I found the working party to be an incredible opportunity to collaborate with other women operating at a similar level and have found the whole experience with First Women to be one that challenges my own personal boundaries – which is always refreshing. With that said, here are some teachable moments from the Working Party.
One: Understand and exploit the broadest descriptions of your personal identity
So why did this question even cross my mind? The thought process started when I received an email about six months ago which said I had been nominated for a First Women Award in the Public Sector category. Not only did I think there had been a case of mistaken identity but I also considered there to be very little chance I would make the shortlist so thought I would celebrate every opportunity and sent in the extra information required. And then I got shortlisted for interview and it got real.
The interview panels for all the categories were held in a very sophisticated London hotel and my panel of three female judges represented CBI Wales, The City of London and the Social Business Trust. Whilst I have been interviewed and spoken publicly about my role and the organisation I work for regularly in recent years, I am unaccustomed to speaking about myself. Much to my frustration I found it terribly hard to really articulate my passion and drive for equality without talking of ‘team’ success and seemed to be diluting my own efforts to drive and deliver initiatives by not claiming my role in leading or influencing the work.
I walked out of the interview room with the same sinking exam experience many have had with: “I forgot to mention that event, and that latest policy would have been a great example”, where with hindsight your interview would have been so differently presented.
Two: Create a comprehensive record of personal achievements, challenges and results
Believing that I had nothing to offer and wanting to avoid embarrassment in true ‘Imposter Syndrome’ style I very nearly didn’t attend the awards dinner but I took time to consider the networking and learning opportunity the event would provide and decided that I should make the personal investment in the event and in myself by putting my hand in my pocket.
And as soon as I stepped into the hotel for the glamorous evening event I knew I had made the right decision; I was greeted by the First Women team and made to feel like I deserved to be there every bit as everyone else. No surprises that I didn’t win given the incredible achievements of my fellow sector-members but I met some fabulous ladies and we laughed and cheered together. And that was it, or so I thought.
Three: Investing in ourselves does not always incur a financial cost – take the leap.
And so to the reason for my post – the recent First Women Working Party. The event, held in a London hotel offered an invaluable space to reward those women who were shortlisted, and opportunities to collaborate and recognise our individual experiences across a variety of workshops.
Four: Women are strong on their own, but together they are incredible
The event was my first working party and I walked away with such a boost to my personal and professional confidence, and the opportunity to shape the content of the First Women Summit – to be held in Feb 2017 – that I feel much more able to put myself ‘out there’ and work on my personal identity. The working party stimulated some incredible discussions with examples from across the industries represented and made me feel incredibly valued.
Five: Engage with others about what motivates and inspires you; it may be common ground
I was also able to take part in a carefully staged – think posh magazine – group photo and I can’t wait to share this with my own female network to showcase the brilliant women that I met and who have already begun to shape my future work as they breakthrough and disrupt the ‘norm’.
Moving ahead, and slightly clichéd given the term used, but I do feel that I am working towards a summit or peak of my journey for this phase of my personal development. Having the investment and opportunity to look outside my normal professional boundaries at the First Women Working Party has given me the nudge to consider a broader perspective and I am hoping to use the lessons I have scoped to build the next 12 months with the Summit being a perfect half-way point to stop and reflect.
About the author
Sarah Maskell leads the development of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies within the Royal Air Force. She is responsible for providing strategic guidance to in excess of 40,000 personnel, employed in a variety of locations across the globe and to deliver a comprehensive, holistic package of D&I initiatives and projects within an overarching programme of leadership-led activity.