Womanthology: Back to where it all started…
Hey. So 2014 is almost over, so I thought I’d put together the obligatory retrospective. This is the time of the year where everybody keeps telling everybody else they can’t believe it’s this time of year, even though this time of year happens this time every year. Confused? I am now.
In 2014 I’ve laughed a lot, and even cried a bit (more of that later), but this year I have learnt more than I can tell you about myself, and also about other people. I hadn’t met the vast majority of my Womanthology contacts until 2014, so my world has opened up in ways I could never have imagined. Here’s how it all started. Once upon a time…
In January, Womanthology was in the final stages of its creation. It wasn’t officially ‘born’ until 8th March. It ended 2013 with a name and a Twitter account registration and not much else. By January, things had kicked up a gear. We had a concept and a logo. Woo-hoo! You would not believe the process of coming up with a logo for something if you have never experienced it yourself. You start to look at the same word(s) over and over and over in so many different fonts and styles that it stops looking like a word at all.
And then there are the colours. Is anything vaguely feminine and girly a bit of a no-no on the gender balance scene? In the end I’d looked at so many Pantone colours I was almost past caring, so I opted for what I now call “bathrobe cerise”. (I still have said bathrobe as a memento, even though it’s a bit past its best.) Inspiration comes from the strangest places.
I’d started to put in calls to potential contributors after Christmas and before New Year. Perhaps the hardest time to achieve anything work related involving other people’s input. It’s a kind of work based no man’s (or woman’s) land where nine out of ten other UK based people are on leave, working their way through their chocolate stash and deciding how to ask their loved ones for the gift receipts for the presents they don’t want.
My first breakthrough in the New Year came when the lovely Anne Morrison, former Director of the BBC Academy and now Chair of BAFTA agreed to take part. Cue lots of jubilant calls to friends and associates. “The BBC is helping!”
Following on from that, things started to gather a momentum of their own. There were still the potential contributors who were reticent about contributing to something new and untried. “So you’ve got no readers yet?” Well yes, that’s what ‘new’ means. I’ve currently got nothing / nada / nul points. But then there were the fantastic organisations I spoke to who took the time to listen to the concept I’d come up with, agreed that there was a need for something in this space and they stuck their necks out and said, “Sure. Why not?” Bless ‘em all.
By February I was cooking on gas. I’d finally managed to find a site design that didn’t look like some 90s computer magazine or the site I designed myself for a night school HTML class I did once.
So the plan was to get all the content together for a preview edition to be ready to show to initial contributors two weeks before the site was due to officially launch in March.
Oh my, did I underestimate how much time this would take. I put this down my initial lack of confidence, brought about by a lack of knowledge of what I wanted, which translated into a lack of clarity about what I was asking contributors for. I also didn’t have any established infrastructure to speak of, so every single story / feature came from a direct and personal approach to an organisation or individual.
Problems were exacerbated by the fact that I’m not trained as a journo and I had no Photoshop skills at all the edit the images I was gathering.
This was along the lines of the Richard Branson quote where he advises people:
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it.”
(I’ve always thought this is excellent advice, apart from if you’re offered the opportunity to have a go at open heart surgery. Perhaps this is one of the sensible exceptions to Richard’s rule…?!)
So there I was, contacting people about a magazine that didn’t exist yet, that I was going to put together myself and I didn’t know how to write or design.
In the end I managed to get the preview edition ready, more by luck than by skill. I begged and borrowed help from friends and contacts who could help me. One of the perks of getting older is that as your network grows, you end up either knowing people who can do most things, or you know people who know people who can do most things.
So by March my preview edition was ready and I was raring to go. Launch day was International Women’s Day. I’d contacted some media outlets to try to drum up some interest, but it’s not really the easiest thing to do to get media outlets interested when you’re trying to set yourself up as another media outlet. Not that The Guardian had anything to worry about…
Needless to say I got enough interest that I felt like there was a point to everything I was doing. I was even filmed for an online women in media careers guide.
Launch day itself could not have been less momentous, though. Due to my non-existent budget, as all the large corporates were running their own high profile women focused events, I was sat in my kitchen on Twitter, trying to generate some interest.
Whilst I probably didn’t set the world on fire that day, what I did managed to achieve was a realisation that no matter how challenging your circumstances, whilst eight out of ten people might say a polite “thanks, but no thanks,” there will be the other two people out of the ten who will give you a chance.
One of these people was Susie Wolff, the F1 driver. How amazing that an international sports star would make the time to support what I was doing. I was blown away. Another was Sara Danesin Medio, the MasterChef finalist who set up her own dining club at her home in York.
The reaction I had from people was wonderful. Lots of women who’d read the first edition told me they wanted to be Cecile Reinaud, founder of maternity fashion label, Séraphine. A compliment indeed!
Edition two was slightly less painful than the first, and so things got easier. By this time I’d got a bit better at reaching out to contacts. Ian Filby, Chief Executive of DFS was our first male contributor, champion of gender balanced workplaces and my first interviewee. (Everything up until this point has been done in writing over email.)
I’d prepared my questions in advance, so all I had to do was read them out and record Ian’s responses. The slight snag was that I wasn’t expert in using the voice recorder on my iPhone, so as the interview was drawing to a close, I managed to set it off playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’… Still an 80’s classic, but not right as a soundtrack to my first interview. Cringe!
A consummate professional executive and gentleman, Ian managed not to laugh as I struggled to silence Michael.
But things got better. I was starting to find more contributors. I discovered that women (and men) flying the flag for diversity were to be found the whole world over.
It was in March that I met Foong Ng over Twitter. Foong is a fellow believer in corporate diversity who started a bi-weekly newsletter, Suit & Pie at the start of the year. We arranged to grab a coffee in London and I knew straight away that we would be friends for a very long time. We shared our experiences about our respective quests to make a difference in the world as best we could. We agreed that the web and social media seemed like a good place to start.
I also met the Apprentice finalist, Claire Young for a photo shoot in March. Lord Sugar had nicknamed her ‘The Rottweiler’ so I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect, but Claire was completely charming and supportive. I got determined and driven, but I didn’t get ‘rottweiler’. She loved the idea of Womanthology and she wanted to help.
It was also this month that one of my tweets was reproduced by the Telegraph Wonder Women, for which I will be eternally grateful. (I jumped around my kitchen quite a lot when I discovered this…)
By then it was April. There were more contributors with interesting stories to tell. This was when I had an epiphany. I’d been sat in my kitchen writing one Sunday. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself as it seemed like everyone else was out having fun. I was like a Cinderella of my own creation in some self-imposed exile, locked away writing something that I wasn’t sure anybody was going to read anyway.
But then I received an email through the site from Julia Dobson of Village England. She’d found Womanthology and she was contacting me to see if she could help out as she loved what she found. Joy and jubilation! Someone was reading it! (And her handbags were lovely too…) This will make a great scene for the film of my life (assuming it ever gets made…)
April was also the time I managed to get myself some tickets to see Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of ‘Lean In’, at an event organised by The Guardian’s Women Leaders in London. My friend was unable to join me, so I’d contacted Amanda Thomson of Skinny Champagne to see if she’d like to come along after she’d mentioned ‘Lean In’ during one of our conversations. She agreed to meet up.
Amanda is former journalist; she has this relaxed confidence about her and she is great company. The perfect companion for ‘meeting’ Sheryl. The event was fantastic. I was so inspired I decided to ask a question, but I was quite shocked when the roving mic came over to me first. I managed to mumble a question, but this was an important lesson about seizing the moment and being ready for anything. The next time I get the opportunity to speak to Sheryl Sandberg, I will rehearse what I’m going to say first.
Talking of being ready for anything, it was at this event that I met another Twitter associate, Sitara Warren. We’d realised we’d both be at the event so we grabbed a drink afterwards. Sitara had also asked Sheryl a question that had structure and made sense, far surpassing my effort. That was it. Sitara was one of my new idols…
By May things were really starting to take off. I’d introduced Foong and Sitara at a meet up in London and we’d agreed to form a small Lean In circle. I think I’ve mentioned the Jim Rohn quote before that says you are supposed to become like the five people you spend most time with, so you should choose carefully. I’ve found it an incredible source of strength to have two like-minded people to bounce ideas off.
I also received my first formal invitation as a member of the press. I’d featured the super-talented milliner, Lizzie McQuade in a previous issue. Lizzie had been asked to design an artisan retreat for the Chelsea Flower Show, so she’d invited me along to meet her and see it.
It was press day and in addition to having a lovely chat with Lizzie to find out more about her work and her inspiration, I was also able to mix and mingle with the press and celebs. I saw Michael McIntyre getting lunch with Rob Brydon. I saw Jeremy Paxman being chased around by a robot. I was in the gift shop with Mary Berry. In short, I had arrived, but I had to ensure I behave like a proper journo and I stopped staring.
In May I was also invited to attend the Women’s Sport Trust ‘Be a Gamechanger’ event where I met Olympic gold medal winning rower, Anna Watkins, England women’s cricket captain, Charlotte Edwards and also Andy Murray’s mum, Judy. I was sat with the fantastic Kate Grey, Paralympic swimmer and sports reporter at the event. She is one of the most positive people I have met as part of this process and she’s rather an excellent blogger too.
In June I was invited to attend the L’Oréal ‘For Women in Science’ Awards at the Royal Society in London. I met some amazing people, including their charismatic French Non-Executive Chairman, Jean-Jacques Lebel, who read my name badge and enquired, “What is Womanthology?” I felt like a mysterious enigma, but went on to explain the work I’d done to create the brand and concept as best I could…
In June I also visited Vodafone’s HQ in Newbury to talk to their Women’s Network about the work I did to set up Womanthology. The audience was about 150 people and their auditorium felt huge. This was the first time I’d spoken to a large group about Womanthology and I was half excited / half terrified. What actually happened was that a few minutes into my talk I realised how much easier it is to talk to a large group of people when you’re talking about something you created yourself and you love. And so I got into ‘the zone’ and relaxed.
It was lovely to receive follow up emails for women who attended and who had been influenced by hearing about Womanthology.
At the end of June, I was invited to attend a parliamentary round table in Westminster about drivers for female entrepreneurship. This was to be my first taste of feeding into anything with a political agenda, but I found the whole process fascinating. At this event I met Debbie Wosskow (who recently led the Government’s independent review of the sharing economy) and Julie Lawn, a social enterprise expert, amongst others. Womanthology entrepreneur contributors Amanda Thomson, Romy Gill, Julia Dobson and Sara Danesin Medio also shared their thoughts in the session.
By July my network has grown to the point where contributors had begun to approach me with stories. I found out that if I was able to connect the people I had reached out to, great things could happen too. It was at this point that I discovered that people I’d connected had started doing business on the basis of my introductions.
Most of the rest of July passed fairly quietly as much of Womanthology’s audience prepared to head off on summer holidays.
I’d been expecting a fairly relaxed August as it was holiday time, but it couldn’t have been less so in reality. You can imagine my surprise when I received an invitation to visit 10 Downing Street with my digital business hat on. I locked myself in the house for most of the preceding two weeks in order to do my homework and prepare.
What an amazing day! It’s not often that you get chance to share your vision of a better tomorrow at David Cameron’s house. It seems that progress is being made for women as entrepreneurs and in the workplace, but as a believer in the power of positive thought and action and I know there is always more that can be done to pick up the pace for change.
If you take a pragmatic look at the UK economy, how can you afford not to upskill and empower women? A huge amount of untapped skill and potential remains out there that is currently going to waste. This amounts to billions of pounds of potential income. Women who earn less than men pay less tax than men. If you want the economy to do better, then help women earn more and banish the gender pay gap. Simple.
Politics had always left me cold until recently, but I realise now that it’s only when enough people take enough of an interest that positive change happens.
By the end of September I realised Womanthology had become a proper digital magazine. I reached this epiphany as the site needed to increase its bandwidth twice in quick succession in order to cope with the traffic it was receiving. When I got this news I lay down on the floor and cried because this made me so happy. (Sad, but true!)
At around the same time I received this revelation I also received an invitation from Katie McPhee of Eventbrite to hold a Womanthology event as part of Brite Space London, their pop-up festival of talent. I’d been itching to run my own event for months, so I thought “what the heck?”
So by early October the first Womanthology event was all systems go. I’d assembled my panel of experts, so the day came and I was joined by Womanthology’s resident career psychologist, Nimita Shah, our resident childcare guru, Oliver Black of My Family Care and all round wise woman and diversity change maker / blogger Sitara Warren. We talked about finding your professional passion and how to maintain a sense of balance with the other things that are important in your life.
I was joined by some other Womanthology friends and champions and it felt like all the effort had been worthwhile. Womanthology was coming to life and I couldn’t have been more proud.
In October I’d featured a MasterCard backed initiative called Ro’Ya where they partnered with the Dubai Business Women’s Council in order to offer support to female entrepreneurs. I received an invitation to attend their gala dinner taking place at the end of November. I’d always wanted to go to Dubai so I decided to go against my usually conservative nature, say “yes” and have an adventure.
I’m fortunate to be in a position to take this offer up. I hadn’t been on holiday this year and I’ve been keeping an eye on my spending so I decided to go for it. It’s been an incredible year and this has to be one of the highlights. This was my first ‘proper’ overseas business trip and I have to say I’m hooked. How liberating to be able to meet the people doing the things that inspire you, no matter where in the world they are.
The insight into a different business culture was refreshing too. The Emirati women I met were strong and independent, as were the expat women. A different kind of strong and independent to the strong and independent women I know in the UK. Diversity in action. Look out for more on Dubai in the New Year.
So now we’re in December. This is the final edition of the year. There’s a real sense of momentum now and it’s something I want to keep up for 2015. If you’re reading this (and full marks if you’ve read all the way to the end of this round-up, it’s a biggie), you’re hopefully interested in women being able to be themselves, unapologetically and to be able to reach their full potential.
Thank-you so much for your support and your interest in 2014. There wouldn’t be a Womanthology without the women (and men) who are prepared to share their stories and encouragement and without the readers who share their enthusiasm for creating positive change. I look at what we’ve achieved together in less than ten months and I’m excited about what is in store for 2015. I’m looking forward to sharing the next part of the journey with you all.