Switching on the Lighthouse

There is a saying that when women come together, the world changes. At a recent She Leads Change ‘lighthouse’ gathering we felt the stirring of something transformative. Nicola Millson – She Leads Change co-founder – reflects on an evening celebrating women in senior leadership.

On a cold and rainy winter evening a small group of women gathered in the City. This diverse group, was representative of government, business and the not for profit sectors. They all had one thing in common – they were individually nominated to join the evening as successful role models.

It was an experiment for us at She Leads Change to see if there was an appetite for a different programme.  Those of you who know us, know that our programmes attract all levels of seniority. We want to explore this further and see whether we could offer something to a discrete group of women in senior positions of influence. 

This would strengthen our impact by supporting women leaders in senior roles and creating a ‘ripple effect’ outward. It would also be a lighthouse for others looking for role models and pathways. It would shed light on next steps for She Leads Change.

We asked these women to talk about the change they were making in the world – in the context of being a ‘she’ that is ‘leading change’. The answers were inspiring and ranged through personal progression (“I have overcome my shyness”, “I have a voice”); through intergenerational legacy (“I want to set an example”, “I want to be a role model”); through to a consciousness around their role in influencing our society (“I want to reorient business by influencing people”, “I want to support a rethink in financial services towards transparency and purpose”).

We explored the change they’d like to see. Answers fell into ‘self’, ‘other’ and ‘system’ – uncannily aligned to three key modules from the She Leads Change open programme.

Much of the conversation on self focussed on us increasing our own ability to ‘see’ differently, to find perspective, rethink choices, to get ‘unstuck’. A deep chord was struck when a participant said “be myself”. 

On the topic of other – we were invited to think about how we were ‘being’ could we each “welcome everyone and everything – beyond our own held certainty”. Could we meet women where they are – “in different places, times, and with different offers and ways of interacting?”. The conversation on other danced between the polarity of needing to support women (“Spend more time in groups of women”) and to be inclusive (“Bring everyone in – including men e.g. #heforshe). Each woman present was keenly aware of their impact and influence on others (“Changing the world for your daughters” and “influencing others –  especially children”).

The suggestions on system change ranged from the stretch (“Build on history”, “Connect to and learn from other movements “); to the pragmatic (“Link to organisational change needs”, “Set and respond to quotas e.g. multi-gender panels”, “Better leverage social media and technology, and “Find and grow pockets of where the feminine is operating e.g. within the NHS and millennials”). Again we danced between the idea of building something new – something that was outside the status quo and would be disruptive or tapping into existing momentum. All agreed that a commitment to diversity needs to be deep rooted and structured into organisations.

Given this stimulating conversation we asked for advice on what she Leads Change could do to support this change. Some of the themes were: 

  • Work with ‘what is’: Go where the doors are slightly ajar, focus on where individuals can influence the system – e.g. tap into younger generation, identify great corporate programmes and link up e.g. trailblazing women, build on what has worked / is working.
  • Be clearer: Get better clarity on purpose/ structure and vision, be more Greta (persevere, focus, authentic), set targets and get accountable.
  • Build a movement: Build a sense of community – belonging, think like a movement, link and lead with the disruptors inside organisations

After the evening we were left with a sense of the value of a different conversation.  We have some sage advice to think through. And of course – light was shed on more questions than we are ready to answer.  We are asking “where is our energy best served for maximised impact?” and “what is the problem we are solving”. Best of all we are left with a sense of possibility – with women like this in senior roles – surely a better world is just around the corner?

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