In the last two weeks, I’ve had the privilege to attend four different conferences focused on women and I’ve presented at two of them.
The topics discussed were as complex and rich as women’s lives: neurodiversity in the workplace, women in politics, childcare, artificial intelligence and the future of the female workforce, child labour, impossible goals and ambition, postpartum depression at work, career myths, women in tech, accessibility, quotas… and so many more.
The idea for this article came from my numerous “aha” moments during talks, panels, and conversations at those events. I wanted to share them broadly so others could benefit as well.
I hope you find those insights as inspiring, stimulating, and actionable as I did.
Fawcett Conference 2023
On October 14th, I attended the Fawcett Conference 2023 with the theme Women Win Elections!
The keynote speakers and panels were excellent. The discussions were thought-provoking and space was held for people to voice their dissent. I especially appreciated listening to women politicians discuss feminist issues.
Below are some of my highlights
- The need to find a space for feminist men.
- It’s time for us to go outside our comfort zone.
- “If men had the menopause, Trafalgar Square Fountain would be pouring oestrogen gel.”
- If we want to talk about averages, the average voter is a woman. There are slightly more women than men (51% women) and they live longer.
- Men-only decision-making is not legitimate, i.e. not democratic. Women make up the majority of individuals in the UK but the minority in decision-making. Overall, diversity is an issue of legitimacy.
- The prison system for women forgets their children.
- Challenging that anti-blackness/racism is not seen as a topic at the top of the agenda for the next election.
- We believe “tradition matters” so things have gone backwards from the pandemic for women.
- In Australia, the Labour Party enforced gender quotas within the party. That led to increasing women’s representation to 50%. The Conservative Party went for mentoring women — no quotas — and that only increased women’s participation to 30%.
- There is a growing toxicity in X/Twitter against women. Toxic men’s content gets promoted. We need better regulation of social media.
- More women vote but decide later in the game.
- We cannot afford not to be bold with childcare. The ROI is one of the highest.
- We need to treat childcare as infrastructure.
- There are more portraits of horses in parliament than of women.
Empowered to Lead Conference 2023
On Saturday 28th October, I attended the “Empowered to Lead” Conference 2023 organised by She leads for legacy — a community of individuals and organisations working together to reduce the barriers faced by Black female professionals aspiring for senior leadership and board level positions.
It was an amazing day! I didn’t stop all day: listening to inspiring role models, taking notes, and meeting great women.
Some of the highlights below
- Cathedral thinking — Think big.
- Courageous leadership — Be ambitious.
- Command yourself — Have the discipline to do things even if you’re afraid.
- We ask people what they want to do only when they are children — that’s wrong. We need to learn and unlearn to take up the space we deserve.
- Three nuggets of wisdom: Audacity/confidence, ambition, and creativity/curiosity.
- Audacity— Every day we give permission to others to define us. Audacity is about being bold. Overconsultation kills your dream. It’s about going for it even if you feel fear.
- Ambition — set impossible goals (Patricia’s note: I’m a huge fan of impossible goals. I started the year setting mine on the article Do you want to achieve diversity, inclusion, and equity in 2023? Embrace impossible goals)
- Creativity & curiosity — takes discipline not to focus on the things that are already there. Embrace diverse thinking.
- Question 1: What if you were the most audacious, the most ambitious, and the most creative?
- Question 2: May you die empty? Would you have used all your internal resources?
Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE
- Childhood lasts a lifetime. We need to tell children that they are worth it.
- Over 250 children die from suicide a year.
- When she arrived in the UK, there were signs with the text “No Irish, no dogs, no coloureds”.
- After Brexit, a man pushed his trolley onto her and told her, “What are you still doing here?” She replied, “I’m here changing the world, what are you doing here?”
- She was the first anchor-woman to appear pregnant on TV in the world.
- “I pushed the ladder down for others.”
- “The wise man forgives but doesn’t forget. If you don’t forgive you become a victim.”
- ‘Black History Month should be the whole year’.
- 3 Cs: Consideration, contentment (satisfaction), courage.
- ‘Every disappointment is an appointment with something better’.
Jenny Garrett OBE
Rather than talking about “underrepresentation”, let’s talk about “underestimation”.
Nadine Benjamin MBE
- What do you think you sound? Does how you sound support who you want to be?
- You’re a queen. Show up for yourself.
Additionally, Sue Lightup shared details about the partnership between Queen Bee Coaching (QBC) — an organisation for which I volunteer as a coach — and She Leads for Legacy (SLL).
Last year, QBC successfully worked with SLL as an ally, providing a cohort of 8 black women from the SLL network with individual coaching from QBC plus motivational leadership from SLL.
At the conference, the application process for the second cohort was launched!
Women in Tech Festival
I delivered a keynote at this event on Tuesday 31st October. The topic was the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of the female workforce.
When I asked the 200+ attendees if they felt that the usage of AI would create or destroy jobs for them, I was surprised to see that the audience was overwhelmingly positive about the adoption of this technology.
Through my talk, I shared the myths we have about technology (our all-or-nothing mindset), what we know about the impact of AI on the workforce from workers whose experience is orchestrated by algorithms, and four different ways in which we can use AI to progress in our careers.
As I told the audience, the biggest threat to women’s work is not AI. It’s patriarchy feeling threatened by AI. And if you want to learn more about my views on the topic, go to my previous post Artificial intelligence’s impact on the future of the female workforce.
The talk was very well received and people approached me afterwards sharing how much the keynote had made them reflect on the impact of AI on the labour market. I also volunteered for mentoring sessions during the festival and all my on-the-fly mentees told me that the talk had provided them with a blueprint for how to make AI work for them.
I also collected gems of wisdom from other women’s interventions
- Our workplaces worship the mythical “uber-productive” employee.
- We must be willing to set boundaries around what we’re willing to do and what not.
- It may be difficult to attract women to tech startups. One reason is that it’s riskier, so women may prefer to go to more established companies.
- Workforce diversity is paramount to mitigate biases in generative AI tools.
I found the panel about quotas for women in leadership especially insightful
- Targets vs quotas: “A target is an aspiration whilst a quota must be met”.
- “Quotas shock the system but they work”.
- Panelists shared evidence of how a more diverse leadership led to a more diverse offering and benefits for customers.
- For quotas to work is crucial to look at the data. Depending on the category, it may be difficult to get those data. You need to build trust — show that’s for a good purpose.
- In law firms, you can have 60% of solicitors that are women but when you look at the partners is a different story — they are mostly men.
- A culture of presenteeism hurts women in the workplace.
- There are more CEOs in the UK FTSE 100 named Peter than women.
- Organisations lose a lot of women through perimenopause and menopause because they don’t feel supported.
There was a very interesting panel on neurodiversity in the workplace
- Neurodivergent criteria have been developed using neurodivergent men as the standard so often they miss women.
- The stereotype is that if you have ADHD, you should do badly in your studies. For example, a woman struggled to get an ADHD diagnosis because she had completed a PhD.
- Women mask neurodivergent behaviours better than men. Masking requires a lot of effort and it’s very taxing.
- We need more openness about neurodiversity in the workplace.
Manchester Tech Festival
On Wednesday 1st November, I delivered a talk in the Women in Tech & Tech for Good track at the Manchester Tech Festival.
The title of my talk was “Seven Counterintuitive Secrets to a Thriving Career in Tech” and the purpose was to share with the audience key learnings from my career in tech across 3 continents, spearheading several DEI initiatives in tech, coaching and mentoring women and people from underrepresented communities in tech, as well as writing a book about how women succeed in tech worldwide.
First, I debunked common beliefs such as that there is a simple solution to the lack of women in leadership positions in tech or that you need to be fixed to get to the top. Then, I presented 7 proven strategies to help the audience build a successful, resilient, and sustainable career in tech.
I got very positive feedback about the talk during the day and many women have reached out on social media since to share how they’ve already started applying some of the strategies.
Some takeaways from other talks:
I loved Becki Howarth’s interactive talk about allyship at work where she shared how you can be an ally in four different aspects:
- Communication and decision-making — think about power dynamics, amplify others, don’t interrupt, and create a system that enables equal participation.
- Calling out (everyday) sexism — use gender-neutral language, you don’t need to challenge directly, support the recipient (corridor conversations).
- Stuff around the edges of work — create space for people to connect organically, don’t pressure people to share, and rotate social responsibilities so everyone pulls their weight.
- Taking on new opportunities — some people need more encouragement than others, and ask — don’t assume.
The talk of Lydia Hawthorn about postpartum depression in the workplace was both heartbreaking and inspiring. She provided true gems of wisdom:
- Up to 15% of women will experience postpartum depression.
- Talk about the possibility of postpartum depression before it happens.
- Talk to your employer about flexible options.
- Consider a parent-buddy scheme at work.
- Coaching and therapy can be lifesaving.
Amelia Caffrey gave a very dynamic talk about how to use ChatGPT for coding. One of the most interesting aspects she brought up for me is that there is no more excuse to write inaccessible code. For example, you can add in the prompt the requisite that the code must be accessible for people using screen readers.
Finally, one of the most touching talks was from Eleanor Harry, Founder and CEO of HACE: Data Changing Child Labour. Their mission is to eradicate child labour in company supply chains.
There are 160 million children in child labour as of 2020. HACE is launching the Child Labour Index; the only quantitative metric in the world for child labour performance at a company level. Their scoring methodology is based on cutting-edge AI technologies, combined with HACE’s subject matter expertise. The expectation is the index provides the investor community with quantitative leverage to push for stronger company performance on child labour.
Eleanor’s talk was an inspiring example of what tech and AI for good look like.
Back to you
With so many men competing in the news, social media, and bookstores for your attention, how are you making sure you give other women’s wisdom the consideration it deserves?
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