This week I was at the Association of Scottish Businesswomen’s conference down at Perth Theatre. The Unstoppable Women conference.
Now in a year which celebrates 100 year of votes for women, you might be forgiven for thinking this conference was a mask for a whole new rising of suffragettes. In fact the theme was really about building resilience. Developing a strong mindset to help you overcome challenges. Be they external challenges or the obstacles we have a tendency to hold onto inside which stop us doing what we want, or indeed, need to do. Traits the suffragettes would no doubt have needed too.
My head buzzing, I have been trying to make my own sense of it all. For me there was a key thing which seemed to run through the whole event and that was why do women sometimes lack the confidence to stand tall, celebrate their success, step up. Why we, or at least some of us, play down or lack self belief in what we do. Is it because we tend to compare ourselves with others? Do we measure our own success or, indeed, our value against what we perceive others to be doing? It’s easy to see why when there is so much spin on the “hey, look at me, my life is great” culture on social media.
Or does it go deeper than that?
Does it begin way back in our childhood? Claire Nelson of Netball Scotland quoted that 69 per cent of girls aged 7-21 feel they are not good enough. That’s around two thirds of women who will have begun their adult lives feeling less worthy.
I was the world’s worst practitioner when it came to self belief. I had my own event business for nearly 13 years. Although for a larger part I told myself I wasn’t a business woman. I just made a living out of making venues look pretty for weddings and it kept me busy. See how I used the word “just”? How many women do you know who also open with “I am only …” or “I just …”? If you take money from customers, for a service or product you are responsible for delivering, then you are in business. Fact. There is no need to excuse what you do. There, saying “I have my own business” is easy isn’t it.
Except it doesn’t come easy. It took me nine years to say “I am an Event Stylist” and to say it with conviction. And in truth that is because it took me nine years to value myself in an industry I was self taught. To know I was good enough. To recognise I was successful. And with that final moment of self belief came a whole new confidence. And eventually the confidence to know it was okay to sell at the top of my game and make a personal change.
Okay – who is coming off piste with me for a moment?
I am sure there were women at that conference who arrived nervous. A little anxious about the unknown perhaps. Maybe dreading having to mingle and make conversation over a cup of tea. I get it! Totally. Completely relate to that. Joining a business women’s group maybe five or six years ago, I was totally out of my comfort zone as I pressed send on my membership application. We have all seen photos of these women on websites, on social media. They looked like powerful business owners. They scared me a bit to be honest. How would little me with my little cottage event dressing service be able to stand alongside them, make conversation with them. Network? What? Walk into that room of strangers and hold my own.
It would be almost two years before I would attend an event!
Yet, when I did, I realised I was among women just like you and me. A Mum, a sister, a daughter, a wife. Working hard, making a living. Something which showed in so many of our speakers yesterday too. I suspect they cut their own toe nails too. See, remember that – it’s a great leveller.
There are just so many parts of the day I want to put into my box of tricks. Rachel used the analogy of the tree bending in the wind to describe resilience. And touched on some tips to simply keep reminding ourselves just how resilient we are. Judy Murray OBE showed, through her sharp wit and candid story, how perseverance and determination brings results.
I also felt a real connection with Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick CBE QPM as she described the moment she realised she wasn’t ready to retire. Wasn’t ready to be a lady who lunches and watch someone else do something she is passionate about. But the thing that got me most was this. She has probably one of the toughest jobs and yet she still takes time to let people know she appreciates them and their efforts with something as simple as a personal note, a message or a letter. Yes, I am guilty as charged. I really didn’t see that coming. Not because of who Rose is, but simply because of her position of authority.
Preconceptions have much to answer for.
And I think several of the panel concurred that when we are doing something we love, or are passionate about, we will fight for it. Almost every session I was in, I felt this message coming through. Be it a cause, a product, your business or job. Yourself even! And as Brian at HeadStrong said, if it doesn’t float your boat, make a change from your “normal” and do something that does. Only he said it with buckets loads more energy and life relate-able anecdotes. Yes, Brian is a man! At an Unstoppable Women’s conference. One of several in fact…
But the final word must go to Suzanne Doyle-Morris (InclusIQ) who hit us with a gob smacker or two. From male suicide to the strength in our nether regions she had the conference rocking from the word go. Yet the one thing which has stayed with me is when she said we should stop comparing ourselves with others. Instead we should compare ourselves with who we were yesterday. I like to think of it as aiming to be the very best version of ourselves. Because it’s okay to be you.
72 hours on and I am still reflecting. For me the underlying message was really quite powerful. We, as women, need to start believing in ourselves. Really believing in ourselves. Because if, as Claire also said, the openings and opportunities are made but women don’t go for them – simply because we don’t believe we are good enough – then the gender imbalance at the top is never going to change. But more importantly, neither will we.
And one line keeps coming back to me. “Be the change that you want to see”. Because we really do have to be our own change don’t we?