The Power of ‘Why?’

Simon Sinek starts with “why?” and so do many philosophers. Why do we exist? Why do we dream? Why do we believe? In the context of diversity at work, many ask, “Why change what’s not broken? Why introduce different leadership criteria? Why look at people from a different perspective? And why challenge what comes naturally like our biases and predispositions?”

What’s important about the power of these questions is that we each have to answer them for ourselves. No objective reason proffered as an answer will motivate you, the individual. It is your own “why” that needs an answer.

Take the business case for more women in leadership, for instance. At this stage, we have been talking about it ad nauseum. However, few incumbent leaders are motivated by the business case. As it doesn’t mean much to them personally, most are not inclined to instigate real and lasting change. The business case does not respond to their personal “why?” - “Why does it matter to me personally whether there are more women in leadership?” When our leaders can answer this question for themselves, then they can start answering the question, “What can I do to increase the number of female leaders?”

For me, the personal “why” is clear: I do what I do because I believe that by respecting the contribution of an individual, we empower that individual with purpose and meaning. And that can only lead to good.

Let me show you what I mean.  Take 'Julie' – a mid-career lawyer in private practice. Julie has been working hard for years, producing great work for the firm’s clients. She was brought up to be mild-mannered, polite and deferential. She went to an excellent school and university where these characteristics where further honed and subtly encouraged. Now Julie is working amid colleagues – many of whom are male – who were raised to be assertive, single-minded, self-serving and confident. Because of this dynamic, Julie often feels uncomfortable speaking up at meetings, insisting on her points of view or pushing forward her own agenda for promotion or salary increase. The knock-on effect is that she is unlikely to feel like a valued contributor; or worse, she could be judged as being insecure and lacking in leadership competencies. Her motivation will begin to dwindle and she will soon start asking herself why she’s working so hard if she isn’t vested in the job like other staff. Her colleagues, however, those who have managed to be heard and push through their ideas and interests, are feeling valued and encouraged and see purpose and meaning in their work: other people’s respect and recognition.

Julie – who could be your daughter, sister, niece or good friend - has many peers like her at the firm, as well as other sectors, like Lucy in Asset Management, Terri in Tech and Yemi in Academia.

What if it were within your “why” to give Julie and her peers (and others who are currently struggling to be heard) a voice? Imagine how that would change the work environment. Julie would start expressing her ideas, which might be very different from the rest. She would feel that her opinions are worth expressing, in fact are solicited, and that her contribution is valued and appreciated. This would give meaning to her work and she would continue to deliver well into her most productive work years. That’s great news for Julie and her peers – but not only them. It’s great news for business, society and – most importantly – you! You have empowered another person and yourself by understanding what motivates you. By answering your own “why?” you gain an insight that propels you as an individual and us as a society.

To find out what the “why?” in diversity might be for colleagues and friends, join us on the evening of the 10th of October as we celebrate Ada Lovelace day with the BBC Women in STEM at our evening panel event Women in Tech: Breaking Barriers.

Saluting the Victorian Mother of Invention

By Melissa Jackson

Note to self… and all readers… go and hug your computer on 8th October. No, I haven’t lost my marbles or turned into some strange, tech-geek, cyber warrior, I’m genuflecting to a remarkable woman, who is often overlooked in her contribution to the development of the device that has revolutionised the world.

We often hear the alliteration “founding father”, but what about mother? What should we use to describe mothers of invention and discovery? Wonder woman seems too trivial. Wise woman; too patronising. Smart sister? Absolutely.

My subject – Ada Lovelace - was smart beyond belief – a mathematical genius and credited with being the first computer programmer in an era when women were seen and not heard.

But if you ask people (and I have) – if they know who Ada Lovelace is, they draw a blank. My mission, therefore, is to fill-in some of the gaps so that you can “wise up” to her brilliance and spread the word about her place in tech history.

Born in 1815, she was the (noble) progeny of an art and science gene pool – the romantic poet Lord Byron and mathematician Anne Isabella Milbanke, 11th Baroness Wentworth.

After her parents separated, when Ada was a baby, her visionary mother steered the course of her education and insisted that she learn maths and science, which was revolutionary for an aristocratic young lady.

One of her tutors was Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician, who was among the first women to be admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society.

Recognising her brilliance, another of her tutors, maths professor Augustus De Morgan, told her mother that if a young male student had her skills, “They would have certainly made him an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.”

Undaunted by parochial Victorian attitudes, Ada unobtrusively honed her skills and at the age of 17, she met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor. He became Ada’s mentor and she began studying advanced mathematics.

Ada was fascinated by the ideas of Babbage, known as the father of the computer, who was working on designs for a “machine” to solve complex mathematical calculations.

She described how codes could be created, for the device, to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She wrote the first algorithm that was meant to be processed by a machine. She also proposed a method for the machine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping, that computer programs use today. For this reason, she is often considered to be the first computer programmer.

Her life was cut short by cancer, at the age of 36, depriving her of a career that would have certainly produced further remarkable achievements.

But her accomplishments are destined to endure with the annual Ada Lovelace Day - this year on 8th October. This is a dedicated international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM. It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in them.

We, at Voice At The Table, are hosting our own celebration of Ada Lovelace Day - Women in Tech: Breaking Barriers - on 10th October at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in central London.

Join the conversation on how to survive and thrive in the tech and other male-dominated sectors; pick up practical tips from our panel of leaders on what it to takes stand out; and help support other women who are breaking barriers in male-dominated work environments.

For tickets, click here.

5 tips to help you try something new

Ever wanted to try something new but didn't quite have the confidence or commitment to make it happen? Here are five practical tips to help set the wheels in motion.

  1. Explore a new city or country: “Travel” doesn’t necessarily demand that you spend a lot of time or money. No matter where you live, take a look at neighbourhoods you have never visited or plan a day trip with a friend. If you are waiting to take that long-imagined trip to south-east Asia or visit the Pyramids or another destination on your bucket list, start planning now. The research itself can be a new and rewarding experience, before you even pack your suitcase.
  2. Learn a new skill (and don’t worry about not doing it well): You may be afraid of failing, but don’t let that stop you. It could be learning to play an instrument or taking up a sport. With practise and persistence, you can gain a new skill, or at least, increase your appreciation for that skill. It may lead to a big change in your life as you meet new people and in the case of sport, become fitter and more energised.
  3. Set yourself some goals: The most important benefit of setting goals isn’t achieving them, but what you do and the person you become in order to achieve them. Goal setting is powerful because it provides focus. It shapes our dreams. It makes us concentrate on the actions we need to perform to achieve the results we desire in life. Goals are great because they make us stretch and grow in ways that we never have before. In order to reach our goals, we must become better.
  4. Reach out to people with whom you haven’t been in touch recently: While your close friends and family are important, research suggests that people who are more acquaintance-level connections are the ones who can benefit you most in terms of developing new contacts, improving career prospects, and generally meeting new people. Set a target to get in touch with one person you haven’t talked to in a while per week, and you’ll find your personal and professional networks growing faster than ever before.
  5. Attend a Voice At The Table event. We organise a range of training, coaching, presentations and webinars to motivate and inspire.  Our mission is to help you have a long, sustainable and successful career, reach personal goals and take on new challenges and to encourage employers to take full advantage of diversity and inclusion for the benefit of the company.

To get you started why not join our evening panel event, celebrating Ada Lovelace day with the BBC?  Tickets for Women in Tech: Breaking Barriers start at £25.51.

You could also join our next free webinar, presented by Voice At The Table’s Katie Driver, on 11th October? In recognition of World Mental Health Day, in this webinar, we ask how we can improve mental health at work.  Register for How Can We Think Well And Build Mental Wellbeing At Work?

Or join our guests from City CV on 30th October at a webinar dedicated to helping you create a strong, compelling and authentic CV, which will get you noticed for the right reasons.
The Perfect CV - Position Your Brand To Secure The Career You Deserve 

Introducing Katie Driver

Meet Katie Driver, our resident expert on thoughtful leadership, introvert preferences, strengths, profiles and team effectiveness.

Formerly a Senior Civil Service leader, Katie now works across the private, public and charitable sectors in the UK and internationally. She is a certified business coach and Time To Think™ facilitator, a trained Action Learning practitioner and is qualified to use Strengths Profile and Lumina Spark psychometric tools. When not working, Katie can usually be found out running, as she firmly believes that exercise and fresh air are vital for us to do our best thinking.

Integrity is a key value for Katie in all that she does, both inside and outside work.

She said, “In practice, this means that I focus my work on clients who are genuinely trying to change themselves and their organisations for good. I only suggest tools and approaches to them that I’ve tried myself, or believe there’s good evidence for. And I aim to ensure that there’s consistency across what I do in my professional and personal life.”


Katie loves her work, but recognises that everyone needs to have time-out and take a break. If she could change the world, her mission would be to introduce a giant “pause” button which people could press occasionally to catch up on things or have some breathing space.


Not many people know this but, Katie cycled across the United States in 1990 as part of a small group raising money for a Multiple Sclerosis charity. She and her team took six weeks to go from Washington DC to San Francisco – cycling over 3,000 miles and crossing three mountain ranges.


He greatest indulgence is books. She said, “I have more books than I can possibly read in my lifetime and bought another this week (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood) – I guess you could say I’m addicted!”

When asked about her greatest achievement she humbly replied, “Still being here, with a wonderful family, great friends, work I really enjoy and lots still to learn.”

Travelling Solo? You’ll be 100% Safer if You’re a Man

The holiday season is in full flow and many, particularly younger, women are making plans to hit the road on their own. As I was browsing some of my favourite publications, I came across an article highlighting the most dangerous countries for women to travel to on their own.  Wait, what? I had not considered travelling alone to be more dangerous to women than men, many of my friends’ teenage daughters, including my own nieces, embark on their adventures to explore the world, sometimes on their own (for at least part of the trip). A quick search online reveals a host of books encouraging women to travel alone, giving essential tips and inspiration. Rightly so! What could be more exhilarating, educational and empowering than learning to rely on yourself in the big wide world? What a great way to boost your confidence, too!

Yet, when I read that, statistically, the 3rd most common cause of death for women between the ages of 20 to 24 in the US is homicide - and that the US is the only Western country to be listed in the top 20 of the most dangerous countries in the world for women to travel solo - I have to curb my enthusiasm for globe-trotting and adjust my expectations for the progress that we women appear to have made towards parity.

It isn’t all bad. If you are a free spirit who also cares about her safety, there are places to travel to that are safe for women and are scenic, culturally diverse and equally as adventurous. Top of the list, it appears, is Spain – safe on many levels and tolerant of women’s views and individual aspirations. Ireland also ranks very low on gender inequality and violence against women. But why am I surprised? Anecdotally, I have experienced this gentle respect for women in most of my interactions with people in and from Ireland and Spain.

Many of the countries that are welcoming of female solo travellers appear to be in Europe. What’s more, there are no Western European countries listed on the top 20 most dangerous country index for female solo travellers. Is this a coincidence?

Perhaps these indexes evidence bigger societal trends towards tolerance, inclusion and equality more broadly? When comparing the ‘most dangerous countries’ index to the list of countries in the world that are worst for women’s rights, only the US and India appear on both. In other words, there are other countries that might be top travel destinations for women – like Thailand, Brazil and Mexico and, of course, the USA – that seem welcoming and tolerant of women’s rights but in fact are not as welcoming to female solo tourists as they are to our male counterparts.

So, when you’re making your travel plans, it might be an idea to check the index and to at least make sure that, if you do intend to travel to one of those countries that’s purportedly more dangerous to female solo travellers than others, you travel with someone else. And do check out our Active Voice feature this month on Top Tips for travelling on your own as a woman.

Additional resources:

20 most dangerous place for women travellers

10 worst countries for women in the world in 2019

10 safest destinations for solo female travellers

Six ways to pursue your travel adventure in safety as a solo independent woman

If you're planning a trip as a solo female traveller, here is a package of advice on how best to embark on your adventure and ensure a trouble-free journey:

  1. Research your destination carefully before you leave:

What are the best neighbourhoods and the ones you should avoid? Are there only certain types of taxis you should take? Is there a medical centre or hospital nearby? When it comes to your lodging, how are its ratings for safety? What are former guests saying about their experiences? Are there any patterns emerging in the reviews you should be concerned about?

  1. Don’t trust people too quickly:

When you’re traveling on your own, it can be tempting to join up and find a “tribe”. Sometimes these tribes turn into lifelong friendships, but not always. Some con-artists have mastered the art of befriending travellers, getting them to leave their valuables unattended, and robbing them before taking-off. If you’re just getting to know someone, don’t trust him or her to guard your expensive electronics while you’re in the bathroom.

It’s not rude to be cautious. Take things slowly, and if someone earns your trust, that’s when you can depend on them.

3.       Prepare for the worst with documents and secret cash:

In the event that the worst happens – your purse is stolen, your credit cards are frozen, you get sick and need to go to the hospital – it’s good to have a back-up plan.

For documents, keep front-and-back copies of your credit cards saved to cloud storage like Google Docs or Dropbox, as well as a copy of your passport. It’s a good idea to keep your bank and credit card phone numbers stored in a document as well.

Keep a back-up cash stash. Keep at least £50 in hidden in a secret spot deep inside your luggage, like inside a tampon or hidden in a sock. In a separate spot, keep a back-up credit card. If your purse or day bag is stolen and literally everything is taken away from you, this will provide you with a temporary financial cushion.

  1. Buy a good travel insurance policy:

It could save your life. Whether your luggage is lost, you end up in a political coup or natural disaster, or you need to go to the hospital while on the road, travel insurance will reimburse your expenses. If you’re robbed, travel insurance will provide you with the security you need. Examine prospective travel insurance policies in depth, because they might not cover your personal situation. Many insurance plans won’t cover certain adventure sports or particular countries or regions. Most plans will only cover a fraction of the value of your electronics.

  1. Spend extra money on staying safe:

If your flight is scheduled to land in a rough city late at night, you should opt for a guesthouse that will pick you up directly from the airport instead of taking a bus into town and trying to find a guesthouse on foot.

Pay extra to take a taxi home at night if you don’t feel comfortable walking through the neighbourhood on your own.

Paying more to stay in a central neighbourhood with lots of lively activity instead of a cheaper, quiet residential area where you feel isolated.

Choose the diving school with the best safety reputation and most positive TripAdvisor reviews instead of the one that will do it cheaper.

  1. Keep in touch:

Choose at least one designated friend or family member to have a copy of your itinerary in advance: your flight numbers, your accommodation, and a general schedule of where you’ll be on which dates, as well as information on your travel insurance, credit cards, and a bank account number. Decide (before you go) how you’ll check in and how often, whether it’s through daily emails, texts, social media updates, or regular Skype chats. Make sure you keep a consistent schedule. Staying in touch will allay the fears of your loved ones, but if you find yourself in trouble, they could locate you more easily than if you had been vague about your whereabouts.

Back to School: Re-drawing Gender Stereotypes

By Melissa Jackson

I have recently read an enlightening book – Invisible Women – a feminist Bible documenting the data information gap – the ramifications of which are that women are often forgotten about or misrepresented in society.

Caroline Criado Perez’s illuminating compendium is uncompromisingly candid in exposing gender bias that permeates every walk of life.

I could fill a year’s worth of columns with the subjects Perez tackles, but as we are hurtling towards September and the onset of a new school term, I thought it might be timely to home in on the importance of tackling gender stereotyping at an early age.

“Brilliance bias” is a concept, mooted by Perez, which favours boys and it starts in primary school. A US study found that boys and girls start school thinking that women could be “really really smart”, but within a year they start doubting their ability.

Her conclusion is that schools are teaching little girls that “brilliance doesn’t belong to them”.

This is reinforced by “draw a scientist” studies, where children are asked to sketch a picture depicting what they think a scientist looks like.

Perez asserts that when boys and girls start school, they draw roughly equal percentages of male and female scientists.

By the time they reach the age of seven or eight, male scientists significantly outnumber female scientists. By the age of 14, children are drawing four times as many male scientists as female equivalents.

Gender stereotypes are defined between the ages of five and seven; so how can we re-draw the balance?

Challenging gender stereotyping early is critical.

In an experiment three years ago at a co-educational UK junior school, teachers asked pupils (aged between five and seven) to draw a firefighter, a surgeon and a fighter pilot. The resultant innocently-honest pictorial offerings were predictably almost exclusively male – 61 male and five female – to be precise.

Immediately afterwards, the children were introduced to a real-life firefighter, a surgeon and a fighter pilot (all in uniform) – the surprise (etched in their perplexed faces) was that they were all female.

The short video, designed to market the experiment to a wider audience, went viral and clocked up 23 million views in three months.

Inspiring the Future, the charity that devised the experiment, is urging people to share with friends and colleagues and raise awareness of how much needs to be done to tackle gender stereotyping.

To make a difference volunteers can sign up at and pledge just one hour to chat to children about their career.

Richard Denney, from Mullen Lowe, which produced the film, said: “It’s our responsibility as working professionals, as well as educators, to encourage and inspire young minds that the majority of jobs and roles today are available for women, and not just men. These young minds are our future.”

Carefully chosen books can help to tackle stereotypes and as part of its Breaking the Mould project, the National Union of Teachers has put together a list of suitable texts for use both inside and outside the classroom.

We should challenge the dogma surrounding “male sports” and “female sports” from a young age. Why shouldn’t girls play football and cricket and boys play netball? They should be open to all in school, without prejudice.

Finally, be inspired by the formidable young education activist Malala Yousafzai’s rallying cry:

“I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so those without a voice can be heard…

We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Conferences sow seeds of hope for diversity and inclusion

Last month I moderated three panels and presented a keynote in four different conferences and events. While each conference catered to a different market, the emerging theme was the state of diversity and inclusion today and tomorrow.

Since establishing Voice At The Table five years ago, I have observed a rising trend in events for women, events that talk about diversity and those that talk about inclusion. There has also been an increase in demand for these topics in conferences that do not focus strictly on people. It indicates the importance that society places on diversifying the way we run our businesses. This is also evidenced by the number of new positions that are being created and recruited for as diversity managers. So much so that we have added a new service to Voice At The Table (in collaboration with W2O Consulting & Training), offering training to D&I managers and consultants.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and any truly impactful solutions take a long time to produce visible and lasting results. The good news is that there are glimpses of hope that emanate from industry sectors that are particularly resistant to culture change.

Let me summarise this hope in three trends that I observed in my stint of conference appearances:

  1. Inclusive leadership is becoming a commonly used term of art that people understand and aspire to.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion is becoming a genuine concern for companies and there appears to be a genuine understanding for its benefits to business beyond the fairness element.
  3. Women are becoming more open to embracing men as part of the solution.


  1. Inclusive Leadership

In our evening panel event hosted by Withers LLP in early June, it became apparent that senior leadership doesn’t just understand the need for change but knows what that change should look like. Those who are collaborative, humble, communicative and empathetic will lead the next generation of talent. These leaders must lead by example and train middle managers and teams in this evolving art of inclusion.

  1. Diversity & Inclusion as a business imperative:

Two of the four conferences at which I spoke were industry events without a specific focus on diversity. So when I ran my panels, I was curious to find out how the audience perceived the importance of diversity for their businesses. I discovered that 70% of the audiences at both events considered diversity to be important for their organisations on business grounds and many of them already had started to address it internally. This may come as no surprise to most, but in my experience, there was a lot more talking about it than action, and this seems to be changing.   I continue to believe that most of the current initiatives are not sufficiently impactful to create lasting and meaningful change, but it’s certainly a positive development.

  1. Women embracing men as allies

When I started out, there was a lot of interest in ‘women only’ networks, events and training programmes. At the time, it seemed like the right solution to the dearth of women at the top. In recent years, there has been a lot more talk about engaging men as champions for women and opening up networks to everyone. This sat uncomfortably with me because it signalled a ‘knight in shining armour’ and ‘damsel in distress’ approach to gender balance. But I was pleased to observe at the Women in Finance conference that there is now greater recognition of the fact that men and women nowadays mostly want the same thing and that the changes that inclusion and belonging offer will benefit both men and women to break out of the moulds that society has imposed on us for centuries. Therein lies the real solution to gender balance, I believe, so this is a trend to cling to and explore further.

The move towards recognition of women and minority groups as equal and capable peers lies in the acknowledgment that each one of us has a unique value to add that we have not learned to tap into. Focusing on how we can do that is our winning formula.