#IWD2020 #EachforEqual #girlyswot #HHBA 

For International Women’s Day we asked our female members to share their experiences, observations and advice on succeeding in business. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some responses from Claire Catliff, Paula Tomlinson, Rocky Datoo, Jacqui Smith, Dr Julia Mewes and Emma Cleary. You can find out more about them in the HHBA online directory.

What nugget of advice or wisdom have you carried with you in life? For me it was this from an old headmistress, a woman should be able to support herself and any children she might have.  This has stayed within my consciousness; such are the power of words.

A great premium in our culture is placed on Language. We live in a lively and rich literary culture whether that is journalism, poetry, essay or novel that admires and values those with some command of the written or spoken word.  Language is the medium through which we conduct almost all relationships, public and private. It bears the imprint of our cultural attitudes.  Those that have this skill therefore take on a very heavy responsibility in particular to those with less equality in Society.

I’ve noticed a very subtle deliberate and insidious side-lining of women through the use of language which inevitably denigrates half the population and in ways that many women may not even be aware of. It may not be done deliberately so deeply is it embedded in our culture.

For example, during the last General Election with the usual pulling apart of personalities, I was watching the Sky press preview and noticed (not for the first time) the ridiculing of Jo Swinson.  Love her or loathe her (especially apparently if you are a Scot), she was knocked for being “shrill”. What surprised me was that it was Carole Malone, another female, who used this word and that the usually incisive female anchor did not so much as hesitate, query, let alone challenge Carole Malone. Has Society become so angry and so vocal that it impliedly approved and accepted the use of such derogatory terms about women?

Words like nagging, grating, are associated in our collective mind with women.  You may recall the voice make over given to Mrs Thatcher to make her more palatable to the voters in the 1970’s.  Initially shrill she learned to lower her pitch to deeper cadences.  And don’t get me started on the ridiculous focus on what female politicians wear. Theresa May and her kitten heels – who cares?

Amber Rudd tweeted on December 14th 2019: can we stop criticising every senior female politician for being “head of school”, “headmistressy” or” like a school teacher”? This was in response to The Spectator’s Melanie McDonagh who had written of Jo Swinson that the relentless head-of-school self-righteousness, the confidence she was the answer to every complex question; I’d have been happier to see Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

By contrast, in the workplace, men get the job done, are independent and take charge. The language is generally that of sports, war and machinery.

Perish the thought that a woman should be so masculine as to have confidence and ambition. Hilary Clinton’s “ambition” – as if she were some sort of Lady Macbeth, was in part her undoing in the last US Presidential Election. She was eminently more qualified to run the United States but her opponents warped her message to make it seem as if her agenda was a feminist one. Her opponent had none of her experience and was a game show host but no one pilloried him for being “too ambitious”.

The more joyful, bold, fierce and confident a woman the less we like her, we dismiss her and shame her – this is social conditioning. It’s not for women to stay quiet, suffer, be modest and accommodating.  It’s not for us to try and put a woman back in her box.  There is an irony in the term girly swot becoming a badge of honour for many women which probably wasn’t what was intended – #girlyswot.

The drive to get more women on boards of directors, to employ what’s called a “diversity matrix” is not simply about promoting the most able females to positions of influence and leadership but to get more cognitive diversity onto boards. When a board considers succession planning the unconscious consensus is to look for those who look like the last guy. Note, Obama, used the word “folks” to get away from the male plural “guys” to reference a group of people. Let’s be more conscious about the language we use at work and in everyday life.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual as equality is not a women’s issue, it is actually a business issue.  Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive.

Closer to home the HHBA is proud to have many clever, bold, passionate, ambitious and successful female entrepreneurs as members.

The following contributions acknowledge the crappy stuff that we have all at some time felt, the fears, the potential for taking a financial and emotional hit, the worrying over being a fraud, not being a good enough mother. Then we go further and notice and appreciate the small steps we’ve taken, the courage to believe in our dreams, to follow our calling.

There are some powerful, personal and inspiring pieces from a handful of our brilliant and talented female members coming up in the next few weeks. They are to be celebrated for their conviction, creativity, resilience, vulnerability and successes.

  • Paula Tomlinson BFP FCA CTA from On The Spot Accountants is a tax accountant looking after growing businesses. “Liking numbers helps!”

What is your business and how did you get into that particular line of work?  “I trained as a chartered accountant just because I simply had no idea what else to do, but when I discovered the tax department half way through my training contract, I knew I’d found a home! After qualifying, I joined KPMG in Brighton, then after 5 years, a large private company client who needed in-house tax expertise. I learnt A LOT about business and what makes it tick. After 11 years there, I could see the smaller private company needed similar in house expertise but couldn’t afford a full time person. Hence I set up On The Spot Accountants to mimic that client in-house knowledge, providing advice in a commercial clear way. I’m on a bit of a quest to explain the complicated in simple terms. As Albert Einstein said: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Did you/do you have any challenges to overcome? If so, how did you do/are you doing?  Challenges are many and constant! Staying on track, listening properly to people, not adding in what you think people are saying 😊. Awareness helps me focus on this.

What are your most important successes and achievements in your opinion (inside or outside of your business) that you are most proud of?  I’m most proud of my success in repeating my business 11 times over through a franchise. It’s a great discipline ensuring you keep your message distinct and meaningful. Outside of business just because it wouldn’t have been me 20 years ago, I’m proud of being able to dead lift 84kg, 20kg more than my body weight, which, for a bookish, office type, is a great achievement!

What is one piece of advice that you would give another member based on your unique experience? If I had to give one piece of advice it would be to keep it simple! Don’t let all the noise out there divert you from your main goal, but remain flexible enough to hear and act on good advice.

Happy #IWD2020!”


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