Already, a week has passed since our inaugural Women in Learning conference last week at the Ham Yard Hotel in London – and what an afternoon it was.
I’ve put on a lot of events as a vendor in my tenure in marketing. Conferences, expos, client days and breakfasts – the lot. But this was different. The buzz was palpable. And never have I seen such a positive response from both attendees and those on social media (the #womeninlearning hashtag was alive on both Twitter and LinkedIn). In particular, thanks to Sukh Pabial for live-tweeting; his insights were brilliant. The drinks were flowing, the speakers were….err….speaking. And everyone seemed to really take something tangible and visceral from the day.
So, shall we get started?
Contextualising the challenges with Kate Graham
We started the day with Kate Graham sharing some jaw-dropping insights from her recent survey. Apart from the astonishing fact that the World Economic Forum forecasts that the overall gender gap is not predicted to close for 108 years, Kate also explored the more nuanced complexities of the learning industry and the challenges women are facing within it.
One of the most compelling pieces of data she collected was around the sentiments of the challenges in our industry. When asked, those in her survey specified that the top three things they thought, overall, were challenging women in learning today:
- Lack of opportunities
However, when you break this down by gender, women cite a completely different layer of perceived challenges. Their top three challenges were:
- Lack of opportunities
Nearly 30% of female respondents stated that their gender was the key challenge for them. Clearly, we have work to do.
Women learning leadership from Nicola Kilner
We then moved on to a really engaging Q&A session with Nicola Kilner, CEO of the burgeoning beauty brand DECIEM. Having started just 5 years ago, this business has grown to a gargantuan £300m turnover, and with Nicola at the helm they are endeavouring to disrupt the market with the mantra: kindness is the new cool.
The conversation between Kate and Nicola was really candid and engaging, and Nicola’s authentic, natural leadership was clear to see. She discussed how now L&D has become a vital part of their business as they continue to grow, with the function reporting directly to her. Real, honest stories which didn’t feel trite – how refreshing.
Good insight from Nicola. Kindness isn’t a female trait. People want to be treated with kindness and respect. If you’re not treating your workforce in such ways you’ll just end up losing people. #WomenInLearning
— Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) July 5, 2019
I love this. The leadership development at Deciem is from leaders of organisation, through 5 mins videos each day over 8 weeks. Active choice to not bring in third party to deliver. Nicola sees it as her responsibility to provide leadership developed herself. #WomenInLearning
— Sukh Pabial (@sukhpabial) July 5, 2019
Real stories, real women
After a swift break, everyone returned to their seats to hear from two wonderfully honest women currently holding senior L&D roles in very different business. Initially, Julie Brayson, Head of Organisational Development at The Card Factory came on stage and told of us her trials being a young, working mum from a council estate.
Like many of us, Julie didn’t start her career in L&D and talked in detail about the bumpy road she travelled as a working mother in businesses which didn’t support or facilitate progression. Her goals, like many, were around achieving a better wage for her family and were not necessarily a barometer for her ambition. She talked about how things haven’t really changed all that much for women since the 90’s when she started her career and stated that finding mentors, inspiring others and not waiting for someone to tell you to move is critical to women’s success.
Catherine Cape then joined the stage. As the Head of Talent and Development at Deutsche Bank, she had some really inspiring insights into what it took for her to be a successful L&D professional and still balance her home life. Speaking directly and sincerely, she dove into a very honest story about her journey, but also much more about female perceptions of themselves and their behaviours.
She highlighted the importance of carving out our own journeys, being honest and asking for what you want and need. She compounded this with assertions around the perceptions of being a ‘pushy woman’ (asking for what you want and need does not make you pushy) and how we need to evolve away from these ideas to be more successful.
Threads of thought and themes
The final session of the day saw a panel discussion led by Donald H Taylor, including Jane Daly from Towards Maturity, Kristina Tsiritokis from DECIEM and Catherine Cape from Deutsche Bank. Giving the audience free reign on the order of questions, our panels dove straight into some very open discussions around the challenges each woman has faced and indeed advice for our younger selves.
Key themes from the Women in Learning conference
One of the themes that emerged the most for me was the idea of authenticity, being ourselves more and being more human. We talked a lot throughout the day how the expectations of women in the workplace (from what they wear, to how they behave) are real, and indeed how we can start to break these down by being true to ourselves and challenging norms.
Some of the other key points that I had written down in my notes included:
- Learning is the new loyalty: Getting buy-in, investing in staff and their development is a vital way for businesses to retain employees.
- Don’t be afraid to fail/lean into uncomfortable situations: Many of our speakers talked about the necessity of failure and how, when addressed properly, can provide vital opportunities for improvement. This means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and that’s OK!
- Discover mentors, build communities and explore outside your sphere to develop: If you want to nurture a growth mindset, it’s critical to find mentors who can help and support you. Equally, use the communities you have at your disposal to grow.
- We’re in L&D, not A&E: One well worth remembering when we feel it’s all a bit too much.
- Addressing and understanding your thoughts is powerful: Kristina said one of the most memorable things of the day for me: “Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.” Many women attending the day confessed to being overthinkers, so this mantra can help to allow space to challenge your own thoughts before you react to them.
It truly was an unbelievable afternoon, and this is just the beginning. The sparks are flying, let’s hope we’re starting some fires too.
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