identify young women and support them through their career journey. 

Leadership Insight #5

To achieve great leadership positions women have to help themselves. This also means gaining greater knowledge, learning all the time. Knowledge supports self-confidence and self-esteem and helps build our reputation, thus never stop learning!

These leadership lessons are highly applicable in my opinion and potentially valid for most if not all industries. What are your views and what is your experience as women leaders? Share your view with me by leaving a comment below or writing to me, thank you! 

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.