This year, I’m walking my ‘daring way’ talk, stepping in to the arena and organising The Hobbs Consultancy’s first ever conference.  I do hope you will be able to join us.

The conference is going to explore our thinking about gender from a completely fresh perspective – what if we could integrate rather than separate?  This is a topic which informs how we consider our target audiences as advertisers and how we think about our employees as HR professionals and line managers.

We will listen to some diverse points of view about gender from different places – from the world of neuroscience (where we are learning that many gendered brain differences might be environmental rather than innate), from the perspective of teens and self esteem (where we are more recently seeing male teens struggle with body image issues, something previously seen predominantly in girls), from a female leadership editor (whose job depends on our differences and yet has some surprising views on the future) and from an agency network CEO (who has recently talked about the need for men to get involved in the quest for gender parity).

My hope is that we further the debate in a constructive way, whilst also being entertained, inspired and having the chance to catch up with professional colleagues.

The topic is also pertinent to me on a personal level as it reflects the change in my thinking over the past five years since leaving the corporate world to set up on my own in 2011.

Whilst on maternity leave, I was able to look back at the media and advertising industry from a more objective viewpoint and saw, literally for the first time, how being a woman had impacted upon my career.  Whilst working at MEC, then Carat and then Vizeum, as a grad through to a Managing Partner, I didn’t see how being female came in to the equation at all.  I think this was partly because I lacked the ability to look from the outside in, and also because of the fast pace of the job – reflective time didn’t really get to happen.

I set up The Hobbs Consultancy initially to support women through the key inflection stages of their career – maternity and the step in to leadership.  We don’t have a problem attracting young women in to our industry. We have an issue retaining them though their mid career stages, through the family stages and also in to leadership positions.

And let’s be clear. I am sure now that it was the organisations as much as the women within them that needed support. At the time I had self sabotaged and had brought my own challenges around perfectionism and people pleasing that often made it difficult to take the helicopter view and focus on what the right thing to do was. I was more focused on doing things right – keeping stuck in management rather than leadership mode.

Whilst working on a diversity project at a media network, I interviewed lots of men and women about gender in the workplace.  I was really surprised by what I heard.  There were three key themes from the men – either a disgruntled ‘why so much focus on women?’ which made them disengage from the project.  Or a ‘my wife / sister / daughter is struggling with some of this and I want to be part of the solution’.  Or ‘Why is it just the women that we’re talking to about extended leave and flexible working?’.

I began to realise that we very much needed men to be involved, that focusing solely on women is the antithesis of inclusivity and that our gender expectations or stereotypes can negatively impact on men as much as women.

I thought that talking about the business case for gender parity would be enough to get men involved.  I no longer believe that.  The men I speak to are actually far more interested on a personal level. How is this system not serving myself or the women in my life? How can it be different for all of us? How can I release myself from some of the expectations around masculinity? How can I get to spend more time with my family too?

So this is a conference for everyone.  It’s about how our binary ideas of what men and women should do, feel and think can get in the way for all of us.  The first wave of feminism, whilst making great strides forward (for which I’ll always be thankful) also got it wrong – they positioned themselves in opposition to men rather than with men.

I have a husband, a brother and two sons.  I look at our expectations on them to provide, to ‘man up’, to not display emotions, vulnerability and weakness and I see the other side of the same coin that has produced the so-called glass ceiling in the workplace.  Our gender stereotypes are damaging everyone.

What if we stopped thinking in opposition to one another and stopped thinking about how different we all are?

What would be possible?

Love, Rox

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