Last week Lansons hosted The Female Empowerment Strategy, a lively panel discussion which considered what it means to be empowered as a woman, and how women in the workplace face challenges to which their male colleagues likely are not exposed. Lansons has always been a business that encourages and empowers women, a business that doesn’t discriminate and instead supports people to achieve their professional goals, regardless of biology. I am well aware of the privilege this affords me, that my experience of working life is not one where I daily have to fight just to be treated in the same way as male colleagues, and that is exactly the point – I feel that from this position of privilege comes a responsibility to explore and fight against the challenges millions of women do face in their career.
Our team had been working on the event for months, and as I woke up on the 23rd May to a barrage of breaking news alerts about the atrocity in Manchester the reality hit me that our event wasn’t the centre of the world. The event may have been the centre of my world for the last few months, but in fact there are catastrophically horrible and unexplainable events that regrettably happen every day. The first question Clare Parsons and I asked each other was should we continue with the event? What was the right thing to do? Is there even a right thing? We shared the same view that when there are people who want to disrupt our lives, the best thing we can do is to carry on.
Our speakers, Michèle Dix CBE, Managing Director of Cross Rail 2, and Jo Gibbons, Head of Health Industries Marketing PWC, delivered inspiring and motivating anecdotes as to what it means to them to be successful. From referencing job shares to asking (rather than waiting) for advancement opportunities, my key take away from the event is that confidence is everything, for women and for men.
We all need the confidence to support those we work with, and that’s as true for senior colleagues as it is for junior team members; our colleagues are not threats but allies. This in particular struck me, as all too often people see themselves in competition with one another, when collaboration not only delivers better results in a shorter time, but inspires a collegiate and friendly atmosphere, which in turn inspires confidence. Having the confidence to network, to speak to people we wouldn’t ordinarily spend time with, the confidence to learn from your colleagues and to share your own knowledge – these are all key for feeling empowered and having the ability to empower others. Empowerment is not about having the loudest voice, but about having the understanding that your voice matters and that regardless of your gender, race or sexuality, you are an important person in any room and your contributions are as valid as another’s.
Whilst having the confidence to take risks, to ask for a pay rise or move jobs will bolster any individual’s feeling of empowerment, there is undoubtedly still a long way to go regarding gender equality at work. Although there are now more women in senior roles than ever before, and there is more support for women returning to work after having children, on too many an occasion are contributions seen as worth less than that of men. The UK government’s push on gender pay gap transparency highlights this issue and goes some way to challenging the notion that equality is a dirty word, that the whole idea of female empowerment is a challenge to men, but identifying and talking about it is only the first step, now is not the time to stop banging the drum that women and men can and should be equal in the workplace.
In spite of the tragic news from the previous evening Clare, Michèle and Jo’s insight left the room feeling lifted and inspired. They left with me the message that power is not given it’s taken, confidence isn’t always natural but is learnt, and experience isn’t inherent but built. Following the act of terrorism that took place on Monday 22nd May, we all need confidence now more than ever to carry on with our lives, to support each other and to strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.