I never in a million years expected that Helen and I would have been co-hosting an ‘’unconference’ at an event hosted by Prerana Issar, the NHS chief people officer for England and Samantha Allen, chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and chair of the Health and Care Womens Leaders Network. The globally known Helen Bevan, chief transformation Officer was the ‘MC’ for the event – what an inspirational line-up! In fact, when Helen DC suggested it I very casually replied “yes, that would good, that will push us out of our comfort zone” without giving it too much thought. It was only when we realised over 3000 people had signed up to the event that the ‘oh what have we done?’ began to kick in. The event ended with over 5000 people signing up – what incredible achievement.

As part of a presenter WhatsApp group, the nervous excitement began to grow a few days before the event. Fellow presenters were beginning to connect with each other sharing their apprehension about the forthcoming day. As I watched from the sidelines (it takes me a while to build up the confidence to join in) I could see what was beginning to form was a ‘sisterhood’, a community of incredibly supportive women all sending words of encouragement (and emoji’s – who doesn’t love an emoji?) to each other. Albeit on the sidelines, I still felt very much part of the group, the growing community. I thought to myself, how was this possible when I don’t even know these people and yet I feel I belong? What I noticed was that it didn’t matter what your contribution to the chat might be, it was welcomed and you were suddenly part of the fold. I eventually plucked up the courage to contribute and found I instantly got swept along with the enthusiasm – such a wonderful, empowering feeling.  

Even after everyone had presented and the event began to draw to a close the WhatsApp group were still encouraging, supporting and respecting one another. Who knows, some may have started the day as supportive strangers but ended the day as friends. 

Let me take you back to the ‘unconference’ Helen and I hosted. It was entitled “Forging Our Own Path Whatever our Footwear of Choice”. I’ve always found it quite fascinating how clothes and shoes (shoes in particular in my case) can give us the sense of “girl-power” and anything is possible. In fact it has been known and commented on over the years with groups of male colleagues “she’s wearing heels chaps, she means business!” We touched on this during our group conversation and it seems I wasn’t alone. Interestingly though, during lockdown, slippers seemed to be the footwear of choice and girl power is still thriving – there is a message in this for us I think!

Helen and I shared our experience of being women pioneering in health and care – in particular the introduction of the HOPE (Help to Overcome Problems Effectively) Programme in a medical world of predominantly male clinicians. You can read further about our experience in our previous blogs on this site.https://changeunlockedtoday.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/trial-and-much-error/ 

In the spirit of learning from one another, sharing our experiences maybe helpful but we were keen to take our personal learning deeper. We offered the group a couple of tools that might help us better understand our marginalisation as women together with our positional power and privilege.

The first tool, the wheel of power and privilege was kindly shared by Sylvia Duckworth on Twitter (thank you Sylvia!) and it can be seen above. We found this wheel to be so engaging and enlightening that we decided to convert it into a short questionnaire and share with our group. The results of the group can be seen in the radar diagram below and was a great conversation starter into a topic that can sometimes feel uncomfortable. In my personal view, the more we can talk about power and privilege the more we learn and hopefully less judgements are made – a small step towards appreciating each other for who we are, not what we are. After-all, embracing diversity and seeing the world through different lenses helps us build on our rich fabric of society. As women, it is our responsibility to recognise where we hold more powerful positions on the wheel than others and commit to supporting them to achieve their ambitions rather than holding them back.

Such tools encourage conversations that start providing us with invaluable information and knowledge that might give context to and explain why we are in the positions we are in. Importantly, if we are open and listen well, we are given clues as to how we might approach situations by being more curious and understanding and jumping less to conclusions and assumptions.

The above radar graph is the output from our online session questionnaire to understand what the power/privilege position our group had

Thanks to Becky Margiotta who founded the Billions Institute we also shared a set of 5 reflective questions (as seen below). Helen and I have used these in different situations, usually when we are undecided about something. In fact, my personal reflections upon these questions and newfound realisation enabled me to let go of my worries and gave me the courage to write this blog. I’ve held back before, as I now realise, down to the fear of being judged – not being good enough. I recognise as women that many of us carry such a burden. We sometimes hold ourselves back hindered by believing what we have been called or told by others during our lives. Being labelled ‘academically weak’ by a male consultant left me scarred for many years but with the help of the journal questions I have found my worth and risen above the critic. I am proud to be me, a woman who has much to offer the world even though I don’t have much in the way of qualifications. However, without sounding too corny I’d like to think I have plenty experience from the university of life. 

Finally, as I draw this blog to a close in the week of International Womens Day 2021 I have a couple of things left to say.

Firstly, thank you so much to our group who were spontaneously open in sharing their experiences – #EverydayCourage was in abundance.

Secondly, I came across a very poignant tweet “never let us forget those who came before us” with this picture below.

A thank you to those women that have gone before us just doesn’t feel sufficient and as we know, actions speak louder than words. Therefore, I pledge to create a wave of positive change enabling people to feel that they belong, whatever their footwear of choice, and in turn create their own waves of positivity in the world. I’ll leave you with two questions to ponder. What’s your pledge and what’s your footwear of choice?

Published by change unlocked today

Helen Davies-Cox and Chris Edworthy are 'Architects of Extraordinary Change' , having over 60 years of experience in the NHS between them, leading and engaging in change projects throughout their careers. email: changeunlockedtoday@gmail.com

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