Ultimately we are all slightly crazy, vulnerable, striving human beings

By Gill White, Business and Market Development Director, CIPD

I’ve been asked to write a blog for International Women’s Day in my capacity as a woman and as a senior woman at the CIPD. I reflected on why I would not have done it, had I not been asked to. It’s quite simple – I’m not an advocate for separating genders whatever the circumstances – I don’t advocate men only golf clubs as equally as I don’t advocate women only exercise sessions.

Call me naive – and I probably am – but I can think of only a few rare occasions when my gender caused me to pause at work – and they were all over 20 years ago. There was the offer of a role in a wine business in my early 20’s when the owner and interviewer asked if I would let him down by having kids – I was lucky enough that I was in a position to simply turn the job down (and call him an “arse” on my way out the door!). And the time my colleague and I turned up at a large organisation to deliver a wine tasting and were asked to enter the club by an adapted window because women were not allowed over the threshold – we left… And finally, the Lodge that sought out my wine skills for a tasting but needed them delivered by a man… they missed out on a great night!

I cannot recall another circumstance in all my working life.  When I failed, I failed because of me and when I was successful it was my effort and skill that were rewarded.

I used to be MD for a consultancy business that had a women’s only programme (not of my invention), cheekily called “finding your C spot” – it was about candour, courage, collaboration, creativity – you get the play on words. What the attendees failed to understand was that we ran the same programme, with a different name, for mixed classes.

I have coached and mentored women desperate to break through ‘the glass ceiling’ – only to find its an invention of their mind. So busy are they “second guessing” every subtle nuance in their colleagues that they lose the assuredness of self-belief and confidence – time after time I have coached women who have “talked themselves out of their full potential”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that ‘the glass ceiling’ does exist for some, I know that some women are discriminated against purely because of their gender, I recognise that ‘the gender pay gap’ is real, and it’s not fair. There are organisations where testosterone, politics, ego, discrimination and narcissism abound – I’ve consulted in them, I’ve been appalled by them, I’ve laughed at them. I recall one occasion where a very senior man in a very large organisation introduced himself thus – “Hi, most people here just call me God” – back came that “arse” word (in my mind this time!) But I’ve never worked anywhere like that – I simply wouldn’t – and maybe that’s why my experience is so much more positive than many others.

And I guess that’s my point, on International Women’s Day – the men I have had the privilege to work for, alongside and for me over the years have shared the same fears, drive, angst and ambition as I have; yes they may articulate it differently -  but ultimately we are all slightly crazy, vulnerable, striving human beings just wanting to add value and feel connected.

So today – could I ask that we remember that leadership is a behaviour, a way of being in the world and if you do it with kindness and care, regardless of your role, gender or experience you’ll leave everyone you encounter better off for having met you.

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • A great article, thank you for writing. Also refreshing to read that you too don't like the separation of genders.

  • Thank you Gill for an interesting article.  It is so nice to hear that, like me, you don't advocate separating genders.  We live at a point in time where women have worked so hard to achieve 'equality' with men (and we owe such women a good deal of gratitude) but I look forward to a time when the focus is on qualities such as, for example, professionalism and talent, regardless of gender.  Will there ever be a time when workplace gender is irrelevant?  I fear that won't be any time soon while there are still god/arses such as the one you encountered!

  • Great article and I agree with your statement about leadership. I would add that the role of leadership is 'to create the working environment where everybody is nurtured, inspired, challenged and empowered to be their best and to contribute their best in service of the goals, vision and values of the organisation'.