Why we need to #askhermore at The Olympics

With The Olympics over, many of us will either be feeling withdrawal symptoms or possibly  relief from the end of this year’s iconic Games, which have been dominating our screens from dawn ‘til dusk making every ordinary man and woman feel somewhat inadequate, eclipsed by these humble super-humans.

Over the last few weeks we have all been inspired to dust off our bicycles, dig out our trainers and join the local rowing club… That is until the weather changes, Christmas arrives and we fall back into a comfortable routine of eating our weight in chocolate and hibernating during the cold winter nights.

But please don’t be misled by my slightly bitter tone. Whilst I may have been more of a bookworm than a sportswoman growing up, I absolutely love The Olympic Games. I love the history, the achievements, the patriotism, the opulence and the inspiration people draw from watching ordinary people do extraordinary things.

And this year, I love the fact that women were centre stage.

Yes, this year we have had more female athletes than ever before; approximately 45% of participants. In fact, the number of women in the Olympics has doubled in the last 40 years and the 2016 Olympic Games featured a record of none other than 28 women’s sports.

Not bad, considering that whilst men have been competing in The Games for over 2000 years, women were only admitted just over a century ago.

But in the next Olympic Games, we need to #askhermore.

No more comments on hair styles. No more remarks about nail varnish. And most definitely, no more outfit analysis. No one has ever asked Andy Murray to give them a twirl, or commented on Michael Phelps hairstyle. And when was the last time someone told Usain Bolt to smile? Of course they wouldn’t. Because it’s patronising and pointless – all we really want to hear about are Andy’s secret techniques or Usain’s rigorous training regime.

So why is it not the same with our incredible female athletes? Why do the commentators so often ignore their incredible skills and abilities to focus instead on the amount of gemstones on their leotards or who their famous husband is (as if that is all that would define her – you may have won a gold medal, but I’m sure it can’t compare with being married to a famous movie star).

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Credit: The Representation Project

NBC seems to be one of the worst offenders with biased coverage that included asking Ginny Thrasher, the Virginia shooter who won the first gold medal for the US, why she doesn’t smile when competing (?!) and going into an in depth analysis of the number of crystals on the US team’s gymnastic leotards, with their own team coordinator comparing their Olympic outfits to ‘little prom dresses’.

But closer to home, John Inverdale also congratulated Andy Murray on being the first person to win two tennis golds – forgetting that the Williams sisters have already achieved four medals each.

Twitter has been awash with public outcry about the state of the biased commentary around The Olympic Games, with people using the #askhermore hashtag to vent their frustration.

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Credit: @alisonturkos

This archaic attitude to women in The Olympic Games makes me wonder why we were even deigned entry in the first place. But how can we change this? We need to look at the solutions as opposed to the problems.

Firstly, we need more female presenters and commentators; if we can have 45% female participants then why not 45% or even (God forbid) 50% of our presenters and commentators women? With a more balanced mix of both genders then we might finally get some balanced commentary.

Secondly, why are women so often thought as the weaker sex? Why in tennis do men play five sets while women only play three? Why are the men’s cycling road races 62 miles longer than the women’s? The Games have purposefully placed women on the back foot, on an uneven playing field and hindered their chances to truly measure up to men. Women are just as capable and it’s about time we stopped patronising them and let them shine.

We, both women and men, need to keep reminding the world that to be equal is not all about statistics, percentages and fulfilling a ‘quota’, but about how women are represented; with the same impartiality and objectivity as their male counterparts. Not emotional, but Courageous. Not defenceless, but Strong,

If you would like to find out more about the #askhermore campaign, take a look at The Representation Project.

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Mid-Year Review

Yes, whether you believe it or not, we are half way through 2016. This year seems to have flown by leaving me feeling slightly disoriented and playing catch-up.

I was adamant that this would be a ‘do year’ for me. I don’t exactly know why 2016 felt so important, maybe it was just the realisation that I was four years away from thirty or maybe the novelty of owning my first flat was starting to wear off, replaced instead by an uncomfortable notion of ‘this is it – you’re all grown up’.

Whatever the reason, I spent most of January making lists upon lists of ‘life strategies’ that would help me reach my goals and fast-track my development, both professional and personal. Now all of a sudden it’s July and I suddenly have that panicked feeling of time running out; of Christmas just around the corner and a whole new batch of New Year’s resolutions waiting to be written.

This is around the time that I stop, breath and do my ‘mid-year review’, just to remind myself that I am only halfway through and to focus on how much I have already achieved. So here goes:

  • Start a blog

Done! Though I have to admit, to all those seasoned bloggers out there, well done! It is far harder than I thought to stay organised and keep the ideas flowing… I am loving every minute of it though, so if any of you talented people would like to do a guest post or challenge me to write about a certain topic, please email me.

  • Pass my driving test

In progress… Although I may seem like a fully functioning adult with the job, flat and even the puppy, public transport and borrowed lifts are my still main means of getting around *hangs head in shame*. That is all due to change this summer though, when finally (hopefully) I will pass the dreaded test – fingers crossed!

  • Work towards the Chartered Institute Of Marketing Professional Diploma

Started! This has been a long running goal of mine ever since I started working in marketing; professional qualifications are key to standing out from the crowd especially if you are trying to leverage your career and make that difficult leap from executive to manager – so I am incredibly excited to be getting my teeth stuck into this course. Visit CIM for more info.

  • Travel

Failing… Unfortunately my mission to get a bit more R&R this year has failed miserably, apart from one week in paradise, my weeks and weekends have mainly consisted of work, study, life admin and enjoying the beautiful Surrey countryside with our new pup Ralph. Still striving for that idealised work/life balance…

  • Write a book

Shelved. With all the above going on I thought it best to revisit this goal at a later date. Maybe one day I will find the time and the patience to put all my half formed ideas and stories down on paper.

I think that’s basically two and a half out of five, which for half way through the year isn’t too bad. Whilst I am doing this, it is also good to acknowledge the things I have managed to do that I didn’t originally plan for. I am incredibly proud to have joined the amazing women of the Discovery Women’s Network, working on promoting gender parity within Discovery, and I have become a mentor to a flourishing young woman on the Queens Young Leaders Programme, helping her to break into marketing and communications in the media industry.

So, whilst it is fantastic to have goals that keep you on the straight and narrow – remember to not let them consume you. So many fantastic opportunities come our way that we too often overlook because we are too blinkered to our chosen path. In fact some of the most rewarding things I have done, I did not actually set out to do and, whilst I do get an enormous sense of achievement in completing a long held goal, sometimes you need to learn to throw away the rule book and go with flow.

After all, life is about the journey not the destination.

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I love being inspired by other people’s goals, what are yours?

 

It’s Earth Day! 7 Small Ways YOU Can Make A Big Difference

Happy Earth Day everyone!

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I’m not going to lecture you about the state of our planet, I think we all know it deserves better than what we have given it. In only a few thousand years of earth’s billion-year history, humans have managed to acidify the oceans, punch holes into the ozone, destroy over 50% of the rainforests and push all other living creatures to the brink of extinction with species going extinct at a 1000 times the normal rate… Sorry, I did say no lecture!

The amazing thing is, despite the doom and gloom, there are a million little things that we can all do to make a difference.

Whilst it can sometimes seem hopeless, history shows us over and over again that humanity is capable of amazing change. Not long ago smoking in the workplace was considered a norm, now could you imagine going into a meeting and everyone lighting up a cigarette? If we can drive such a change on a global scale, and in such a short space of time, then there is hope yet.

An incredible film aired last year called Racing Extinction. Directed by Oscar®-winning director Louie Psihoyos (THE COVE), the film pulls into focus our impact on the planet while all the time trying to inspire the viewer to embrace the solutions that will ensure a thriving, biodiverse world for future generation.

It was truthfully one of the most inspirational films I saw all year and it’s really more of a movement than a film. I even had the good fortune of being able to spend an evening with both Louie and rock legend, Brian May at the UK premiere and hear their views on how we can reverse all that we have done.

The film shares an amazing story of a little girl on the seashore, throwing stranded starfish back into the water before they die in the heat of the midday sun. An old man comes over to her laughing and, mocking her, he says “little girl, why are you doing that? There is no way you can possibly save all these starfish in time!” To which she defiantly replies, throwing in another starfish “well, I saved that one, and that one and now this one…”

The film teaches us a simple message:

It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness

– Shawn Heinrichs, Racing Extinction

So what can be done?

Here is a list of simple little things, which are so easy to do but make a bigger difference than you might think:

  1. Turn Off/ Unplug Everything When Not In Use – you’d be surprised at how much energy things on ‘standby’ use. You may even save some money on your electricity bill.
  2. Give Nature A Home – An RSPB initiative that I love – whether you have acres of land or simply a windowbox there is plenty you can do to encourage nature… my current favourite is the idea of making a butterfly banquet on your balcony during the long summer days.
  3. Eat Less Meat – the agriculture industry is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. If you can’t bear the idea of going vegetarian, try to do a meat free Monday and avoid Beef, the worst offender, as much as possible.
  4. Support Sustainable Fishing – 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully fished or overfished and this is having a devastating effect on the ocean life and in turn the oceans. Our oceans play such a vital role that without them the whole ecosystem would be completely out of balance. By only choosing fish that has been sustainably sourced you will help break the cycle – Fish2Fork can help you make more informed choices.
  5. Choose A More Eco Way To Commute – Can you share a car with someone? Or get the train? Maybe you live close enough to cycle in? Even by taking one car off the road you could be saving over 8000 pounds of C02 every year!
  6. Offset Your Carbon Footprint With An Eco Charity – As a tree matures, it can consume 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Why not calculate your carbon footprint and try to become carbon neutral by working with a charity that plants trees with your donations. One Tree Planted is just one of these great charities that are working to rebuild our earth’s forests.
  7. Eat Seasonally And Locally – Because who really needs strawberries in December?

Even if you just choose to do one of these, you will have joined a global movement that cares about the future of our planet… Because do you really want to live in a world where your grandchildren don’t know what an Elephant is?

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Be A More Balanced Leader

So, after three weeks of puppy madness I am finally getting back into the swing of things and able to post again (visit my Instagram for puppy pics of unbearable cuteness!).

Not long ago I attended a Balanced Leadership workshop with Michele Mees, author of The Balanced Leader and Key Note speaker, as part of International Women’s Day 2016 and my first Pledge For Parity action.

Here Michelle’s introduced the group to the idea that everyone has feminine and masculine energies that mould our traits and characteristics.

So, whilst some people enjoy taking take risks (a masculine energy) others prefer to act more cautiously (feminine energy).

Just to clarify – Michele stressed that everyone, be them man or woman, has a mixture of both masculine and feminine energies that make up the diversity of their characteristics and in no way is one or the other right or wrong.

Apparently, to be a balanced leader you must first identify which traits and qualities you have and then develop the ability to adjust according to the situation and environment.

If I am honest, talking about masculine and feminine ‘energies’, to me, seems to be the opposite of maintaining gender neutrality however the session did throw up some interesting points and as a result I wanted to share my top tips on how to become a more balanced leader:

  1. Don’t fear change – Empower your staff to take calculated risks. Caution, whilst prudent in some situations is not always the best way. Sometimes it is good to challenge the status quo slightly, remember, great things never came from comfort zones.
  2. Trust your gut– Always making a decision based on facts and figures can often create a false sense of security. Make sure you don’t always ignore and exclude the perspective of people who bring ‘gut feeling’ to the table, their input is just as valuable.
  3. Long-term planning – A long-term vision often mobilizes and inspires people. Whilst the quick-wins might deliver today, you need to always try to consider the log-term effects as well.
  4. Focus on everyone – Don’t always just focus on yourself or on your own department. To be a balanced leader you need to promote a collaborative, connected environment for your team as well as the colleagues in your wider circle.
  5. Don’t always avoid confrontation –This can be a contentious topic, however constructive confrontation is healthy. Empower your team to think for themselves and don’t just promote a ‘yes’ culture which seems to be fine on the surface but hides unresolved conflicts as a result.

Have I left anything out? Let me know what you think makes a balanced leader!

If you want to learn more about Michele and her research please visit The Centre for Balanced Leadership.

How I plan to follow through on my ‘Pledge For Parity’

An introduction to my Pledge For Parity Series.

I will share a secret with you, whilst I try my very best not to be, I am often very bad at following through.

I start things with all the best intentions in the world, from dance classes to Italian lessons, but often after a few weeks of enthusiastically living, eating and breathing the subject ‘du jour’, I find myself inevitably losing interest, making excuses and allowing other parts of my life to take over – leading to said project slowly fading into obscurity.

I hate this trait. I have battled with it all my life and only now am I succeeding in learning the art of ‘follow-through’. The secret, I have found, is a mixture of wholly committing to the project (by telling family and friends of your new venture so that you feel too embarrassed to drop it a few weeks later) and to not jump head-first in at the deep end, but instead take slow steady steps towards a long term goal.

And this is what I am doing now.

Earlier this week, together with thousands other women across the globe, I took my ‘Pledge For Parity’. I pledged to promote gender-based leadership, help women and girls achieve their ambitions and challenge conscious and unconscious bias.

So, as to avoid my well-intentioned pledge suffering the same fate as my aforementioned ballet classes and Italian lessons, I have vowed that over the course of the next few months I will write a Pledge For Parity Series.

In this series, I plan to actively participate, research, and write about what parity means for women across the globe; showcasing role models, challenge the current bias and attitudes and seek out different points of view and ways of thinking.

International Women’s Day is an amazing thing. For over 100 years, it has celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women whilst also marking a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year I will not just admire it from the outside, I will get involved and explore what I can do to bridge the gap, even if it is a very small contribution.

So there it is – I have told you now so I must follow-through. Look out for the first post in the series coming soon, and let me know what you are doing to uphold your Pledge For Parity!

If you have not yet taken your pledge, you can do so on the International Women’s Day website.

 

5 things I learned from practicing mindfulness

In January, I decided that 2016 would be a ‘do’ year for me – no more failed New Year’s resolutions or plans that never materialise – I would shake things up and say yes to more, in true ‘bucket list’ style.

So when the company I work for announced that they would be launching a ‘mindfulness series’, I enrolled myself immediately and vowed that 2016 would be the year I would become more self-aware and ‘present’.

But what is mindfulness? Well according to Bemindful.co.uk:

 Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…

With a long list of possible results including enhancing focus and clarity, increasing productivity, improving sleep and boosting the immune system, I had high expectations…

Here’s what I learned, both about the art of mindfulness, and also myself.

It’s not as easy as it looks…

The idea of sitting around for an hour, focusing on breathing, movements and ‘the present moment’ didn’t seem like a tall order. In fact, I was quite looking forward to taking an hour out of my busy week to just relax and let go.

In actual fact it was incredibly hard. Painfully hard.

Now, this could be to do with my highly-strung personality or my inability to ever be able to empty my mind (even asleep I have vivid, lively dreams), but the effort it took to just sit and focus whilst on not allowing my mind to wander was, at some points, herculean.

I fidgeted, my breath felt forced and uncomfortable, and no matter how hard I tried, my mind eventually ended up down a winding, distracted path into nonsense.

We spend a lot of time wrapped up in our own thoughts

mindfulness_poster_UKWhilst I wasn’t very good at controlling my thoughts, it did show me how much time we spend inside our own head. Ever left the house and thought only five minutes later, did I lock the door? I do. Pretty much every other day.

Most likely I have been playing over in my mind a daily to-do list or mentally preparing for a big meeting – it’s a detrimental habit though. There is nothing I can physically do until I arrive at work, so playing it over and over in my mind only serves to make me feel overworked and inevitably burnt out.

It’s not for everyone

In fact, it isn’t for me. I think I realised this on one of the exercises where we had to wander around the room and ‘feel’ daily objects, using touch as a tool to be ‘present’.

I felt stupid and embarrassed and spent most of my time pretending to touch the fabric of a chair whilst staring out the office window, wondering what to have for lunch.

Again, I think this may be because of my personality. Whilst I consider myself a creative, I am also very practical; mindfulness is a bit like homeopathy, without belief it has no meaning. Hence, here I was wandering around an office space, stroking chairs and feeling foolish.

Mindfulness is a great sleeping tool

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Whilst I may never be a ‘Mindfulness’ guru, I have taken away a few useful practical skills from the classes. One of which is the ‘body scan’, where you complete a running scan of your body focusing the mind and senses on each particular part until, in my case, you experience a sense of ‘letting go’ throughout.

If you are anything like me and you find it hard to sleep at the end of an exhausting, busy day, mindfulness and meditation can be excellent winding down tools.

The world isn’t going to end if you slow things down for an hour

This was the biggest revelation for me (my lunch hour is usually spent working/eating at my desk) and hands-down the best thing I took away from the sessions.

Most days I would come out of my mindfulness classes with a guilty feeling that I had the spent an hour essentially doing nothing and expect to return to a barrage of emails. Most days I did not, making me realise that as long as I worked smart, an hour out of my day would not be harmful, but in fact very valuable.

Since finishing the series I have vowed to myself that, whilst I won’t necessarily spend an hour wandering around rooms fondling office furniture, I will make sure to take time out of my working day to do something just for me; be that swimming, walking, working out or simply just going to lunch with a friend.

So whilst I may not have mastered the art of being ‘present’, mindfulness did teach me some important lessons: the more working hours put in does not in fact equal more work out and taking a break is an important, but undervalued tool in increasing productivity and quality of work. 

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But, just like with homeopathy, mindfulness can only take you so far… my best advice for anyone feeling work burn-out would be to fly somewhere exotic or book yourself into a spa for the weekend – now these are practices of which I am big believer!

Want to explore more on Mindfulness and Meditation? Here are some useful free guided sessions to help you switch-off and sleep…

Ever Felt Like A Fraud?

Maybe you have ‘Imposter Syndrome’?! But then again, maybe not…

The Imposter Phenomenon

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Via EmmaWatsonDaily

Some of you may have seen this term bandied around online and in press lately, and surprisingly it is not a new phenomenon. Coined in the 70’s, the study has only seemed to gain real traction now – as technology gets more advanced, expectations get higher and the definition of success gets pushed further beyond the horizon.

To put it simply the term impostor phenomenon occurs when an intelligent, talented and successful individual continually displays accomplishments but refuses to believe it is down to their own ability, but merely luck or effort.

The list of modern day sufferers is an impressive one, including iconic British women such as Emma Watson and Kate Winslet. Whilst men have been known to exhibit ‘symptoms’, it is amongst women that ‘Imposter Syndrome’ manifests most frequently and most intensely.

But Why?

Of course the study puts it primarily down to childhood and women’s representation in society. For millennia women have been portrayed by a largely male-dominated society as the weaker, less capable sex and women have apparently internalised and accepted this as truth.

Whilst I see the logic in this argument, I find it hard to get on board with. In this day and age women’s representation is become more equal and they are portrayed as anything but weak and incapable, so why would it be now that imposter syndrome is on the rise?

Something that I do identify with is the idea that women, as the more autocritical sex, do not automatically put their success down to ability, as men are more likely to do. Apparently women with the so called ‘imposter syndrome’ often attribute success to a temporary cause, for instance luck or effort, as opposed to men who often accredit their success to the internal, stable factor of ability.

So now what?tumblr_m8mjxsCuXZ1qahug3o1_500

According to research 70% of all people suffer from ‘Imposter Syndrome’. However, what I find the most surprising, from all my research, is that it is only 70%?

Who doesn’t suffer from a little self-doubt? Who has ever started a new job and felt convinced that they might not be up to scratch? Or pitched their boss for a promotion, only to get it and regret it immediately when the anxiety slowly creeps in?

Who are these illusive 30%; these superwomen who feel completely secure in what they do without ever questioning it? Who put in no effort and rely totally on their ‘ability’ for excellence? I confess I have never met anybody like this, and feel sure I never will.

To doubt and to fear is to be human. If you are having feelings of inadequacy or fraudulency, then it probably means you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone. This is great! Only in this space do you learn and develop.

Those who fear failure also fear success. They fear growing and they fear losing sight of the shore, being the small fish in a big pond. These people are in the end only holding themselves back from reaching their full potential.

So accept that niggling sense of doubt and embrace the fear, because it means that you are moving onwards and upwards. You are pushing yourself to be all that you can be.

By saying ‘yes’ when you really wanted to say ‘no’ you have shown that you are not an imposter; you are in fact an incredibly brave and ambitious individual who deserves to be in the place you have carved for yourself. The only imposters are those who pretend they have never felt this way too.

What do you think? Join the discussion below.

Why Fashion Is Too Serious!

Happy Weekend Everyone!

Yes it is that time of year again… whilst the weather continues to bite and snow threatens,  Spring/ Summer 2016 is underway in the fashion world.

It is this time of the year, when bloggers of all disciplines suddenly become ‘Fashion Bloggers’ for the day in the hope of being given fun fashionable freebies to review, or being ‘spotted’ as the next Kate Moss.

(Due to not having tickets) I will not be joining them, but it did get me thinking about women and our complicated relationship with fashion.

Fun Fashion

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Vis iStock Photo

Bypassing the minefield of issues that I have with body image in the fashion world, where a size 10 is often considered a plus size, I love to observe how powerful fashion is at changing the overall mood of a person.

I don’t know if anyone ever saw ‘A Week Of Dressing Dangerously’ on BBC One? But I always remember an episode where one women spent a week wearing outrageous outfits, from pin-up to all in pink to bohemian, complete with dreds.

The transformation was incredible, this mousy woman felt liberated by her style and let go of herself. Her husband couldn’t believe who she had become and her family saw her in a whole new light. In short, fashion enabled her to let go of  all her inhibitions and she was able to just have fun with it.

Fashion doesn’t have always be so serious, sometime it is just fun for fun’s sake. We need to shrug off the judgmental snobbery and let go of what is ‘in-vogue’ and out.

Strong Fashion

iStock_000047102086_DoubleSaying that, I don’t consider myself the most ‘stylish’ of women. I get by on what I call a ‘classical’ style mainly  wearing a lot of black dresses and red lipstick. Though I would love pull off the high- end fashionista look, I just don’t have the time or the patience to invest in it. Plus I know that I am just not that cool.

The most stylish woman in my life is my mother. A woman who also wears a lot of black but doesn’t care what people think; she hates to follow fashions, loves colourful accessories and calls everyone ‘darling’. But it works well for her. It is what makes her unique.

My mother grew up in the 70’s working in the glamorous casinos of the West End, at a time when sexual equality was non-existent and you could get a ‘warning’ for not looking ‘dolled up enough’ or gaining weight. She would proudly tell me that she always looked immaculate for work, which to me felt like she was bowing to the pressure of a sexist and superficial organisation.

But she would always say the same thing (and it is a lesson that I have carried through my own working life):

“Clothes do more than just make you pretty. They can make you feel strong. Your dress is your armour and your make-up is your war paint. With these on you can go into work battle-ready.”

And she is so right.

Which is why every working day, no matter how I feel, – I put on mascara, throw on a pair of heels and smarten up with a jacket. And it always makes me feel ready to take on the world.

So whilst there are some that feel fashion as superficial, trivial and, in some cases, a way of objectifying women – true ‘fashion’, the fashion that we make for ourselves, is a way to have fun, show off and above all feel good about ourselves.

New York, NY - September 10, 2015: A model prepares backstage for the Desigual fashion show during the Spring Summer 2016 New York Fashion Week at The Arc - Skylight Moynihan Station
Via iStock Photo
Do you agree? Why not share your own fashion secrets…