Realising vision: Some thoughts on women, vision and communication***

women at board table (640x204) (640x204)

It’s International Women’s Day and the Twittersphere is alive with noise, a global virtual pulse is sounding, at once celebratory and sobering as the challenge of establishing equality remains a pressing, urgent need. Today is both a marker of a redressing of the past and an imagining of a hopeful future; a vision of a future where gender equality is the norm.  As the global community comes together and speaks, it feels like a relevant moment to look afresh at how, as women, we establish and communicate vision, and the opportunity for this vital communication to lead to powerful shifts in our lives. I wonder then – what is the role of women in imagining  and voicing our version of the future? Can we imagine or identify ourselves as having ‘vision’, and what are our perceptions of the barriers to having or expressing our individual vision?

Communicating our ideas

Working in Innovation, I find the gulf between expression of ideas, thoughts, dreams, and how they are actually manifested as tangible ‘things’, fascinating. The idea of communicating a compelling vision to encourage others to get on board and support it, is of course, central to getting the idea from abstract to real territory, but ideas can fall short of actuality at any point in the journey; if that idea, no matter how strong, is never communicated, it will never see the light of day. In the context of bringing ideas to life through communication, I am interested in how women perceive the particular challenges of having and voicing vision given some of the specific conditioning we may have grown up with, and the assumptions we may be sub-consciously be making about our own capacity to be capable of articulating vision.

Celebrating women with vision

 We all have our own inner or outer role models and inspirations when it comes to women we perceive has having or embodying vision. Shami Chakrabarti, of Human Rights group, Liberty comes immediately to mind for me. Her fierce leadership, steadfast belief in her mission and passion in communicating her beliefs, make her a remarkable leader and visionary for change and someone who makes me somehow feel more alive just by hearing her speak.  A barrister for the Home Office, she joined Liberty the day before the 9/11 attacks putting herself right at the centre of the debate on protecting civil liberties and has since led the way in tirelessly campaigning for human rights.

Chakrabarti is just one of countless courageous female leaders of spirit and determination. Yet despite all the progress made in ground-breaking, selfless acts of vision and innovation which women have led in the face of wide-spread cultural, political and social inequality for generations, ‘vision’ is still not a word which women are widely associated with or celebrated for. It’s a sign of the challenge that still remains,that of all the words used to describe the millions of passionate, trail-blazing, futuristic, progressive achievements of women worldwide, women are still not associated with being ‘activators’ or ‘envisioners’ of change to the same degree as men in similar roles of influence. Why is this when women have been actively leading, imagining, defining, indeed ‘visioning’ their futures for eons? Is it that, or that women are not forthcoming enough in  challenging the conditioning they are subject to, to establish themselves more visibly as being visionary in behaviour or is it  even more complex; a result of pervasive social conditioning which tells us that women with vision are the exception, and  not the rule?


Unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresightis one succinct dictionary definition of ‘vision’ I came across, a description which implies acute intuition, wisdom and an ability to hone instincts to make accurate predictions is at the heart; it implies a sense of unwavering belief, a certainty.  Reading this, I am reminded of the Harvard Business Review article  I read recently, ‘Women and the Vision Thing‘, where the author highlights the issues of women in certain business contexts, who lacking a conviction of their ideas, fail to actively sell them, due to the fear of not being seen to be accurate or of being wrong. As vision demands a clear communication, and not simply a steadfast belief of an idea, it’s not unimaginable to consider women might feel a strong sense of inhibition in certain pressurised business and social environments, to rise to the putting the idea out there part of the process. Understandable, given the bias both men and women can hold towards seeing men and not women as leaders, and the huge inequality still seen in the lack of women in positions of senior leadership across industries worldwide.  In this context, it would be no surprise that many great  female visions could fall down at this crucial communication hurdle due to a perceived sense of judgment or lack of safety.

Creating new ‘vision’ channels

Communication being so crucial to the ‘life’ of visions and ideas, I wonder about the possibility of creating safer and more supportive communities and channels for women to express and realise visionary ideas and how the web, and social media platforms may facilitate some of these more active communications of vision from women. “Inspired by’ is just one such channel I have been enjoying recently; a series of short features published by Intelligent Life Magazine online, presenting a varied conversational angle on the issue of leadership, vision and inspiration for women. It’s a thoughtful insight some of the perceptions women have of other women they consider influential, inspiring and visionary.  In one memorable feature, Jasmine Whitbread salutes the vision of Eglantyne Jebb*, the modern minded founder of Save the Children. Here she describes what Jebb imagined of the organisation she wanted to build;

Her vision was a powerful, international organisation that, as she put it, “could reach to the farthest corners of the world”

but it is the combination of vision, pragmatism and communication tactics, that Whitbread marks out as unique;

What’s so impressive about Eglantyne Jebb—even her name is wonderfully evocative—is how far ahead of her time she was. Her principles, her pragmatic management skills and her communication tactics were just so modern’

It’s interesting that Whitbread sees Jebb, as in essence, uninhibited in both her approach and realisation of her vision. I wonder, given the inevitable pressures and inequalities of her time, how this ‘modernity’ of vision manifested itself, and how, it resulted in a powerful legacy and realisation for Save the Children that is so profound and long lasting?

I’m intrigued by these examples of ‘vision made real’ and how a combination of passion with a capability to voice that aspiration, belief or idea is so fundamental to the process of being seen to be a person of vision regardless of context or obstacles. In the case of Jebb, maybe Save the Children would never have been born, had the articulation of her far-reaching vision not been voiced so clearly and with such ambition. What is clear, is for vision to be impactful, it needs to be articulated.  Without that, our most dynamic and differentiated visions of the future may run the risk of amounting only to fleeting aspirations, thought but not heard.

Sources:Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928) founded Save the Children in Britain in 1919, when the post-war economic blockade led to children starving across Europe

***  Guest Blog by Laura Hewitt, an Innovation Fundraising Manager at NSPCC – the UK’s leading charity specialising in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children.  Laura is part of a team responsible for creating and delivering innovative new fundraising products across the UK, to engage new audiences in supporting the NSPCC’s vital work. Views expressed are my own and not those of the NSPCC.

Asking for help – do we really have to?

prickly pear flowerThe first time I realised that I rarely reached out to anyone to help me progress my career ambitions was  when I heard a speaker at a conference say that women like to be supported in their endeavours.   I realised then that the reason that some of my own initiatives never took off was because I didn’t have the support – and therefore lacked the confidence – to execute them.

The second time was a more potent lesson.  When I received some unpleasant feedback from my line manager, which I found unfair and unsubstantiated, I was lucky to have been offered support.  I was on a management course, a part of which entailed receiving feedback from colleagues and supervisors.  Although my boss’ comments were entirely out of sync with the rest of the feedback, I took them to heart and felt completely defeated.  But when an executive coach (who was privy to the comments) asked me whether I wanted to talk to her about it, it changed my professional path.  Hearing another person’s objective perspective on my judgmental perception of the comments made me see them in a more neutral – fair – light.  Moreover, while I was busy feeling sorry for myself, I failed to see the opportunities this situation would present, if only I could “remove” my personal feelings and insecurities from the situation and approach it in a pragmatic and professional manner.  And that was the gift that the leadership coach gave me on that fateful seminar.

And that was also when I realised that many of the most successful people in the world have relied on the support and assistance of a coach, a mentor, or a sponsor.   Once I became more sensitive to the subject, I started listening out for it and realised that it is now widely recognised that many of today’s most successful and resourceful people acknowledge the fact that they cannot manage the pressures of today’s demands on their own and use the services of a coach to take their lives, careers, or businesses to the next level, to improve and to grow.

Here are some famous examples:

Warren Buffet was mentored by Ben Graham, his teacher at Columbia University.  Ben Graham went on to own the big insurance company Geico, which Warren Buffet later acquired.

Warren Buffet also mentored Bill Gates.

Other famous mentoring examples (as a quick Google search reveals) include:

  • Vivek Paul (President and CEO, Wipro Technologies) mentored by John Donahoe (President of eBay);
  • Edward Ettin (Federal Reserve Board) mentor to Sherry Cooper (Bank of Montreal Economist);
  • Jimmy Ferraro (found of Supervalu) mentor to William McEwan (supermarket guru);
  • Gerald Levin (former CEO AOL Time-Warner) mentor to Richard Parsons (CEO AOL Time-Warner);
  • David Shaw (Chairman, DE Shaw Co) mentor to Jeff Bezos (CEO;

and the list goes on and on.  So one of the secrets of successful people who seems to have it all is that they don’t do it on their own.

This is also true for women.  Suzanne  Doyle-Morris author of  “Beyond the Boys’ Club, says “I do not know a successful woman who has not had some type of mentoring relationship in her past.”   Suzanne describes a mentor as “someone more senior than them [the mentee] professionally, who can help guide the way and give career advice”.

Leah Williams, head of communications for the Women’s Resource Centre says “There are so many wise and successful women out there and it’s vital that we make the most of their expertise. That one-on-one attention can help women so much, particularly if they lack confidence to take on leadership roles or have faced discouragement from other colleagues or society at large.”

These women recognise that successful women have relied on the benefits of a mentor or a coach.   And although we all know what the benefits of mentoring and coaching could be, they warrant repeating.  So here’s a list of some of them:

  •  Help us past a cross-roads – coaching often comes in handiest when we are “stuck”; when we can no longer identify what our next steps should be.  Our coach or mentor is then able to focus our thoughts and guide us towards the next step.
  • Increased self-confidence – as part of the growing process to achieving goals, we learn to tune into who we are, what we wish for and the qualities and strengths we have that will help us achieve our goals. This builds confidence in ourselves and in our ability to succeed.
  • Increased emotional intelligence – the coaching/mentoring process makes us look at and assess our lives and innermost thoughts, feelings and beliefs. This builds emotional intelligence, contributing towards success in life generally. By objectively understanding, assessing and mastering our emotions we are able to create success in our life.
  • Energised to do more – when coached or mentored, we tend to gain a beneficial perspective or new direction, empowering us to take action, often beyond what we might have considered possible.  Being continuously focused on and guided towards a goal creates a stronger desire to get there.
  • Enhanced creativity and resourcefulness –  coaching/mentoring enhances our field of vision, inspiring creativity and resourcefulness. We are be stretched to make better use of resources available that may currently only be marginally used or ignored all together.
  • Develop communications skills – Aside from developing communication skills, mentoring also helps to develop the obvious questioning and listening skills. Communication skills are vital as they will assist people interact better with their own immediate and future colleagues.
  • Focused mission, vision and strategic plan – when we receive support and encouragement, we come up with new ideas, and are able to focus on the bigger picture.  Our mentor or coach usually challenges us to utilise our talents and to focus on our the long-term aim.

So the answer to the question “Asking for help – do we really have to?” is  “Yes, we really do!”  The longer we procrastinate or give in to  pressures to keep on top daily chores at the cost of a longer term career, the further away we remain from setting/achieving our goals.  Equally, the sooner we give ourselves some space to reflect and be guided by another, the sooner we can embark on a journey where the finish line is visibly  ahead.

For all these reason, no matter what form of support works best for you, be it coaching, mentoring or sponsorship, the important point is to recognise that (1) you can be more successful with the help of another and (2) the time to ask for the assistance is NOW.

Women’s Contribution to the Economy Cannot be Overlooked


Governments tell us that the economy must not forget to tap into a growing pool of buying power: that of working women.  Last year, the Economist pointed out that

In the next decade nearly 1 billion women are likely to enter the global labour force. But their economic potential is largely unrealised. According to a report by Booz & Company, a consultancy, if female employment rates matched those of men, GDP would increase by 5% in America and 9% in Japan by 2020. The impact would be even larger for developing countries, home to most of the world’s women who lack adequate education and support (social and political). Increasing female employment would increase GDP significantly in countries like India and Egypt, where female labour-participation rates are below 30%. These countries rank low in Booz’s index of women’s economic empowerment.

But in order to realise this economic potential, organisations must gradually embrace a cultural change that will make the working environment an attractive proposition to the pool of female talent. By this I mean the following:

Flexible Working
The number one reason that women cite for not working in the corporate world is the lack of flexibility that corporate culture affords women workers. Let’s not deny the fact that women are and will likely continue to be the primary carers for their families. This means that working women do and will likely continue to have conflicting (at best!) priorities towards both their families and their jobs. If women operate in a world that does not allow them to carefully balance their responsibilities in such a way that each one of their priorities is realised, women will simply give up on the less flexible (and, to them, less important) one: their jobs.
To avoid this, businesses need to rethink their strategies and culture and ask themselves: what is it really that they don’t like about flexible working. Once that’s determined, and after some soul searching, businesses need to decide whether these reasons are a justifiable business cost. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, the loss of opportunity to employ a woman in a flexible arrangement translates to a business cost – in the form of replacement/recruitment costs, costs of training and investment in a new employee and the potential repeated cost if the lost job were to go to another woman.
In my experience, when managers face up to the detrimental aspects of not embracing flexible working, they quickly realise the potential business cost and change their attitude. And when that happens, business start to realise that “flexible working” isn’t a dirty word but a necessity that pays dividends.
Cultural Differences
We have all heard of unconscious bias – the brain’s ability to short-cut judgments based on previous experiences. Unconscious bias is one of the main reasons that the top layers of companies resemble a club or brotherhood the members of which are (in thinking terms) facsimiles of each other. Companies are gradually starting to realise that this kind of leadership isn’t necessarily good for business, as the lack of diversified thought may lead (and has in many cases) to unsound decision making. But how to change this?
One of the best ways to change is to support and empower women to take up some of those positions at the top of organisations. To develop the pipeline, companies need to change their views of women; they need to realise that women communicate differently; that women are not as likely to put themselves forward for promotion as men, despite being equally as capable and qualified; that women’s negotiation style is different; that speaking softly doesn’t mean women aren’t sure of what they’re saying. In other words, companies need to realise that there are “cultural” differences between men and women and not “penalise” them for these differences.
Boost Confidence
On average, women tend to be less confident about their abilities than men. They regularly (statistically-speaking) second-guess themselves and their decisions. This often leads to a fear of saying what they’re thinking, of going for the promotion or a new job, or of asking for what they believe they deserve.
If companies want to realise the most from their female talent, they should consider investing in support for women, such as mentoring programs, coaching and other developmental training that increases confidence and profile. Sponsorship programs have been proven to be very successful in promoting women. Cross-industry mentoring has also proven successful. Teaching women how to network and leverage their networks would also improve the confidence game.

In summary, in order to encourage women to work and participate in the economy , there are a number of measures that organisations should embrace to pave the way for women to take part in the game and, thus, in the economy.

Women of Influence – it’s all about confidence!


Today I read an article in the paper that reaffirms what I’ve believed all along:  women are struggling to achieve their career ambitions.  Many familiar reasons are cited for this:  lack of confidence in going for promotions; lack of support for women in the workplace (such as the ability to work flexibly) and, in this particular survey, 20% of women said they felt discriminated against by their male colleagues.

So what will it take to change to world of work for women?  We already see a number of high profile women leaders in the world of finance, sovereigns and corporates.  We also hear the benefits of female decision makers readily and frequently discussed.  Diversity and Inclusion are no longer stigmatised terms but, frequently, a vital  part of corporate strategy!  So what is keeping us back and what can we do about it?

If you ask me, it is mostly about confidence and having the guts to go for it!

I know many women who have accomplished stellar achievements and have easily outperformed their male colleagues.  Yes, these women are smart, but more than anything, they’re gutsy.  They want something and they go for it.  They’re not discouraged by setbacks, nor do they listen to the niggling voices in their heads that might say they’re not ready or good enough.  They believe in themselves – rightly or wrongly – and they achieve!

And I want to say something about believing in yourself.  In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether you’re fully justified in believing that you can accomplish something.  You just need to believe that you can!  I might add that this works perfectly well for our male counterparts.  They never question their own abilities to perform – they just know they can, despite the fact that it is not always the case, as many failed projects have proven.

So back to these high achieving women.  These women are lucky to have been given a healthy dose of confidence as part of their upbringing, but one thing is certain:  all of us can get there if we put our minds to it.

Let me give you an example:  When I had my first child, it became very important to me to be home from work before bedtime.  That meant that I couldn’t stay even 30 minutes late at work without sacrificing the bedtime routine.  And during a very busy period at work, when I was frequently later than anticipated, I started resenting my job.  When that happened, I decided to take a risky step and ask for the possibility to work from home once a week on a regular basis (that way knowing that at least one morning and one evening I was guaranteed to be there for my child).  At that point, no-one in my team worked from home and I knew that my boss was predisposed against it.  But when push came to shove, and the alternative before him was to either lose me or give in to my request, he yielded.  Now, I’m pleased to say, every member of my team has the right to work from home on a regular basis, and business is booming!

The point is, when we’re pushed and feel that we have no other choice, we take the difficult and risky steps and…often get rewarded!  So why wouldn’t it also be the case if we applied this kind of drive to other career goals, without the need to be pushed to the limit first?

I say go for it and give it a try!