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).

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.

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.


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.


Ever Felt Like A Fraud?

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

The Imposter Phenomenon

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.