Here’s to a Year of Mistakes and Missteps!

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

I’d like to take a moment to set the trajectory for 2022, before we delve into the details of our work and forget to remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.

When I set up Voice At The Table, it was to ensure that women – like me – could contribute more fully, that our contribution was valued and welcomed, and that managers and leaders understood this and learned how to do so.

Our Mission
While our focus has expanded from women to every individual, the gist of our mission remains as it was:

To make your organisation truly diverse and inclusive, we work on inclusive behaviour change. In this way, every team and individual develops, improves and embeds inclusive behaviour habits. It becomes who you are.  

We also help you uncover and tackle any systemic bias. In this way, your processes automatically nudge you to be more inclusive. It becomes how you work.

So we continue to develop corporate cultures where people value difference in others.  Why?  Because we genuinely believe that Diversity and Inclusion is good for business. When more people feel included, their engagement, creativity and performance improve.  And aren’t people our biggest asset?

Guided by this, Voice At The Table have been relentless in learning new techniques, engaging experienced associates and – above all – working hard to practice what we preach.

Looking Ahead
In 2022, we look forward to expanding on the practice of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours with new interventions for leaders that will help them guide the way and develop psychological safety in their teams; and with new reminders for staff on how to continue to improve these behaviours.  We also look forward to improving the employee life cycle with the introduction of pragmatic corrections to processes like recruitment and promotion that reduce bias without much effort.  Finally, we look forward to sharing stories and experiences from our communities and supporters, broadening horizons and raising awareness of what it’s like on the fringe, with inspiring and practical content in our newsletters, podcasts and LIVE Q&A online sessions.

The team and I look forward to a fulfilling year of progress, missteps, corrections and learning, making our way together from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence.

 

Three Guiding Principles
For now, let me leave you with 3 of my own guiding principles for life, in the hope that they may inspire you too:

  1. Live and let live.  Individual freedom is important of course, and we encourage everyone to be themselves as much as possible, within boundaries.  These boundaries are the rights of others.  So, live your life the way you want to, so long as that doesn’t impede on others’ ability to do the same.
  2. I’m just like you.  I’m nothing like you (Nancy Kline).   Recognise that, while we’re more alike than we’re different from each other, each of us is an individual, with their own experiences, filters and identity.  We ought to remember and honour this conundrum – it isn’t a mystery; it is a fact of life.
  3. Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.   We are our own biggest obstacles.  If we sometimes live like no-one is watching, we might accomplish far greater things than we give ourselves credit for.

So here’s to a year of trying hard, pushing boundaries, making lots of mistakes and learning from them, and letting others do the same.  Together.

Here’s to 2022!

Four Steps to a Successful Awareness Raising Campaign

by Inge Woudstra

This year we will be sharing more on our inclusive behaviours in our blogs and events for you. We start with Empathy – the true foundation of being inclusive.

In the workplace, Empathy allows us to understand that what we experience isn’t the same for everyone.  Yet many of us still think that our workplace provides similar opportunities to everyone, and that everyone else feels as included as we do.

That’s why many clients start their D&I work with an awareness raising campaign, helping people see what it’s like for those who are not like them.

Raising awareness is an important first step that builds consensus and support for a successful D&I strategy.  Today, we share with you an example of a corporate communications campaign that successfully raised awareness in an international law firm about its LGBTQ+ community.

Four steps to a successful corporate awareness raising campaign

  1. Set clear aims

The first step is to understand what you want to achieve with the campaign.  In this case, the firm set four clear aims for their campaign:

  • Reinvigorate our ‘sleeping allies’​
  • Demonstrate what good allyship looks like​
  • Increase Pride+ ally membership​
  • Promote the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion to our people and our clients​
  1. Choose an impactful message, channel and medium

To achieve impact, it’s important to unite behind one specific message to which everyone can relate.  In this case, the campaign team designed a logo and a slogan that would resonate with the majority of their people.

They  then invited individuals from each region to share their personal LGBTQ+ experiences and showcased those stories in the weekly internal update message and on the global intranet.

To ensure the message sticks and reaches as many people as possible, the team chose to repeat the message often and via a range of channels, including by leveraging their many internal staff networks and champions. They asked regional networks to host ‘on topic’ local events, posted on LinkedIn and Twitter and created an e-mail signature with the campaign logo and slogan.

Most notably, the team worked with senior managers to help them find their authentic voice in talking about the subject.

  1. Add a call for action

A key to any communication campaign is to know what people should do once they become more aware of the topics and issues. In this case, the campaign team gave staff a number of options:  they could use some of the prepared material to start conversations with clients, they could attend some of the many local events hosted as part of the campaign, they could attend in-house courses on how to become an ally, and they could join the LGBTQ+ network as an ally.

  1. Measure results

The campaign ran for an entire year.  At the end of the year, the campaign team looked at their data to measure its effectiveness.  The campaign was indeed very successful:  LGBTQ+ network membership increased from 20% to 27% in six months (worldwide)​ and opportunities were identified to work with clients on LGBTQ+ initiatives that also strengthened client relationships.

 

As the example above shows, a successful awareness raising campaign doesn’t need to be complicated.  Yet the results can be powerful and impactful.

Of course, companies don’t have to follow this particular model.  There are as many different ways to raise awareness as there are reasons for doing so.  Identifying what you want to raise awareness about and what you want to achieve with it will help inform the best approach to choose.

If you want help to find the best way to raise awareness about an aspect of Diversity and Inclusion, book a free consultation with us for that initial discussion.

Feel Empowered to Ask for Help

by Melissa Jackson

At the start of every year, I become a little self-indulgent and think about me and my goals for the coming 12 months. Something that’s right at the top of the (realistically small) list is the importance of “asking for help”. It’s a pillar of “humility and vulnerability”, which co-operatively form one of the Eight Inclusive Behaviours that we’ve recently explored and discussed in the Voice At The Table podcast series – #InclusiveInsights.

Why we don’t ask for help

It’s difficult to admit that we don’t know everything or that we sometimes need help. I’m the first to admit that I’m guilty of this “condition”. As a fiercely independent woman, it was always my firm belief that asking for help was a weakness, an admission of poor competency and would be viewed by my senior managers as a deficiency or flaw that would hinder my promotion or single me out as less capable than my peers. And for this reason, I would always push myself to work things out for myself and take pride in being so self-reliant.

It may be in my genes. When my nonagenarian mother recently had a fall and broke her hip, although in great pain, she was in denial about its severity, claiming that she thought it was nothing more than a bad bruise and that she was not seriously injured. She dislikes inconveniencing people and hates asking for help. An X-ray confirmed the worst and she was whipped into theatre. On this occasion she needed the help of medical experts, but within 24 hours, this determined and fiercely independent woman was up on her feet, with the aid of a walking frame and some encouragement from the professionals. As she’s aged, my mother has struggled to accept that her body is failing her at times and she needs support and intervention to assist her in her everyday tasks. It’s difficult to admit fragility, when you’ve always been so strong.

My son’s girlfriend is another determined and fiercely independent woman, with her heart set on becoming a lawyer after taking her A-levels. But she fully acknowledges that, as a young black woman, she is at a disadvantage purely by virtue of her skin colour. How depressing. But this hasn’t hampered her ambition; if anything, it has strengthened her resolve to challenge the status quo and fire a grenade at convention.

She has been identified as a smart, capable and suitable candidate for a mentoring programme that assists those – who don’t come from the traditional white, middle-class background – in securing a place at Oxbridge. She is astute and perceptive enough to know that this is an opportunity she should accept. She didn’t actively seek this help, but she recognises it could make all the difference to her life outcome. It’s an indirect means of admitting she can’t do this all by herself and needs help.

Why we should ask for help

Casandra Brené Brown, in her book – Daring Greatly – describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”. It’s that unstable feeling we get when we step out of our comfort zone or do something that forces us to loosen control.

Encouragingly, Brené Brown says times are changing. “We’re hungry for people who have the courage to say, ‘I need help’ or ‘I own that mistake’,” she asserts.

It’s my firm belief that people connect more with those who have vulnerabilities. Let’s face it, every superhero or heroine has a weakness (Superman has kryptonite, for example).  It’s what makes these people more relatable. If they were perfect, would we care as much about them? Probably not. And the reality is that no-one is perfect and almost everyone has had to ask for help at some point in their lives, whether or not they care to admit it.

Perfectionism hampers achievement, according to Brené Brown. It’s correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticised keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.

I’m banking this. It’s not going to be easy admitting my shortcomings and it’s going to place me firmly outside my comfort zone asking for help. Be patient 2022, we have 12 months to give it a go.

Read more about the importance of asking for help.

If you like this article, you might also like others written by me, like the young women rooting for change to save the planet.

Active Voice: 5 steps to building a stronger empathy muscle

This year we will be sharing more on our 8 Inclusive Behaviours. We start with Empathy – the true foundation of being inclusive. Empathy allows us to understand that our experience isn’t the same for everyone.  Our Active Voice column today shares 5 steps that help us develop greater empathy, so we can better understand how others experience the world.

  1. Readjust the balance between speaking and listening.  Have you noticed that most people speak a lot more than they listen? Might that also be one of the reasons so many of us have less empathy for others than we ought to? Here’s a simple fix: invert the balance between your speaking and listening, so that you listen more than you speak.  And see what you will learn!
  2. Step into their shoes. Now that you’ve managed to properly hear them, instead of offering advice, think about what you would want from your friend or colleague if you had just shared what they shared.  Is it advice?  Is it to feel sorry for them?  Or is it simply to hold the space for them, to let them know that you understand and perhaps wouldn’t know what to do either?  Maybe offering the comfort of your company is enough.  Anything that simply shows that you understand how they are feeling.
  3. Don’t be afraid to show your own emotions. If you’ve listened well, and heard the other person’s emotions as well as anything else they shared, now is the time to lower your guard and reach out on an emotional level.  Now is the time to allow yourself to be more vulnerable.  Vulnerability builds trust and connection.  It shows others that we’re all human – not perfect in any sense – and therefore exactly like everyone else.  This ‘sameness’ makes it easier to connect.
  4. Beware of jumping to conclusions. Assumptions are shortcuts.  They don’t give us the full story and are as often incorrect as they are correct.  If not more so.  You know what happens when we assume…In many cases, the person on the other side simply thinks you haven’t heard them, or that you don’t understand what they’re saying, and may even decide not to share with you again.  So, there’s no need to assume.  Now that you’ve learned to listen, get the full story.  The full story will help you to better understand the situation and allow you to solve the actual ‘problem’, not the one you assume they’re having.
  5. Expand your horizon. You might think that you’re a very empathetic person.  And that may be so.  Most of us are – with people who are like us and in situations we can relate to.  But when it comes to developing empathy for someone who is very different or is in a very different situation, that is truly difficult.  How do you do that?  Well, that’s when it helps to broaden our own horizons; to raise our own awareness about different people, cultures, and situations.  Asking questions from a place of curiosity, and striving to learn more from a variety of sources helps too.  That way, you expand your knowledge about situations and emotions, and that makes it easier to relate to others.  It will also allow you to connect with situations that you yourself have not experienced, but can imagine based on something similar you have.

Empathy is a skill you can develop – like a muscle that can be strengthened with exercise.

The more you practise, the more natural it will become and you will reap the benefits of being a more empathetic person who understands and sees more.

Read more about empathy here

If you liked this Active Voice post, you may also enjoy others like 5 ways to be a more proactive ally to women

Getting Started with Diversity and Inclusion

Guest blog by Mark Walley, CEO of STEP

We are a global brand with 30 years’ experience helping families plan their financial futures, but we are quite new to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). When I say that, I mean that until last year we had the basics in place for legal compliance, but were not actively engaged in the topic with our people. This changed in the summer of 2020, in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.

As a professional body whose governance is overseen by members, we took the decision to act after a number of discussions that had started following George Floyd’s death. For our professional members we decided that getting our governance structures right to support our EDI goals was the most important first step for STEP – the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.

There is, of course, also a team of colleagues and we employ around 50 in our London office. It is interesting when you look at our statistics:

  • 75% of our colleagues are female
  • 85% of our people managers are female
  • Three out of four directors are male

That is where the data stops. There is some visible evidence of diversity and some knowledge of unseen diversity, but we have never really taken any specific action. Our staff survey revealed some very positive trends: “People in my team go out of their way to help me”; “I feel a strong sense of family in my team”; “My team is fun to work with”; “My manager treats everyone fairly”.

However, less encouraging was feedback on: “This organisation is keen to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

Our colleagues wanted us to do something more to demonstrate we take EDI seriously. So, initially, we ran a poll at an all-staff meeting. This showed that, broadly, people felt we were doing “ok”. There was clearly a need for a more in-depth conversation, so we facilitated discussion group sessions for all employees to talk about experiences of EDI at STEP. There were a number of themes that came out of these wide-ranging discussions:

  • The general feeling is that we are doing OK
  • Our values and policies are clear
  • Our colleagues welcome the open dialogue
  • The feeling that being able to bring one’s whole-self to work is important
  • The reflection that lots has changed in a positive way in the culture of the organisation
  • A recognition that a positive stance on EDI makes us a more attractive employer

We have already implemented a couple of ideas. We are celebrating “calendar” days more (religious festivals/community days/national or international observances). We are also encouraging sharing experiences through our “Windows into Lives” posts on Teams. Here, colleagues share something about themselves; their beliefs, culture, community or a calendar day that others may not know so much about. It has been a great opportunity for colleagues to share and to learn. Through that there has been much greater understanding, appreciation and empathy.

It’s a start. We still have more to do and as we head through 2022, we will be:

  • Helping colleagues tackle some unintended impacts (eg. unconscious bias and addressing assumptions in thinking)
  • Taking appropriate actions to support those facing/going through the menopause
  • Doing more to address the impact of invisible disabilities
  • Addressing ED&I in recruitment and on-boarding process
  • Being explicit about what we stand for and what expectations are
  • Providing clarity on equality of opportunity – with the best person getting the job
  • Pursuing greater objectivity in recruitment (both the criteria and the selection process)

We will also keep the dialogue going – both in our meetings and through our Windows into Lives.

Background:

STEP is a global professional body, comprising lawyers, accountants, trustees and other practitioners that help families plan for their futures. We have over 21,000 members in around 96 countries.

Our mission is to inspire confidence in families planning their assets across generations by setting and upholding high professional standards, informing public policy, promoting education, and connecting practitioners globally to share knowledge and best practice.

Full STEP members, known as TEPs, are internationally recognised as experts in their field, with proven qualifications and experience.

Mark Walley:

As Chief Executive at STEP, Mark is responsible for the organisation’s, strategy, culture, performance and governance, working closely with the board. Mark’s deep-seated belief in the value of professional education, the standards and ethics that sit with them, plus acting in the public interest has guided his career choices. He is dedicated to building working environments where everyone can be their best and is an advocate for social mobility and inclusion in the workplace.

Motivated by later-in-life academic success, Mark was a volunteer director of “Professions for Good” (P4G). Representing 1.2 million practitioners, P4G worked to uphold fair access, professional ethics and fact-based policy amongst the UK professions.

He now maintains a role as mentor to a diverse group of young professionals, is a champion of diversity and inclusion and volunteers with “Inspiring the Future”. He sits on the Surrey committee of the Institute of Directors, where he is Education & Skills and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Ambassador.

He holds a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance and is a Chartered Director.

If you like this guest blog, you may enjoy reading some of our other guest blogs, like Is Your Leadership Woken or Broken?

Reflections in D&I

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch and Inge Woudstra

It’s hard to believe, but we’re approaching the end of yet another year.  Who was it that said time flies when you’re having fun? And we certainly have had fun this year.  But also challenges and learnings.  So Inge and I thought we would share with you what we’ve come across this year and what’s made an impact, in the form of answers to five questions.  Here they are:

  1. What was the most requested type of D&I intervention this year?

Rina: The theme this year was definitely Inclusion.  From identifying a company’s Inclusion Statement to creating Inclusive Behaviour Frameworks to delivering training for Inclusive Leadership, most of our work this year has been supporting our clients in developing a more inclusive place to work.

Inge: What I’ve noticed is that organisations have realised that diversity and inclusion issues can’t all be solved within their own organisation. They are joining forces, and membership organisations and industry associations have been asking us for support in increasing diversity in their industries.

  1. What was the most unusual request for support you had this year?

Rina: One company asked us to work with their employees to remind them what working together in the office is like.  Working remotely for a prolonged period had many challenges for companies, including onboarding new employees who had never seen the office, as well as remembering what it means to work in close proximity with others, sharing communal spaces and respecting everyone’s personal values.  Although this was not strictly-speaking a diversity-related engagement, reminding people what their organisation’s purpose is and why they value working there does make it easier for people to be more mindful of each other’s individuality – and what is that if not inclusion?

Inge: That definitely was the client who requested our presence face-to-face abroad during a very uncertain, Covid-laden time. Covid regulations with regards to the requirements to self-isolate changed twice in the 2 weeks leading up to the session. This meant  our travel dates changed 3 times, and we felt like a small miracle had taken place when we actually crossed the border, successfully delivered the workshop and returned on schedule.

  1. What was the biggest trend that you observed this year?

Rina: For me it was more conversations around how to be an ally to others.  What it looks like and what it actually means in actions, not just words and intentions.  There are many more talks and training on this subject taking place, so much so that we have started rolling this out to our clients, as well.

Inge: The biggest trend I observed is one that is continuing from previous years. We have seen Diversity and Inclusion move up the top team agenda. So we are increasingly working with top teams. We help them decide whether and how D&I can be a strategic strength and help achieve their business aims. Once acknowledged, we show them what inclusion looks like, and how leaders can be visible in their support.

  1. What initiatives made the biggest impact?

Rina: Without a doubt, inclusive leadership training was the game changer in 2021.  Given we’re talking about culture change when we’re talking about becoming more inclusive, it’s incredibly important for the leadership to be 100% on board. Talking the talk and walking the walk.  This means not just committing resources and having someone else project-manage it.  This means taking a closer look in the mirror and starting the change with oneself – that’s when culture truly does begin to change.  And that’s what inclusive leadership training is all about.

Inge: We published a D&I Best Practice Guide for the Offshore Wind Industry late last year. This year we have seen that it has been downloaded many times, and has changed conversations in the industry from ‘What can we do?’ to ‘How can we make this happen?’.

  1. What do you think will be the biggest game changer in 2022?

Rina: Diversity and Inclusion is big business these days.  It’s on everyone’s business agenda and there are more and more D&I positions being created in-house.  That’s great to see.  What will make the biggest impact is if those who lead D&I in-house, work closely with C-suite (or equivalent) to ensure that companies are embracing D&I not only because it’s socially and morally the right thing to do, but primarily because they genuinely see it as a business advantage.  I can see that happening with some of our clients already, and I think that will be more and more the case in 2022.

Inge: Millennials and Gen Z now comprise a significant part of the UK’s workforce, and they bring high expectations with regards to diversity and inclusion. At the same time, talent is in short supply, so organisations will increasingly feel the pressure to take inclusion seriously.

What about you?  What have you observed about your organisation’s D&I efforts?  Wherever you are on that journey, if you would like to make serious progress, consider arranging a short call with us.

Saying Goodbye to 2021

By Melissa Jackson

When I look back to my end-of-year column of 12 months’ ago, it was unsurprisingly dominated by a certain virus that changed the world forever. This year I’m determined to get through my column without mentioning the C-word and look at 2021’s defining moments from a Voice At The Table perspective, accepting that it was, at times, undeniably challenging, but definitely not the “annus horribilis” of 2020.

First and foremost, I must pay homage to the heroine of 2021, Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. If ever there was a mascot for women in Stem (Science Technology, engineering and maths) careers, this unassuming scientific genius is she.

Such is our reverence for Dame Sarah, she received a standing ovation at Wimbledon and had a Barbie doll created in her honour. She told The Guardian newspaper, “I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into Stem careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realise how vital careers in science are to help the world around us. My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist.”

In a blast of inclusive comportment, the toy company, Mattel, went on to create models in honour of five other women working in Stem around the world. They were US healthcare workers Amy O’Sullivan and Dr Audrey Cruz, Canadian doctor and campaigner Dr Chika Stacy Oriuwa, Brazilian biomedical researcher Dr Jaqueline Goes de Jesus and Dr Kirby White, an Australian medic who co-created a reusable gown for frontline staff.

At about the same time as these women were being immortalised in plastic… the lives of women in Afghanistan were about to take a backward step as the Taliban regained control of a country they’d lost some 20 years earlier. Despite claims to the contrary, they’ve already implemented a massive rollback of women’s rights.

In the UK, the tragic deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa underlined the vulnerability of women and ignited the debate about whether misogyny should be classified as a hate crime. The chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, Tory MP, Sir Bob Neill, said that the government should consider making misogyny a hate crime in the same way that racism was, following the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence.

Boris Johnson and the Law Commission – an independent body which recommends legal changes – have ruled it out, but leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer thinks it should be on the statute book. This debate will certainly roll over into 2022 and beyond.

More regions of the world joined the war on “period poverty” in 2021. The UK government started off on the right foot by scrapping the tampon tax on 1st January and New Zealand rolled out its own initiative to provide free sanitary products to students in schools across the country.

In September, the nation got behind British teenage tennis sensation Emma Raducanu, who won the US Open Women’s Singles on her first attempt. Raducanu became the first qualifier in history, male or female, to win a Grand Slam tournament and the first female British player to win a major since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. We look forward to watching this talented young player gaining more trophies in 2022.

More recently, Angela Merkel – the first female chancellor of Germany – stepped down from her role as leader after 16 years at the helm. It brought an end to a political career which has spanned more than three decades. There’s a whole generation in the country that has never known anything other than a woman leader. Her pragmatic, quasi-presidential style of governing will serve as a role model for her successor. We wish her well for the future.

On a personal note, it’s been a busy and fulfilling year in the Voice At The Table editorial hotseat. We’ve had some educational and very personal guest blogs, from a multi-national spectrum of contributors, to whom we are sincerely grateful.

And I’ve been defying that old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” by adding a few more strings to my bow in the form of podcasts.  We have launched a series of podcasts called Inclusion Insights, the first four of which are available on Spotify, with another four to follow next year. In each one, I’m in conversation with our CEO Rina Goldenberg Lynch, who is a powerhouse of knowledge and shares her wisdom in this enlightening series, which we hope you will all benefit from and enjoy.

I’ve also been hosting our LIVE Q&As on Zoom, delving into a range of subjects relating to Diversity and Inclusion with expert panellists. If you haven’t yet managed to join one of these events, there will be another series next year, so perhaps you could make it your New Year’s resolution to try them out!

Active Voice: The Twelve Books for Christmas

As it’s the festive period, we’ve given Active Voice a seasonal tweak to bring you 12 novels, all written by women.  You’ll want to put them on your Christmas list or just purchase for yourself to indulge in a little “me time” with a good book over the holidays. We hope you find something here to pique your interest.

1. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal: The novel follows Iris Whittle as she breaks free of the staid gender expectations of the 19th century to follow her heart and pursue a new life full of art and love. But after a chance meeting, collector Silas develops a dark obsession with Iris which could threaten her new found freedom forever. Battling gender stereotypes and male entitlement, Iris is undoubtedly a Victorian heroine for the 21st century.

2. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler: While it may not be a traditional book, Ensler’s episodic play has become a major feminist touchpoint in the more than twenty years since it was first performed. With sections dedicated to sexual consent, body image, sex work, reproduction, and more, Ensler’s work was designed to give a voice to women of many races, identities, and experiences.

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: Though feminism may not have been on her mind when she wrote the story of the intrepid March sisters in the 1860s, Alcott has influenced numerous generations of bold, loving and unconventional women. Following Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy as they grow, find love, pursue their art and endure loss, Little Women shows the many ways to be a woman, and earned a place in the hearts of feminists of all stripes.

4. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing: Written in 1962, this experimental, Nobel Prize-winning novel brings taboo issues of the time, including women’s sexuality, bodily functions and mental illness, to the fore. The novel sees Anna, a writer, attempt to collate the notebooks in which she has recorded her life’s experience into a cohesive whole, in a final, golden, notebook, while she struggles with her mental health.

5. The Mercies by Kiran Milwood Hargrave: The novel is set in a 17th century Norwegian fishing village, which is devastated by a storm that swallows husbands, brothers and fathers. With the menfolk wiped out, the women must fend for themselves, but are threatened by both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.

6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: The semi-autobiographical story of one woman’s descent into mental illness in the 1950s, The Bell Jar has become a quintessential coming-of-age story for young feminists. Moody and sometimes terse, the prose beautifully encapsulates a moment in the female experience—the desire, disillusionment and fear of being young, confused and stifled by the role that society has prescribed.

7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: No list of the best feminist books would be complete without a mention of Margaret Atwood’s masterful dystopian text, set in a future America where women are reduced to their reproductive usefulness. The novel now seems scarily prescient in today’s political climate, was followed with a sequel, The Testaments, in September 2019.

8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin: Seen as scandalous when it was first published in 1899, The Awakening is now considered one of the earliest and boldest examples of feminist fiction. When Edna meets the charming Robert Lebrun while holidaying with her husband and two young children, a flirtation turns into an affair which opens her eyes to a life outside her passionless marriage and the stifling restrictions of 19th century society.

9. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: While the names Odysseus, Achilles and Agamemnon are synonymous with epic tales of battle and bravery, the women of Homer’s epics have largely been sidelined, if not entirely forgotten. From Helen to Penelope, Natalie Haynes gives a voice to the women, girls and goddesses who have been silenced for so long in this retelling of the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective.

10. The Yellow Wallpaper & Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s progressive views on feminism and mental health are powerfully showcased in her two most famous stories. Confined to her attic bedroom and isolated from her new-born baby, the nameless narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper keeps a secret diary in which she records the sprawling and shifting patterns of the room’s lurid yellow wallpaper as she slowly sinks into madness. In Herland, a trio of men set out to discover an all-female community rumoured to be hidden deep in the jungle. What they find surprises them all; they’re captured by women who, for two thousand years, have lived in a peaceful and prosperous utopia without men.

11. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami: This literary debut, is a must-read for fans of feminist literary fiction. Mieko Kawakami paints a radical picture of contemporary working-class womanhood in Japan as she recounts the heart-breaking stories of three women who must survive in a society where the odds are stacked against them.

12. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: the debut novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. In the novel, Toni explores the problematic and racist beauty ideals of western society, as well as addressing issues of race, poverty and abuse. Percola, made to feel ugly because of her dark skin, wishes desperately for the blue eyes of her dolls, as her family falls apart around her.

If you enjoyed our festive Active Voice, you might also enjoy reading Active Voice:  Six Secrets to Happiness

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