As the people of Scotland considered what it meant to be Scottish recently, the Women’s Security Society (WSS) brought over 100 men and women together to think about their own identities and personal brands. SecurityNewsDesk attended the WSS conference in September, with the theme Your Personal Brand, to hear top-notch speakers explore why women, and men, are often not as good as they could be at marketing themselves.
PwC hosted the event in its Embankment Place offices, and one of the firms senior Partners and Head of People, Gaenor Bagley, welcomed everyone to the event, stressing the importance of diversity and embracing difference to PwC. As a woman on the Executive Board of PwC, Bagley really understands the importance of your ‘personal brand’.
The first speaker was Lisa Jones, who is on the Women on Boards UK (WOB UK) Advisory Board. Jones, who took her first board position at the age of 29, had the audience captivated with details of her amazing career and a range of good advice. Whilst many know it to be true, it’s great to hear someone of Jones’ stature remind you that you can get to the top if you:
- Run your own PR campaign
- Get out there and network
- And sign up to WOB UK (womenonboards.co.uk)
Jones passionately believes that we’re never too young to get to know what goes on in the board room, and she was keen to prove to the audience that being a director of an executive or non-executive board is good for your career and your personal brand. She wants women to feel that they are capable of board level roles and of advancing all the way to the top.
“We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling,” she said, “and while I don’t think it’s broken, I do think it’s getting thinner and it is possible to get to the top. Data that compares companies with more women on their boards to those with fewer clearly demonstrates why we want women on top. Companies with more women on their boards outperform their counterparts, and I suspect that this is not necessarily just because of having more women in senior positions. WOB UK strongly advocates that women should be promoted on merit and talent, but I think these organisations probably manage their talent better, are more open and have different mind set.”
Jones also educated the audience on the fact that although women are clearly under-represented at career level it does not start out like that, with things being pretty much level pegging when we all start out at university. And yet, there are only three or four female CEOs in the FTSE 100.
“We assume that if women are equally talented and committed they should be promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts – this quite simply is not the case,” said Jones. “The root of the problem lies with stereotyping and cultural expectations that still have men case in strong leadership roles, whereas women are still expected to be a little bit delicate and pretty and raise the children. Both sexes are judged if they do things differently to that cultural stereotype, which is deeply ingrained and hard to break.”
Jones and WOB UK believe that one of the keys to breaking this down is to ensure women have access to the information they need. She pointed out that it is more common for men to be asked to join a board, whereas women need to be more proactive – but many simply don’t know where to start. That’s why WOB UK, launched in the UK in 2012 following WOB success in Australia since 2000, collates over 2,000 non-executive board vacancies for more than 8,000 members to peruse, as well as offering workshops, seminars and support in obtaining roles they apply for.
Jones concluded by highlighted that once women get to the top they shouldn’t just stop there, saying that it’s important for them to recognise the role they can play in supporting those who follow behind them by hiring female talent themselves.
With everyone feeling truly inspired and ready to sign up to WOB, Major Chris Hunter QGM took the stand to inspire the audience in a totally different way. Hunter explained how his own personal brand grew quite accidentally from his impressive military background and he was able to turn to his experiences to deliver practical advice for the audience – including “don’t learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade”. For instance, time spent working with Special Forces personnel taught him that doing the basics well is the key a high success rate, as well as highlighting the importance of the three Rs:
- Respect for yourself
- Respect for others
- Responsibility for your actions
The audience found it reassuring to hear from someone who didn’t have their whole career mapped out at the start, but found that one thing led to another and as a result of simply doing a good job he found success. This reinforced the importance of focusing on what’s important to them, with Hunter delivering an overall message that you should always try to excel.
Hunter said, “I’ve always tried to excel, to be my own personal best. There’s always the possibility that there is someone out there that’s better at one thing or another, but if you choose to excel rather than compete it will probably do you more favours.”
He acknowledged we will all meet failure along the way, but that’s needed in order to truly appreciate success and can often open doors you wouldn’t normally expect. To this end Chris also advised listeners of the need to be thick skinned and to focus on and remember the positives.
“We’re all sensitive people, no matter how amazing you are,” he said, “and we tend not to listen to the credit but focus on the negativity. And I think I’ve learned to be a bit more thick skinned because there is always somebody who will say something negative. It’s important to remember that the amount of people who are positive will always number higher.”
Finally, Andy Woodfield, a partner in PwC’s International Aid Development Consulting practice, took the stage to build on this ideal of focusing on strengths not weaknesses. Woodfield helps to deliver PwC’s regular, free-to-attend Genius Power Dreams workshops, and he managed to condense the essence of these three hour sessions into his presentation. He began by highlighting that we’re not often told to focus on what we’re already good at and that we can unleash our potential by exploring our unique strengths.
“I strongly believe that 90 per cent of non-strength based, pure developmental feedback, i.e. this is what’s wrong with you, which doesn’t actively explore what’s right with you is typically more to do with the person giving that feedback and the situation they’re in,” said Woodfield. “Whereas strength based feedback, that helps you explore when you are at your best, really helps you get to your best more often. It’s this exploration of our strengths and exploration of when we’re at our best that really is the key to unlocking our potential.”
Building on the earlier talks he explained that being given negative feedback can have the same impact on the brain as being ambushed, stimulating a fight or flight response rather than a productive, engaged response.
Woodfield then got the audience talking with some audience participation, asking everyone to think about when they really enjoyed doing something that they were really good at and to share that with the person sitting next to them. This was followed up by an exercise asking everyone to describe themselves in five words and discussing those words with their neighbour and see if they agreed with the list – which lead to some interesting conversations!
With everyone feeling engaged and positive the talks came to a close with everyone heading for drinks, and it’s safe to say that everyone in the room could have included the word ‘social’ in their list of 5 words!
This concluded another informative event from the WSS that will hopefully see all the attendees go out and spread the word about the importance of building our own personal brands.
WSS would like to thank PwC for hosting the event and all three speakers for giving up their time to share their experience and words of wisdom, as well as the members for continuing to support and engage with the WSS.