Archives for posts with tag: Women

ImageI’ve spent the day deep in conversation with the Chief Executive of the Wilderness Foundation UK designing the course content for a leadership development programme we’re delivering later this year.

It was great to start with a blank sheet of paper – and a big pile of post it notes! – and brainstorm what we think would be the key areas for the leaders of tomorrow to focus on. As the programme is being delivered by the Wilderness Foundation, there is a heavy emphasis on nature based learning – using a variety of outdoor exercises to explore leadership skills and abilities. You might have seen in an earlier blog the fun I had hugging trees in an exercise on trust, teamwork and observation – it’s activities of that sort that we’ll be weaving into the programme.

After spending the day up to our armpits in post it notes and felt tip pens, we had an overall plan for the structure of the programme. We’d come up with some great thoughts for the detailed activities that will make up each day of the course.

Tomorrow we’ll be putting some meat on the bones of that structure, designing sessions and outlining activities. I can’t wait to use the opportunity to be creative, finding new and exciting ways to help the participants to discover the leadership potential within themselves.

Have you undertaken any leadership development training? What sorts of activities, tools, models or techniques really resonated with you? Are there any that you put into practice in your life and how effective have they been? Did any involve the great outdoors? I’d love to hear your experiences.


ImageI can’t think of many people who have polarised public opinion in the UK in my lifetime quite as much as the late Lady Margaret Thatcher, who it has been announced died today of a stroke at the age of 87.

She was, lest we forget, the first ever female Prime Minister of the UK, reaching power as relatively early in history as 1979. As a strong supporter of women striving for and ultimately achieving an equal footing with men in the world’s leadership positions, I have to respect the strength, commitment, talent, resilience and many other attributes that she must have had in spades in order to secure the post back in the 1970s, and retain it all the way through three terms to the 1990s. What a fantastic advertisement to young women that they can achieve whatever they set out to.

Her time in power spread from when I was a mere babe in arms to when I was just starting secondary school so I have very little first-hand understanding of the actions she took whilst Prime Minister. However, like many people of my age, I was aware of the effect that she had on my school days. Many of my peers talk primarily of her decision to remove free school milk, and whilst I love the white stuff as much as the next person, for me, it was her Government’s introduction of the offensive, oppressive, discriminatory and (in my opinion) utterly ridiculous Section 28 that had the biggest, and most negative, effect on my school days.

For those who are unfamiliar, Section 28 was an amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 that stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. This rule was in place until as recently as 2003 (2000 in Scotland) and utterly coloured my experience of school, coming out, and coming out at school, which I did in 1997.

I know that for many people, Margaret Thatcher carried out far worse acts: the closing of the mines, the introduction of poll tax, privatisation of state owned services, reduction of the power of trade unions, her handling of affairs in Northern Ireland and the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands war. However, most of these (and more) have had significant coverage in the news reporting of Mrs Thatcher’s death and on social media. Meanwhile, Section 28 has (at the time of writing) received around just 40 hashtag mentions on Twitter in relation to Mrs Thatcher. And to make it worse, a number of those are either asking what it is or exposing a misunderstanding of it.

I also know that for many other people, Margaret Thatcher was a fantastic ambassador for our country and made many changes for the better, including improving its economic standing, reducing the amount of tax on income, improving private individuals’ ability to own their own homes, ending the Cold War, liberating the Falklands Islands, to name just a few.

Doing my very best to take my personal views (in particular with regards to Section 28) out of the equation and putting it as simply as possible, it seems to me that Margaret Thatcher – in common, I’d suggest, with every other person who has ever lived – did some good things, and did some bad things.

What has really struck me in the immediate aftermath of her death is that in the reporting and social media discussions, there seem to only be people who “love” her and people who “hate” her. I’m sure that, if they were really honest with themselves, not everyone who “loves” her agreed with every single act she ever carried out, and not everyone who “hates” her disagreed with every single act. It seems to me that, for the most part, people focus on the one or two key acts that struck a chord with them most and as a result painted her as either a “bad” person or a “good” person.

For example, “she was instrumental in improving the economy of the UK and ending the Cold War” and therefore is a “good” person, or “she stole my free milk and introduced Section 28” and therefore is a “bad” person. Of course, the reality is far more complex than this. For example, were you aware that, before her political career, she helped to invent soft-serve ice cream? In my view, none of us – Margaret Thatcher included – are entirely good or entirely bad.

She has left behind an enormously powerful legacy, with both positive and negative connotations all bundled up within it. Life is not simple, straightforward and black and white. What almost nobody disputes is that she was a hard-working, committed, passionate woman and an immensely powerful leader. What we should also not forget is that she was a mother who leaves a family behind.

virtuous circleYou know those meetings where everything seems to go according to plan? No? Well I have to admit that they don’t always come around quite as frequently as I might hope! But today, I had one of them. My lovely wife and I were meeting with a prospective candidate for the leadership development programme for young women that we’ll be delivering later this year.

In response to yesterday’s blog about the importance of allowing your personality to shine through in an interview, a wise woman (hello, Suzy!) commented that she had found that the interviews where she was “prepared to wing it a little actually go a whole lot better”. I think that the same is true in many situations in life, including in meetings.

Don’t get me wrong, we were prepared for the meeting in that we knew the information we needed to convey and why we felt that she would be such an excellent candidate, but we hadn’t planned it out in such a level of detail that we were unable to read the response we were getting and adapt our approach to match. So, for example, giving more or less detail about a specific element of the programme depending on her reactions to certain things.

We felt that she’d be ideal for the programme and hoped that she’d be as excited about the opportunities it will present her with as we are. But you never know how somebody else will view something; whether it will be what they are expecting, whether it fits in with their priorities, etc. On this occasion, what do you know, she exceeded our expectations! She was positive, excited, and raring to go!

In response to her positivity about the programme, we gave her lots of information about all the aspects we could, which reinforced her keenness to be involved. A real virtuous circle in action!

In turn, this re-fuelled my own enthusiasm for the programme and its possibilities, and excited me with the thought of what she will be able to achieve by entering into it with such excitement and commitment. She was even excited about the prospect of, after completing the programme, continuing to be involved in it by working with and/or mentoring future cohorts of participants. Now that’s the sort of candidate I like to attract!

We’re getting ever closer to the start of delivery of the programme and I look forward to being able to share with you more details of what it will entail and, I hope, some success stories from the participants’ point of view.

ImageIn recent years, there has been a tendency for people to assume that, because there has been so much positive progression in the UK since the days of suffrage, there is no longer a need to focus on supporting women in reaching their full career potential.

Women can have any job they want – surgeon, pilot, soldier, lawyer – nothing is off the table.

Women can have a career break to have children, receive maternity pay while they do so, and return to their job with full protection.

Women (and men) are protected within law from being discriminated against at work based on their gender (and age, pregnancy and maternity status, marital/civil partnership status, race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation or gender reassignment).

So what’s the problem? Why the continued discussion of positive discrimination, enforced ratios of women in certain roles or at certain levels, etc.?

Well, to start with, although women can now enter as many fields as men, their average pay remains 19.7% lower than men’s average pay. I hope it goes without saying that until average salaries are not distinguishable based on gender, there is still work to be done.

Secondly, it is still the case that there are far fewer women in senior roles in most industries than there should be. As women make up approximately 50% of the population, they should make up around 50% of the work force at any given level, right?

Currently, the gender make up of far too many organisations in far too many sectors shows that the vast majority of the lower paid roles are women, and as you go up the organisation this ratio reverses until in the top tiers the vast majority are men. The so called “glass ceiling” is still well and truly in place, preventing many women from progressing as far as their equally qualified male colleagues.

For example, there are only a handful of female Chief Executives of local authorities in the UK and only 2 female Chief Executives of FTSE 100 companies. Across the 200 or so world states, there are just 12 female heads of state (excluding the world’s 3 female monarchs).

Unsurprisingly, then, I feel passionate that more should be done to encourage and support women to reach their full career potential. And it’s for this reason that Miller & Miller are working with the Wilderness Foundation UK to deliver a leadership development programme for young women. The programme aims to support participants not just in developing tangible leadership skills, but – just as crucially – in developing their expectations of themselves in the workplace. For this reason, there will be as much emphasis on coaching and mentoring the participants as there will be on delivering taught content.

We look forward to carrying out more programmes of this sort, working with more young women and other underrepresented groups within leadership. Let’s smash through that glass ceiling and see that the sky is truly the limit.

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