International Women's Day

International Women's Day has always inspired me to pause and be thankful for the many women who changed history, enabling me to live the life that the I do. I also pause to take stock of the action I'm taking so my Goddaughters (7 year old Tia and 2 year old Jemima) are free to create their future lives exactly as they want them to be. I clearly remember a conversation I had in my head aged about seven. It went like this

“I wonder what I will do when I'm older. I could be Prime Minister or a mum. I'd love to be Prime Minister but most people are mums so that's probably the right thing to do, so I should do that.”

Over 30 years later I am neither of those things but incredibly happy with the roles I have in the world. I am well aware that without Margaret Thatcher I wouldn't have had a role model to be able to think that big. Regardless of her political policies, to me she will always be the role model that enabled a generation of female children to have the opportunity to witness the first women leading our country.

It's hard to be something you can't see or imagine and this international women's day I'd like to celebrate the many role models I have in my life and share my story on how I am continually looking for actions to take to be a role model for others.

The first group of role models in my life I want to acknowledge are the full-time mums. I've seen many friends become full time mums and I know it is anything but easy. I question why as a society we don't talk more about the confidence challenges that full-time mum’s can face. I'm sorry to say I often shy away from the topic because I fear that people will tell me that I won't understand and I that I shouldn’t pretend to. What I do know is that these passionate, dedicated leaders are responsible for empowering a small team who represent the future of mankind, and I'm not sure our society is set up in a way to support these role models optimally.

The second group of role models who inspire me are the mums who are juggling a career and children. Over the past 10 years I've had the pleasure of working with some of these wonder women. Last week in our quarterly strategy day our team planned our business growth and the creation of a global sustainable event industry with 15-month-old Martin having his lunch, toddling about the office, pulling books off the shelves and then putting them back on the shelves contentedly chattering away. The team loved him being around us, his mum was admittedly worried about him being a distraction, but we all agreed Martin had positively added to our strategic experience. We created an opportunity for work and life to merge and it did naturally and successfully, so now Martin and our team have a role model for children at work and know it's not impossible.

The third group of role models I stand in awe of are the female leaders in the world. Over the last few years I've been preparing to become chair of the worlds biggest association for the event industry. This industry and association is made up of a majority of women. When I joined the association 10 years ago I never imagined myself as chair but in 2010 I attended a leadership dinner full of men and questioned where all my female peers had disappeared to. I realised that I had an opportunity to step into my leadership potential and be a role model so other women could imagine themselves as chair. I've been astounded and touched by the number of amazing women who have shared the same sentiments as me and I'm excited by the future of our industry’s leadership.

I'm the first female chair in five years and although it’s a rewarding role, it has challenged me. I've watched myself be triggered by being surrounded by male leaders. They are compassionate, visionary, wonderful people but their lives have been different to mine. I've learnt to own my triggers and own my leadership and the results have been humbling and inspiring beyond my imagination. In January I realised how a six-year-old version of me was still proving to the world that girls can do everything boys can in response to being told by the local priest that her disorganised friend Philip could be an altar boy but because of her gender her capable bell ringing and organised incense swinging skills could never to be. Thankfully that gender restriction no longer exists but it was eye opening to me to see how I had spent over 30 years with that trigger non stop proving I could do anything the big boys could.

Owning my own leadership is more challenging than owning my triggers it means accepting praise, acknowledging I did something well and trusting my leadership skills because if I can't do that how can I encourage other woman to celebrate and own their success.

In February, a member of the association I chair said:

“Having a new chair every year brings a different atmosphere, the environment you are creating is a nurturing one. It feels like we can crawl up into your lap and you will wrap your arms around us and nurture us.”

It's true I am a naturally nurturing leader. I can't think of anything more inspiring than having the chance to nurture a community of 17,000 plus people whose work is essential in providing the opportunities for collaboration and innovation that our world needs.

So on this International Women's day I'm pausing to say thank you to all the women in the world who nurture. Whether this is nurturing our future generations, nurturing new innovative ideas or nurturing other leaders (I have an amazing team of people who do that for me!). 

The way our world works is changing and the role of nurturing leadership is vital. Men also nurture (a number of my nurturing team are men) so my final acknowledgement is to the male role models who are nurturing, empowering, and enabling the women in their lives to set their leadership skills free. Especially the many fathers to 'bossy' (read future leaders) daughters who are nurturing that ferocious “I can do it myself” temperament that many little girls display. Let those future leaders know they can do it, let them boss you (practice leadership skills) so that by the time my god daughters Tia and Jemima are grown up they will experience a world full of role models of all varieties and know they can create their futures to be anyway they want them.