i’m returning to the stage at the Lead Developer London conference this June where I’ll be talking about my experiences hiring through an anonymous recruitment process and how this lead my team to conduct some very interesting research into what might put off traditionally marginalised job seekers from applying.Read More
The Brave Podcast: Tales of Resilience
After a couple of months beavering away behind the scenes, I’m delighted to announce that my first ever podcast, The Brave, is now live on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
The Brave is an exploration of resilience, a topic which I have become fascinated with over the past few years. In each episode I interview someone new about how they have overcome challenges and their methodologies for dealing with adversity.
What topics will The Brave cover?
Mental health, physical endurance, dealing with stress, overcoming disaster, grief, loss, hope, keeping it together under pressure, the expectations of others, life under the social media lens, coping when things go wrong, coping when things go well, dealing with your own expectations, being yourself, how to push yourself, when to be kind to yourself, giving up and much, much more.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here
Listen on Spotify here
If you enjoy what you hear, I’d be so grateful if you left a review and/or star rating.
Despite growing recognition of the benefits of gender equality, the number of women holding the most senior jobs in the boardrooms of Britain’s FTSE 100 is actually falling.
This, combined with the gender pay gap, is startlingly indicative of a society which still does not recognise women’s contributions equally and is subsequently missing out on the contributions of a talented and diverse workforce.
There are many structural and societal reasons why women are less likely to climb the corporate ladder; the lack of truly flexible working options for those with caring responsibilities, exclusion from male dominated networking opportunities and the fact that women are less likely to talk about their achievements, which therefore makes them less visible.
Self promotion for women is a double-edged sword
Women are socialised from a very early age to appear modest in public, an idea which has roots in Ancient Greek society and perhaps even earlier. This ‘modesty norm’ is reinforced and carried on into the workplace, where - “boasting about one’s accomplishments causes women to experience uncomfortable situational arousal.”
In a nutshell, talking about our accomplishments makes us feel deeply uncomfortable. However in order to get ahead at work, we need to talk about our accomplishments.
A recent study, which sought to explore why women are so uncomfortable self-promoting, found results that were “most consistent with a backlash avoidance mechanism whereby women feel uncomfortable self-promoting due to perceived social consequences.”
Research has also found that women do experience a backlash when self-promoting, and are less liked than women who adhere to the social norm. So, when self-promotion is needed for success, women are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t, it seems.
#Iamremarkable is a Google initiative empowering women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond. The initiative empowers women to run events across the globe, which consist of a 90 minute workshop seeking to “highlight to participants the importance of self promotion in their careers and provide them with the tools to start developing this skill.”
Hannah started off the workshop with a stark point - your accomplishments don’t speak for themselves, however women are expected to praise others and not throw attention on ourselves.
We then spent some time discussing this and sharing our own experiences of the gendered difference in self promotion. I don’t want to share the experiences of others here without their permission, but I will say that some of the stories were shockingly sexist and deeply illustrative of the self-promotion double standard.
Sharing your accomplishments is uncomfortable
After a short break for food we each returned to our tables to find a blank sheet on A4 and a pen.
We were then instructed to fill the sheet with a list of our accomplishments and to do this in silence, without conferring with others. After some time, we would then each read our lists back to the group on our tables.
My heart sank. There was honestly nothing I wanted to do less.
Writing the list was extremely difficult, for everyone. We all felt deeply uncomfortable, so much so that some of us broke the silence rule to express how uncomfortable we felt!
When it came to the reading of the lists, it was actually a fascinating experience. As everyone went round, I didn’t think for a second that anyone was bragging or self promoting in an “icky” way.
If anything, I was really interested to hear about everyone’s diverse achievements and why they are remarkable.
After reading out our lists in groups we then had a wider discussion about how it felt to write and read our list, with a bit of dissection around exactly why it felt so weird and wrong to do it.
Why am I remarkable?
It makes me deeply uncomfortable to share this list online.
What if people think I’m bragging?
What if I come across as arrogant, self-indulgent or self-important?
But that’s the problem isn’t it.
We worry that we come across badly if we share the good about ourselves. However if we don’t share the good, how do we expect others to recognise it?
So here we go:
I am often considered a leader
I am a good cat mum (🙌 to all the other cat mums in the audience)
I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and for others
I am good at what I do for a living
I am always first in line to try something new
I have lots of side projects (this blog, my podcast etc.)
I got an impressive degree mark
I consistently get up at 6am to go to the gym
I am brave and not afraid to go against the norm
I lost 5 stone and have kept it off for 5 years
I am good at thinking of creative ways to solve complex issues
I am very good at communicating
I am the life and soul of the party
Thank you to Women in Tech York and Hannah for running the workshop. I definitely feel more confident in talking about my accomplishments (as hopefully the list above evidences!) and really enjoyed discussing the issue with my peers.
What makes you remarkable - what are your awesome achievements?
Share in the comments below and smash societal expectations of modesty!
Last week I received the extremely exciting news that my talk submission had been accepted for The Lead Developer conference in London this June. I had submitted my application for a talk about hiring diverse teams on whim, not really expecting to be chosen as I knew the competition would be fierce.
I’m by no means an expert and would say I’m only really at the start of my “career” as a regular conference speaker. I’ve spoken at a handful of big events, including Dot York last October, and have also amassed a bit more experience talking at local meet-ups such as Front-End-York and Code Pen Hull.
In preparation for June, I started to look out on the big world wide web for conference speaking tips, but found a lot of the articles were targeted at established or high-profile speakers. I decided to put together my own set of tips for people who are in a similar position to me and perhaps thinking about speaking for the first time, or looking to progress from small events to larger platforms.
Pitch an original or compelling idea
If you’re making a submission to a very popular call for papers/speakers, the likelihood is that there will be people pitching very similar topics to yours in a general sense.
In order to catch the organiser’s attention you need to make sure that your talk proposal has a USP that sets you apart from the other submissions. This USP needs to be compelling and ideally original.
If you have a story, experience or point of view that is unique to you - make sure you highlight that clearly in your application. Think about what you can bring to the table that can not be replicated by someone else - that might be an unusual career history, experience in a particular company or vertical, or a story about how you have overcome an unusual challenge.
Begin by looking for shorter speaking slots
This is how I started with speaking at conferences and I think it’s a really good route into becoming a regular speaker. Whilst conference organisers want to bring new stories and faces to their events, they also need to know people can deliver a compelling and engaging talk, which is hard to judge if you don’t have a track record with public speaking.
Many conferences offer small slots to less experienced speakers for this reason. Firstly, it’s less daunting for people with less experience to go up and speak for 5 minutes as opposed to 30, secondly if the talk doesn't go as well, it’s not a huge chunk out of the delegates day.
I started off with a 5 minute slot at UpFront in Manchester way back in 2017 and have built things up from there. (On a side note, also look out for conferences which offer first time speaker programmes. This is how I got into UpFront).
Practice a lot, but not too much
My personal opinion is that you can tell when a talk is over-practiced - it takes on a slightly robotic feel and just doesn’t feel as authentic.
Whilst I’d never recommend just turning up and delivering something off the cuff (unless you know for a fact that works for you), there is a point where practicing will deliver diminishing returns.
I usually stop when I can remember the outline of my talk in the order I want to cover each point, even if the exact delivery differs on each run through.
Get feedback from multiple sources whilst writing your talk
It is (hopefully) very unlikely that you will have a homogenous audience on the day of your talk.
In reality, you will be speaking to a diverse range of people from a spectrum of backgrounds, each with a different set of experiences and opinions. A particular point or story that resonates with one person, may not resonate with another.
I would argue that your job as a speaker is to try and connect with as many people as possible through your narrative, however this can be hard to judge if you’re relying on your own judgement or the feedback of a few people. As they say, you do not equal your user (or audience).
To counterbalance this, try and get feedback on an initial outline of your talk from as many people as possible. Ask them what worked/or didn’t work for them and why - from this you will be able to gauge whether your talk has that wide-reaching impact.
It’s also useful to get feedback on the finished talk as your practicing, if only to understand if you’re talking to quickly or not enunciating properly.
I’m definitely not the canonical expert in public speaking, so I asked my community if they had any more tips to share with you:
Not conferences specifically but have done public speaking for large groups. I never scripted. I had bullet points and did prepare but delegates will forgive it being rough around the edges as long as you talk to them, look at them and engage. In my opinion of course. :-)— Love Cheese (@Lovecheeseyork) February 9, 2019
Pauses are your best friend. Allows points to hit home. I never knew what to do with my hands so good advice is to keep elbows by your side, start gesticulating with one hand and the other naturally follows.— Andy Bowman (@Bowman_A_B) February 9, 2019
“Be yourself, breath and smile - very simple but people often forget the basics when they are perhaps nervous or in panic mode 😄” - Sally Parker, MD Pick & Mix Marketing
I always find going through my presentation or what I want to say outloud before I write any slides, really helps me feel confident in what I’m saying.— Rebecca Rafferty (@RebeccaRaff10) February 10, 2019
I’m also a big fan of mostly winging it, then if it goes wrong or you forget something it’s less of an issue ☺️
“In addition to the good advice so far, watch ex US President Bill Clinton’s speeches - in particular the way he scans every part of his audience, making sure of apparent eye contact with all, wherever they are seated. Note also his measured pace of delivery, avoidance of repetition and absolute absence of “err”, “erm”, and other filler words such as “like” and “basically”. Clean, crisp and to the point. Don’t be afraid of using short silences throughout your delivery. A short silence following an important point is an effective reinforcer of the point. Avoid subjecting the audience to what I term a continuous “ torrent of words”. Give them time to think about and absorb the crucial points in your delivery. If using PowerPoint or similar, avoid looking back and speaking to the projection screen. Keep eye contact with the audience and use your tablet/laptop screen in front of you to glance at the presentation for prompts etc. Avoid over-running, especially if yours is one of several successive presentations for the audience in that session. Finally, try to add some humour as appropriate - it always helps!” Bob White Managing Director at Blue Oak Consultancy
Be careful not to pack too much information into your presentation. You should be able to fit everything in and still have time to speak at a gentle pace, pausing and reflecting when needed. It's not a race to the end!— Claire Davies (@greedywordsmith) February 9, 2019
Keep smiling when it goes wrong. The audience only notices when you look uncomfortable.— Rachel Willmer (@rwillmer) February 8, 2019
“1, Plan your talk over weeks not days. Every time you get an idea write it down on a scrap of paper. Then after a few weeks arrange them into a structured talk - start, middle and end. 3, be a storyteller. Use advice from Hollywood script writer Michael Hauge 4, learn it without needing notes. Abraham Lincoln would read his aloud to make it stick. Do this over a few weeks. 5, if you feel nervous tell yourself it's ok. You only feel this way because you care. It's a healthy stress that helps. This is a stress challenge response not fight or flight. 6, Be enthusiastic and show lots of energy 7, get the audience involved. Ask them questions. 8, learn to be a feedback junkie. Learn to accept all feedback critical stuff is the best. 9. Do it often. The best speakers are those who practiced the most. “ Alex Burbidge, Founder of Pro Safety Management and Big Smiles
Make sure to take your time , and don’t try to fill in the pauses with unneeded words :)— GirlsinScience (@ScienceGirlsin) February 8, 2019
“Great question. I’ve done a fair bit of speaking. Here’s what I do: 1. Get super clear from the event organiser why I’m the speaker invited, what they need this session to achieve for the audience. 2. Edit out everything I enjoy sharing that doesn’t suit this audience/event/occasion. 3. Eliminate anything I don’t know to be true or worthwhile. I’m asking people to trust me with their time and attention; trust may be lent but never, I think, taken for granted. 4. Bring warmth into the room. Invite listeners to think with me. Sometimes that’s as simple as listening well to who’s spoken before me, and make respectful links to what together we’ve all heard. 5. Keep to the time. Nothing strangles a memorable close than an anxious Master of Ceremonies who needs to wrestle the mic and make up for time lost. 6. Prepare for the tech setup the event organiser described ahead of time, but be ready for technology to fail or falter. Whatever the circumstances, “the show must go on”. 7. Afterwards, if you meet people who were in the audience, thank them for their time and attention. Ask them about their whole day. If they mention your contribution, ask them if they have any questions or fresh angles on your topic.“ Kate Hammer, Founder of Throughline
Not a first time conference speaker, but I would advise practicing your talk in front of friends and relatives to avoid stage fright— Graeme Robinson (@grobiwebdesign) February 8, 2019
“I'd suggest the basics of making sure you wear something comfortable and appropriate for your audience. Especially comfy shoes. Practise standing still as this can add gravitas to your words. And be you! Don't try to be another speaker be you!!!” - Jules Wyman, Confidence Coach, Speaker & Author
Don’t put too much written content on a PowerPoint slide - people will read ahead and won’t focus their attention on you and what you’re saying.— Megan Hallinan (@MeganRex) February 12, 2019
Understand the audience, what can you do to help them achieve their goals.— Peter Mawson (@HighFarndale) February 12, 2019
Have a q&a if you can.
Two things I did for my first conference talk:— Scott Walton (@scott_walton) February 12, 2019
Practise until you find the content a bit boring
While talking, focus on looking at different parts of the audience, avoid looking just for the friendly faces
The latter makes everyone feel you’re speaking just to them
The best public speakers are the ones that seem confident in what they're saying. It's not about knowing everyone will love your talk, it's about not worrying if they don't. https://t.co/yzr0gLe1Ri and https://t.co/hv3OOS2hco Are great for more tips too.— Sam Beckham (@samdbeckham) February 11, 2019
Being British, I find it extremely uncomfortable to talk about myself in a positive manner. I generally try to deflect all compliments with some form self-effacing comeback - "oh I wasn't really that involved in the project" or "It was just luck."
With this in mind, I'm going to do my best to talk about the best thing I have ever created (even writing that makes me cringe internally, despite the fact I honestly believe it).
The thing is though, I am seriously proud of what I have made.
Even if the whole thing was rendered wholly non-existent tomorrow, I know I worked hard to put together something that speaks to a bold and unambiguous goal - "How do we make this world better, for everyone?"
This is the story of how I made said thing.
In 2014 I took on a business, Bright Ethics, which at the time was operating as a marketing consultancy that was working on the idea of building an ethical assessment.
The owner wanted to pass on the business for personal reasons and during discussions both the name "Bright Ethics" and idea of an ethical assessment really excited and intrigued me. (I know you shouldn't buy a business for a name, but hey, a good one doesn't hurt things).
Despite the fact I had no idea what I was doing - I took the leap and acquired the business with a couple of other directors.
Start at the problem
All good business ideas start with identifying and solving a problem.
That's start-up orthodoxy 101 right.
Ours was a simple one:
How do you know whether a business is a good business?
(E.g. one that doesn't screw over it's workers, treat the planet like garbage or invest in a supply chain riddled with examples of modern slavery - we will come onto more nuanced definitions shortly though!)
This leads to a secondary question - can you trust a business when it says it is a "good" business?
E.g. lots of organisations like to talk about being "green," "eco-friendly" and "sustainable"
But what do these terms actually mean? How do you quantify them? Can you quantify them?
Research, research, research
The second rule of a start-up is surely - do your damn research.
Unfortunately due to my limited knowledge and understanding of ethical business subject area, I had to start at the beginning.
First there was the issue of what we were actually measuring when it came to "goodness" - who decides what is good and what is bad? This is where the term ethical started to come into play, which unfortunately led into even more questions:
What does ethical mean?
What about morality vs ethics?
What does it mean to be an ethical business?
Over the next couple of years I spoke with hundreds of people - from friends and family, to business owners, executives, front line employees and academics.
Responses to the questions above were broad and also convergent in many respects, which was actually quite surprising. What really struck me though was the strength of feeling which surrounded the issue of ethics in business - many people were just as passionate about it as me!
During this period I also sifted through a wide range of academic texts on ethics and ethics in business. Whilst some of these were perhaps slightly too esoteric, there was much value in understanding and subsequently standing on the shoulders of giants.
A positioning statement
After a lot of discussion, research, debate and general hard thinking - we came up with the following defining statement to position our work:
"When talking about ethics, it is important to define the context within which your definition is operating.
For the purposes of assessing ethical business practices, we are not concerned with meta-ethical questions dealing with the origin and nature of ethical principles (e.g. religious interpretations about what is good and bad). Arguments surrounding ontological, semantic and epistemological meanings will always remain unresolved and widely debated.
Ethical behaviour in this context concretely relates to the principles and standards which guide behaviours and decisions within organisations.
Judgements regarding the positive or negative status of principles and standards are developed and upheld by societies, forming a part of everyday life.
These judgements are part of the social contract and are therefore subject to shifts as this contract is renegotiated through cultural and societal developments.
At the heart of an ethical business is the recognition of the needs of wider entities whose interests exist beyond the core purpose of the organisation
– which is usually to maximise profit. These external individuals and entities include (and are not limited to) staff, customers, community, environment, planet and the economy.
An ethical organisation is one that will take external concerns into account when developing policies, procedures and actions.
Through consciously re-thinking and re-imagining its activities, an ethical organisation will seek to mitigate any negative impact on external entities and maximise opportunities to make a positive impact on them. It will work alongside them on a consultative basis in order to understand this."
Time for nuance
Once we had an overall concept of what it means to be an ethical business, it was time to start digging into the meaty underbelly of the behaviours, policies and procedures that mark out a business that truly is ethical in both speech and act.
This is where the initial research became pivotal, as we had three sides of a coin that needed to be minted into something acceptable for all parties.
On the one hand we had the general consumers idea of what an ethical business should look like, on the other there is the academic understanding and construction of ethical business practices, on the third hand we had the businesses themselves and their own perceptions of acceptable ethical behaviour and the financial limitations of adopting further responsible regimes.
After all, to be an ethical business, you need to still be in business.
This is where the exercise really became about finding common threads between all parties and working out the lines which when crossed, would be unacceptable to one or more of the three groups.
After a lot of analysis, we came together with five key ethical headings under which distinct ethical behaviours, policies and practices could be described:
* Values and Leadership - how is ethical behaviour framed and how is it championed from the top?
* Customer Experience - How does the organisation ensure its customers are treated with respect?
* Environmental Sustainability - how does the organisation demonstrate a positive commitment to the planet?
* Sourcing with Integrity - How does the organisation ensure its supply chain benefits society, the economy and the environment?
* Positive workplaces - how does the organisation ensure ALL employees are respected, rewarded and appreciated?
During this stage we toyed around a lot with the idea of including ethical financial practices, especially those around paying tax, in the list. However the folks at Fair Tax Mark have got this well covered, which is ace!
The Bright Ethics Standard
Years of work have cumulated in a set of ethical standards that represent a rigorous and ambitious blueprint for ethical businesses.
I believe that we have created something that is both achievable and challenging for businesses/organisations - a process that quantifies and forces them to understand how they can positively impact the world, whilst also providing clear and actionable guidelines on how they can make this happen.
I also believe that we are providing something of equal value to consumers. We have created a hallmark which stands up to the challenge of being the trusted symbol which indicates that the organisation you are buying from does care about people and planet - and can prove it.
How does it work then?
Basically the Standard lays out the set of criteria that an organisation has to meet when they undertake the Bright Ethics Assessment, all grouped under the five headings described above.
In order to be awarded the Bright Ethics seal of approval, an organisation has to demonstrate that it meets a minimum threshold of ethical criteria across all sections.
The Assessment is undertaken by an trained assessor, who measures compliance using both documentation and an on-site assessment.
This in-person element was really important to me, because I felt that answers to some of the criteria stated in the standard, e.g. "There is a work-life balance strategy which meets the needs of employees and employers" could only be truly collected and evaluated through staff interviews.
A note on assessors - after working on the standard documentation for so long, it became clear that I did not have the required expertise needed to be an assessor - we needed the help of professionals.
(Recognising that you need external help is an extremely important lesson I had to learn throughout this entire process.)
We are currently partnered with The Centre For Assessment, who are experts in delivering a number of globally recognised certifications. We are extremely proud to be able to call on their expertise and depth of experience!
There is no straight path
I will be the first to admit that the entire Bright Ethics journey has not been without frustration, tears and sprinklings failure.
Throughout the process I made numerous errors and sidesteps, I mean hell at one point I was ready to pivot the entire business into an e-commerce platform selling ethical products!
I've come across people who have literally called me crazy to my face and others who have wholeheartedly embraced the concept - it's like anything. Some people will love an idea, others will hate it.
The key really is to listen to your own gut instinct and keep on experimenting and iterating. Eventually, with enough trial and error, you will end up with a viable solution.
I must end with an acknowledgement that I do stand on the shoulders of giants and that creating the Bright Ethics Standard was not the work of one individual.
Over the years I have had the input of numerous people - friends, academics, colleagues, acquaintances and random friendly folk in bars who have put up with my incessant drunk questioning of "what does it mean to be good... no really.. like REALLY good"
Most importantly, I must thank Zach Lowens, who provided extremely knowledgeable and deservedly critical feedback on my work so far. His recommendations have further enriched the Standard and ensured that each section represents an ambitious and impactful outline for ethical businesses to work towards.