TEDxWomen 2019: our take on 'Bold and Brilliant'

For the past 5 years, I’ve hosted an annual event for the women I’m lucky enough to consider part of my professional network and beyond. It isn’t something I do by default. We all have busy lives and nobody’s interested in a superfluous gathering, especially not during silly season, so before I begin to plan the evening, I ask myself, first and foremost, whether it’s actually needed or useful.

In 2019, the answer was a resounding yes. I looked first at McKinsey’s most recent Women in the Workplace report. While we’re seeing more women rise to the top levels of companies, they continue to be underrepresented across the board. For every 100 men promoted and hired to manager, only 72 women follow suit. Men end up holding 62 percent of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38 percent. About 1 in 5 C-suite executives is a woman, only 1 in 25 C-suite executives is a woman of color, and FTSE 100 CEOs are more likely to be called Stephen, or Steve, than they are to be female.

Also, let’s not forget the unfair reality of the gender pay gap. The ONS reported earlier this year that, among full-time employees, it stands at 8.9%, which is little changed from 2018, and - the worst part - shows a decline of only 0.6 percentage points since 2012. Less than 1% progress over the course of 7 years is, quite simply, not good enough.

The business case for diversity is clear according to research from both McKinsey and the World Economic Forum.  Diverse boards create better outcomes and more profit for organisations. Supporting young girls and women around the world lifts GDP.  That’s good for all of us, regardless of gender, and why it makes sense to celebrate the ideas helping us make progress and to keep pushing for more. 

So, last Thursday 5th December, we came together at Wolff Olins around the TEDWomen 2019 theme of ‘Bold + Brilliant’. A great excuse to celebrate and highlight examples of those taking risks, innovating, and pioneering new directions. 

To this end, we were lucky enough to host three speakers: Cecilia Weckstrom - Head of Diversity, Inclusion & People Innovation at Lego, Gaylene Gould - Cultural Ambassador for London, and Tim Hole - Coach at Breathe Labs and Fellow of Gender Parity at the RSA.

First up, Cecilia explained her brilliant approach to innovation. She talked about the work of Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, and her theory on growth mindset. In a nutshell, this state encourages people to ‘believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work,’ and ‘creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment’. Cecilia has spent eighteen years understanding this, introducing it to Lego, and fostering it among employees, no matter their level or specialism.

Gaylene is pioneering in an entirely different way. She is passionate about the potential of art and believes there is an acute need for more of it in contemporary society. She told us she had ‘fallen in love many times’ with pieces of art, especially with ones that reflect the world as she understands it - that ‘fire mirror neurons’. She argued that, given the divisions in the country, exacerbated as they are by the election build up, we should leverage the emotive power of art. We should use it to bring people together and reunite them, she told us, quoting the late Toni Morrison.       

Finally, our male speaker, Tim, described his bold approach to inclusive coaching and workshopping. He told us how he saw female clients face more obstacles than their male counterparts, and how he watched the dynamics play out in group sessions. To counter this, he has developed new techniques that alter the conditions of these sessions. He is a fan, for example, of jigsaw learning - a method that makes participants dependent on each other to succeed - and of asking only how/what questions to inspire candour.

At the end of the evening, we took questions from the audience and the one that struck me the most was from a woman with a teenage daughter, wanting to know what single piece of advice to give her back at home. How could she help her be bold and brilliant, whether through innovation in the workplace like Cecilia, through pioneering in the cultural space like Gaylene, through developing new inclusion techniques like Tim, or through something else completely?

The advice was, I think, simple and effective. 

- Don’t narrow down too quickly
- Stay open to possibility
- Run your own race    

This festive season, I’ll toast to that. All that’s left is for me to say a huge thank you to our speakers for bringing play, love, and connection into the room, to our attendees for taking the time, and to TEDxWomen for reminding us to come together. If you’re interested in learning more or coming along to the next event, do get in touch.

Talks from the event are below and I’d like to end with a huge thank you not only to Cecilia, Gaylene and Tim, but also to my wonderful co-creators Estelle Wackermann, Lucy Farrow, Iossie Ng Lei, Kwey Le Marchant, Paul Forbes, Chris Conway, Franc Falco and Jemma Elliot for helping to create such a special evening.

Cecilia, Gaylene and Tim on being 'Bold and Brilliant'