In just a few days either side of International Women’s Day, I experienced the kind of heart-centred power surge that can only be generated when women support women – first at Ginger’s Game Changers Women’s Leadership Summit and second at the start of a Ginger leadership communications programme for women in the legal industry that I was co-facilitating in New York.
Let’s start with Game Changers, a gathering of more than 100 women leaders under the glass dome of the assembly hall at Church House in London’s Westminster. Our shared commitment was to take action as a force for good, amplify our voices for maximum benefit and summon people, money and attention in order to lead change within our organisations, industry and the world. This boosted the energy from the start, infusing impromptu conversations with the buzz of possibility.
Archana Mohan, who co-hosted the event with Ginger CEO Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, raised the bar in her introductory address when she posed the question, ‘What if we could be bold and vulnerable at the same time?’ Publishing our ambitions is bold, telling our story is vulnerable – and combining the two is formidable. Then every woman in the room was given space for her voice to be heard, sharing three words that expressed their game-changing interests – words such as resilience, diversity, sustainability, impact, opportunity, empowerment, passion, empathy, transformation, drive, conviction, compassion, connection, purpose, kindness, vision, integrity, authenticity and collaboration. Speaking out these words raised the energy another notch.
The first game-changing speaker, Wendy Gardner, spoke about the self-doubt pandemic and its antidote – self-love. She shared her dream of five million women practising daily self-love as a radical act and triggered that process by inviting every woman in the room to write on a card how she could love herself more right now, and address the envelope to herself. Those cards will soon be popping through our letterboxes as powerful reminders of our intention that day. Wendy created a palpably loving connection in the room which sparked a standing ovation that was repeated for every speaker. This, then, was the clearest sign yet of women supporting women. Watch the speakers’ videos and you can almost hear the whoosh of energy in the room as the audience begins to applaud.
Then Boluwatife Oluwafunmilola Lola Dare took to the stage in all her Nigerian splendour to educate us about the power of Ubuntu – ‘I am because we are’. She told the story of the time her daughter was in hospital, fighting for her life after contracting malaria. When the doctor came out to share an update on her progress, he asked who the girl’s mother was and 10 women stood up. You couldn’t find a better illustration of Ubuntu in action – ‘we are all the mother’.
Helen Philpot told us about helping her profoundly deaf mother and the importance of using all our senses. Jessica Roberts celebrated her curious daughter. Headteacher Nicola Nicholl told us about the audacious, resilient young girls at her school. Beth Knight shared a story about the eight-year-old Kenyan girl who changed her outlook on life. These were all examples of women honouring and supporting other women.
My takeaway from hearing these talks and speaking to the other women at the event was this: I can only do what I do and be who I am because we are all connected. And I believe we need to leverage the power of that interconnection more effectively.
A yearning for meaningful connection
And so to the 12 remarkable women I met on the Ginger training programme in New York. They were, of course, smart, capable and impressive – but ached for meaningful connection and were profoundly grateful to be able to talk to their peers about something other than work, about shared experiences and challenges. They bonded after only one day together. And at the end of that day, when they were asked to share one word that summed up their experience, empathy came up, as did connection. I was about to say fellowship, then stopped myself because the word is so masculine. It struck me at that moment that we have a problem with our language. The collective noun for a group of women is a gaggle, as in geese or gossips – either that or a bevy of ladies. We have sisterhood and sorority but that’s it. So instead I said ‘femaleship’ and that resonated with everyone. It struck me that now, more than ever, we need meaningful connection and collaboration in our workplaces and in the world, and feminine energy and women’s leadership can lead the way on this.
How Ginger creates a safe yet spicy space
Here at Ginger, we create and hold ‘safe spaces’ in which to play and experiment, prototype and iterate. However, our particular flavour of safe space doesn’t mean they’re free from challenge, differences of opinion or difficult messages. Quite the opposite, in fact – they’re safe because there’s a high degree of respect for people’s differences and debate is welcome.
We laugh, cry and co-create together. We say what needs to be said rather than what ‘should’ be said. That’s what adds the spice, the playfulness, the authenticity and the humanity. I’m thinking here of Wendy saying the ‘unsayable’ about her daughter’s attempted suicide being the direct result of her lack of self-love. The space we created in order for her to say that out loud gave her permission to call out something important that society needs to face.
We encourage women to inspire others by being their authentic selves. We encourage women to lead in service of others. As an antidote to perfectionism, we encourage women to act before they’re ready. And we encourage women to bring all of their uniqueness, quirks and range of personality into the room – not just their job titles or qualifications.
We do, of course, create similarly spicy spaces for men too, but we’re finding that there’s an ever-growing demand for women’s leadership programmes, which tells us there’s still a pressing need to raise women’s voices and visibility in our organisations. By giving women permission to do all of the above and support other women to do the same, just as we did at Game Changers and in New York, maybe we can create a heart-centred power surge that ripples out and creates the change we all want to see in the world: more women taking their rightful place at the top table.
I’ll leave you with some game-changing principles to help you create a safe yet spicy space in your organisation:
- Model boldness and vulnerability: leaders are always going to be the most important factor in setting and maintaining the culture of a group, so if we’re willing to be both bold and vulnerable in the way we communicate, others will follow. Practise ‘saying the unsayable’ in a way that’s honest and speaks from personal experience.
- Encourage humour and playfulness: we’re at our most open and innovative when we’re able to laugh, as it relaxes the nervous system and aids neuroplasticity.
- Model speaking BEFORE you’re ready: rather than waiting to present a ‘perfect’ concept, show groups how to share newly formed ideas and encourage them to iterate together.
- Lift each other up: leaders need to champion their people and encourage them to be each other’s cheerleaders.
An award-winning public speaker and storytelling expert, Beverley is an experienced lead trainer who specialises in TED-style speaker coaching and training.