Invisible Women

Last month, I attended a local business conference. I elected to take part in a session about leadership. Our male facilitator asked us to suggest individuals – dead or alive – who we considered inspirational leaders. Our group came up with a group which included Hitler, Gandhi, Richard Branson, Churchill and Princess Diana. A mixed group came up with no female leaders except Princess Di. Hitler apart (the chap who suggested him later quietly nominated his own wife!) I wouldn’t question the inclusion of any of these, but where were the women?

Somewhat later in the session, I’m ashamed to say, I came up with Angelina Jolie, Martha Lane Fox ( and Catherine Bigelow (film director).  I’m not sure everyone in the room knew who the last two were. There were so many women leaders we could have cited. The following, in addition to the three mentioned already, would be on my list – Judi Dench, Valerie Amos, Rosalind Franklin, Gurinder Chadha, Katharine Viner, Michelle Obama, Francesca Martinez, Marie Curie, Margaret Thatcher, Helena Kennedy, Madonna, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Malala Yousafzai, Anita Roddick, J.K. Rowling, Rosa Parks, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Caroline Lucas, Halle Berry, Nicola Sturgeon, Venus and Serena Williams, Jude Kelly, Lisa Jardine and so on.

3 weeks ago, I attended a packed meeting in my town to discuss the future of our main performance venue which is under threat of demolition. It’s a long story I won’t bore you with here. Emotions are running high – 7,000 people in a town of under 30,000 have signed a petition about it. The audience was roughly 50/50, male to female. Two-thirds of the way through an intense 2-hour session, not one woman had asked a question or spoken from the floor. Eventually, two women – one my companion – asked questions. I came with 3 questions, all of which were addressed by others early on, but I find it hard to believe no other women present had questions or points to make. What stopped them? I witnessed this kind of behaviour at the CIPD annual conference too and have seen it at local CIPD events – it’s just less noticeable because HR is so female dominated.

I am currently the only non-staff female trustee of a local community education organisation. We are advertising for more trustees and I have included a statement encouraging women and members of ethnic minority groups to apply. Increasingly, I find myself favouring quotas. We women have got to help ourselves and each other to be more confident, take a more prominent part in public life and get recognition for our efforts.

We may have got the vote in 1928, and the film ‘Suffragette’ tells us just how hard won that was. Sisters (and brothers) we still have a long way to go.

Meanwhile, I wish you a more equal 2016.



CIPD Annual Conference 2015

It’s 23 years since my first and last visit to the CIPD Annual Conference. I was a student member last time around – 1992 – and had a great time. Older and maybe wiser this time, I still found much to savour and enjoy in my one hectic experience of Day 2.

On the way back to York, where I was staying, I reflected on the fact that at my last CIPD Conference there was no internet, no Twitter, no email, no Facebook , no mobile phones etc etc. And yet what really endured from that conference back in the early 1990s, and this one last week, was presentation and the spoken word. In 1992, I was bowled over by Rosabeth Moss Kanter ‘s long and eloquent closing keynote and the chairing prowess of Peter Hobday.

Last week, I was impressed by all the speakers and the leadership of Peter Cheese. Working backwards, in her keynote closing address, Herminia Ibarra was incredibly humorous and self-deprecatory, while encouraging us all to be brave and escape our comfort zones. Paul Matthews made me rethink what capability is all about. Linda Kennedy McCarthy bestowed some hard-won wisdom on how to have influence in HR and demonstrated right in front of us that you can be both tough and empathetic. She could probably sell hot soup in a heatwave.

I think the session on Diversity and Inclusion would have worked better as smaller workshops, but I admired Stephen Frost’s chairing skills – and his stripy socks.

My gong has to go to Dave Coplin of Microsoft (a company whose products frequently frustrate me I might add). He was engaging, funny, informative, profound and quite brilliant. What was he telling us? In essence, do not be a slave to technology. Turn the damn thing off (phone, tablet, computer) and live in the moment. We have the tools but it’s up to us to use them effectively.

Now, just as in 1992, there is no substitute for high quality face-to-face communication.