Archives for the month of: March, 2015


It has struck me recently as absurd the way in which women tell their employees that they are pregnant.  “I’m so sorry” seems to be a common offering.  Both absurd and somehow understandable when you consider the cultural backdrop in the workplace against which the conversation happens.  And yet I think there’s another conversation that needs tackling so that workplaces can become more inclusive – the ‘I’m trying to get pregnant (and I’m finding it really tough)’ one.

The workplace culture currently seems a long way away from this. In a culture that is increasingly competitive and demanding increased resilience, hours and commitment from its people, a focus on something that will one day temporarily take them away from the workplace seems problematic.

Add to this the fact that infertility is a deeply personal subject with huge potential for shame. Our wider culture, if not the culture in the workplace, prizes fertility as part of our gender identity. Not particularly helpful for a man that has been told he has a low sperm count or a woman who has been told they aren’t ovulating regularly. Add to that, talking about sperm, periods, ovulation and so on is just a bit uncomfortable, even with your closest friends sometimes. Of course people might not want to be open about it. It’s a shame storm waiting to happen.

However I’ve come to realize that we are losing out by not talking about this. By keeping silent we lose that opportunity to connect and realise our common humanity.  As soon as one person opens up about a miscarriage, others share their experience.  Suffering quietly means that you lose the opportunity for your peers to connect and support you through a truly testing time.  You create a further stress on top of a pretty stressful situation – trying to keep the appointments and your hurt quiet.  Your bosses continue to hurl work your way and wonder why you’re not too emotionally resilient these days – not realising you’re still coming to terms with the news that it’s unlikely you’ll ever conceive naturally.

And I’m beginning to sense that, through keeping quiet, we are missing the chance to build the kind of workplace that I think many of us would like to see. One in which we encourage people to bring their whole selves in to the workplace. The pressure of keeping your homosexuality to yourself has been well documented in the brilliant book ‘The Glass Closet’. What about the pressure of keeping your biggest disappointments quiet, and instead pretending that everything is just dandy?  Could we create a workplace in which we show empathy and compassion for the struggles in our wider lives? Is it possible to create a workplace in which having children is seen as essential for the human race to continue – and so is welcomed and supported?

I am fully aware that the workplace is not ready for this conversation at the moment. It would be great if more women shared their stories, and yet my call is for a cultural shift led from the top. One of the most memorable moments in my career was hearing a founding partner of one of the top creative agencies talk candidly about her fertility struggle in front of 100 industry women. My call is for leaders to humanize the workplace, to role model having the difficult conversations and to bring in empathy. Let’s create a workplace in which everyone can bring their whole selves in to the workplace and be valued for it.

The Daring Way for female leaders talks about being brave, learning empathy and your purpose in the workplace :

BB Quote

May 2015 will see us deliver a Daring Way™ intensive for female leaders. As someone who has worked at a senior level in the corporate world, and has been through this work, I thought it was worth sharing my experiences.

So what stops women from stepping in to their leadership?

Maternity really was a great opportunity for me to step back and reflect on what had been going on for me in the workplace the past 12 years. It was also a time – in 2011 – when women’s voices were gaining momentum and presence about the structures and processes that were holding them back at work. Or maybe I’d just been too busy to notice their voices until then.

What really struck me was the way in which I had unwittingly held myself back. I had self-sabotaged. I had to take responsibility for how I had shown up in the workplace.

Looking back at my career, I see a bit of a wobble getting used to being in the workplace after university followed by a rapid progression to middle management.  I worked out quickly that the key to getting ahead was to be liked and appreciated in the office.  And that meant being reliable, getting stuff done, fitting in with the culture, being easy to line manage and not making mistakes.  I moved around the country quite a bit as a child and consequently learnt how to adapt and fit in.  I worked out how to adapt and changed my behaviour accordingly in my new role.

The three years before maternity felt different. It felt like a struggle.  I was working really hard, putting in long hours, getting great feedback from my clients and, it felt to me, not really getting the internal recognition for it.  I was getting feedback from my seniors telling me that I needed to exhibit greater leadership, have a vision and be more consistent in my emotions.  What I didn’t get was any clues as to how to actually do this.

Things began to shift for me on maternity leave and then further whilst exploring The Daring Way™ (Brené Brown’s experiential curriculum).  The work helped me dig deeper in understanding where these behaviours came from and gave me tools and techniques to help overcome them.  I realised that fear was what was stopping me from stepping in to my leadership.

Fear that people wouldn’t like me
The people-pleasing gremlin inside of me (that, let’s be honest, comes from a fear of not being liked), got in the way of me sticking my neck out, speaking uncomfortable truths and expressing my own point of view.  Supporting and developing people in the workplace is a core value of mine and a great leadership trait.  And I have come to realise that this is different to the hustle for being liked, which is driven by fear.

Fear that my ideas would be ignored or rejected
I had become known as the ‘do-er’ and it was pretty hard to shift this behaviour or this brand image, partly because I hadn’t understood what was driving it.  It was fear.  Doing, completing tasks, staying in action felt safe.  People would accept and appreciate what I was offering.  I was unconsciously terrified that if I stopped doing that, and offered ideas and vision instead, my contribution (and therefore myself) would be rejected.

Fear that if I became too “powerful” I wouldn’t fit in 
This was a new learning from The Daring Way™ for me.  When I was growing up my Mother was the head teacher of the local school.  She was actually a brilliant role model for me for female independence and drive.  Ridiculously (and understandably), as a child, I felt self-conscious of her difference to the other Mums and felt we didn’t ‘belong’ in the community as a result.  It had taken me a long time to feel like I ‘belonged’ in London and the unconscious internal messaging was that I would lose that sense of belonging if I progressed to the top at work.

So it was fear that stopped me from stepping in to my leadership.  And I suspect that managing all of the above fears were what drove the ‘inconsistency of emotion’ that my managers noted.

I see women being given similar feedback to me regularly and not being given the development, tools and techniques to truly address what is holding them back.  I think part of the challenge is that the process runs deep and involves some soul searching. It isn’t something you can tick on a ‘to do’ list. I trained to deliver the Daring Way™ because I instinctively felt that it would provide the tools and techniques to support women in showing up and being seen in the workplace.

The outcomes of this Daring Way™ work for female leaders are:
– Increased confidence and self-belief in your own perspectives, beliefs and vision
– Greater resilience; being able to be with conflict and difficult situations
– Freedom from limiting beliefs about your offering and your creativity
– A process to support you in stepping in to your leadership and managing what holds you back.

Contact for more information and click here to sign up to the event

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

‘If you don’t learn from it, then it’s just wasted pain’ – Liz Gilbert

I was reminded of these words last week during a, thankfully short-lived, health scare. As is so often the case, just when I needed it most, the universe came and dumped in my lap a situation full of learning and insight. The health scare became my teacher about true vulnerability.

I am married with two small children and a dog. I coach women and run workshops about Vulnerability for a living. I thought I knew this stuff.

A routine appointment at the doctors ended with an urgent referral to the hospital. I had to wait to be contacted about the appointment.

Ten minutes later I found myself avoiding my pre-booked yoga class and heading home to be with my husband and children.

Brené Brown’s definitions of Vulnerability resonate the most with me, and are the ones that I explore with people in coaching and workshops. It is showing up when there are no guarantees. It is emotional exposure. It is risk.

And, as I arrived home, it struck me suddenly how vulnerable it felt to even show up and be with my family. I had anticipated it being a comfort. It was actually a kick in the stomach. Just being with them, laughing and singing, felt excruciating. The enormity of what there was to lose – for us all. The potential devastation to those I love so much. The responsibility.

And I became aware that Shame had gatecrashed the family time too – grumbling, ‘What kind of mother do you think you are? Why did you not go to the Doctor months ago about that health niggle? Who are you to think you have immunity to all this health stuff? That’s it, you’ve failed as a mother and a wife’.

And in all of this excruciating vulnerability and mind wiping shame, I stopped showing up with my own family. I shut down. I was there in person and body but my heart and soul were missing in action. The time when we probably could have done with our own brand of connection the most and I was not there.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to my supervisor how difficult I was finding understanding the concept of numbing. It turns out I’m pretty good at doing it without the props. And still, once the children were in bed each evening, I reached out for whatever I could find to numb myself further – red wine, box sets of The Good Wife, sugar, chocolate.

Joy became the most difficult emotion to be with. I went to the theatre and felt myself shrinking at the fun and vitality observed on the stage. ‘Don’t enjoy this; this is what you’ve got to lose’, the joy stealing gremlins whispered in my ear. Until a beautiful rendition of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ had tears streaming down my face in awe of the beauty of the music, the lyrics and the shared witnessing of a peak experience with everyone else in the theatre.

I found I couldn’t even share my deepest fears with my husband. The magnitude, the scale, the sheer weight of the altered awareness was overwhelming. Even now I am struggling to describe the experience as I didn’t truly let myself go there. Best surely to exist a few metres back from the cliff edge and pretend it’s not there?

Now I’ve been given the all clear and can truly just get on with things. Yet this glimpse of a life with no guarantees is worth sitting with for a while longer. Buddhism teaches that nothing is permanent. The only certainties are sickness, old age and death. Rather than being morbid, this is about an enlightened approach to living. Our choices and behaviours would be so different if we could grasp this concept, and yet we live as if we are indestructible.

I understand why. Showing up and being seen in a life recognised as impermanent is perhaps the most vulnerable arena of them all.