Searcys Celebrates International Women’s Day8 March 2023
To mark International Women’s Day (March 8), Searcys welcomes an inspiring panel of leaders and an audience of colleagues to 116 Pall Mall for a Breakfast networking event and panel discussion on the importance of this day and what it mean’s to them, both professionally and personally.
Searcys Marketing Director, Anna Fenten sat down with Jocelyn Lightfoot (Managing Director of London Chamber Orchestra), Esther van der Zee (COO of UN Principles for Responsible Investment), Hanna Barrett (Director of Operations of Portcio), Denise Allen (People Director of Searcys and BaxterStorey) and Paul Jackson (Managing Director of Searcys and Portico).
Read along here:
Anna: International Women’s Day is actually 115 years old today, it started in 1908 in New York City when 15,000 people, 15,000 women without WhatsApp, and without the internet would come together and marched through the streets of this city asking for three things: Better pay, better working hours and voting rights, and of course, it became a global movement.
So the question to our panel is, do we need to celebrate today?
Esther: Yes absolutely. I am coming from a company affiliated with the UN, in 1975 the UN started celebrating International Women’s Day and actually in 1977 it was officially recognised as International Women’s Day for women’s rights and global peace, and we know that today women’s rights around the world are still not equal, so yeah, no reason why not we definitely need to continue.
Jocelyn: So I want you all to just listen to the response that my colleague said when I said ‘Should we still celebrate International Women’s Day?’ He said that it shouldn’t exist. Today is about challenging our perceptions and looking at people and not saying, ‘oh well you’re a woman and you are a leader so well done you.’ For me, International Women’s Day is extremely important for those reasons, but it is also very important for me to say that International Women’s Day is extremely binary. And that for me is clearly a much bigger challenge because there is no International Every woman is equal day, there is no international let’s stop judging people by social standards day, so for me, I hope in the next 5-10 years it becomes something slightly less binary.
Anna: Thank you. Every year there is a theme which is brought up for discussion, this year it’s about embracing equity and actually, it’s quite a complex subject so there’s a lovely quote I found. It says equality is giving everyone a show/shoe, equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits’.
So what does that message mean to you, Denise?
Denise: I think equity for me means having an equal playing field, really. I think it’s just as basic as that, so going into a room and being of equal value to my male colleagues, sometimes I still go to restaurants with my husband and they still put the bill in front of my husband, so some of those basic things. I think it’s just making sure that we have equal opportunities and individual, tailored support for all our people to grow and to develop within the organisation.
Anna: And Paul, what about you as a business leader?
Paul: As a business leader I think it’s ensuring we have a platform where we can discuss and ensure that we have the opportunity to talk through these challenges. I think it’s fair to say, but we are on a journey as you’ve said and in 5-10 years’ time who knows what that platform looks like? Hosting this event today is great to recognize as well and I think making sure that just gathers momentum as we go forward.
Hanna: That’s a very big question – for me, it is actually just to embrace how you feel about things, I don’t think we should beat ourselves up about finding an answer to imposter syndrome I think it’s naturally within us when we’re passionate about something when we care about something when we naturally want to do well at something, I think the biggest part is sort of overcoming it in your own mind, so being able to talk yourself out of imposter syndrome and not letting it consume you and your thoughts because it will prevent you from doing things. So, bite the bullet and commit to something and see it through to the end and don’t worry what anything else thinks, you’re doing it for you and for you to achieve the next big thing for yourself.
Anna: What empowers you?
Jocelyn: So I think what empowers me is the idea that I can take responsibility for being accountable for the actions of our company and not just taking responsibility for successes but also the failures as well, and even though that sounds like a sort of more vulnerable place to be, that’s actually where I feel most powerful, to say ‘okay well this is the situation, how are we going to solve it.
Esther: What empowers me is being able to be my authentic self with the support that I have at home but also with the support I have at the office. Being empowered is making sure that I can give that to all my team members, and then they can train them but also I can let them go and be themselves and it’s being that safety net that many were for me, and I hope I can be for many others.
Hanna: I think developing others and watching others grow, being there for others and listening because you learn a lot from listening particularly to all of you. So that empowers me, my two-year-old empowers me, I know that would surprise a lot of you who have met him by teams, but having that open mind, that innocent open mind, you know he’s not been influenced by anything, that certainly empowers me, to be more two-year-old sometimes I think.
Denise: I think similarly to what my fellow panellists have said I think workwise it’s really important to have a mentor and I would really encourage anyone who doesn’t have one to have one whether that’s your line manager or someone outside of the organisation, so I think that empowers me having a mentor internally and externally, and I would say my team, I’m very proud of them but seeing them grow equally empowers me as a woman, and I would say lastly my daughters, I’ve got two daughters, those that know me to know that I talk about them a lot but I’ve got a 13-year old and a seven-year-old, My elder daughter challenges me every day on women and people of colour, so that really empowers me.
Paul: When I talk about what keeps me up at night or what drives my momentum and I think opportunity and opportunity come in so many different ways, from a business leader it’s opportunity to grow the business, as a business leader I have a great responsibility for the people in this room, to navigate career paths, and making sure that we recognise all of the great stuff that people do as well and I think that just having time to recognize that and having time to enjoy it as well is really important, having time to celebrate, those who know me know I like a celebration as well so I think having that time to just reflect on what we do, because you can get suffocated in the today, in the BAU, and just actually sometimes when I walk round London I take a moment and think my god, isn’t this place a great place.
Anna: What advice would you give your younger self from here today?
Paul: For those who know me, probably slow down, just I think going back to what I said before it just takes some time to enjoy what you’re doing, and have confidence – we were discussing before that sometimes there is a perception that there is a right answer to something and actually it’s just an answer, it’s your answer and quite often a lot of people in the room are thinking the same thing, or oh dear I’m not sure I understood that, so just have some confidence and just be yourself.
Denise: I probably would not change massively in turns of what my younger self did, probably it has been slow off the mark with my career I would say, there’s nothing wrong with that. I would say probably if you are having imposter syndrome, which I suffered from when I was younger, is be kind to yourself and others, if you’re struggling then talk to them about that, but yeah I probably wouldn’t change massively what I’ve done just be kinder to myself a bit more.
Hannah: I would say, know when to take others’ advice and know when to take your own advice, and learn to sometimes perhaps ignore that little voice in your head that’s talking you in and out and out especially at 3 in the morning when it does that. That never tends to go away I think it’s just being conscious of it and trying to manage it a little bit more, but yeah that will definitely be helpful, and probably yeah just do it, I think you know, we just faff about a lot sometimes when you can just do it and achieve it, so go for it
Esther: I would say be bold and not be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone, stay true to yourself, be honest and go for it.
Jocelyn: I’ve got some quotes I’d like to share, a friend of mine a colleague of mine called Leah Broad has just written a book. The book is about 4 composers, and historical composers, and they were all written out of history for one reason does anyone want to take guess what that is? ‘women’ yes.
I think looking at my younger self, there were a lot of things which I had to work through, our industry is from the 1950s we are so behind on everything, in terms of inclusion and I would say to myself keep going, keep pushing, you will be able to eventually make a difference and I wish I’d had Leah in my life at that point and I read this book, particularly these quotes I’ve got 2 quotes, the first one is what she said in an interview with a London magazine about the book.
So, she says ‘together these composers show that there is no one way to be a composer, or indeed to be a woman.’ And I think through the last 150 years, we’re all still exploring what that is, what is it to be a woman, what is it to be a human, and I think that’s just a really good way of putting it, there’s no one way so let’s just be ourselves. And then the other quote, this is great and this is really what this day is about for me, it’s like how long are we going to keep talking about this how long do I have to spend in my life saying the same thing over and over again, okay like how many times do we have to say, stop saying female leader, and just say leader, stop saying black leader, just say leader, so celebrate what they are and highlight that, but at the same time, let’s just adjust our language so historical forgetting is a big topic probably for everyone in this room actually because I think it’s probably the same in all industries that there are certain people historically that we’ve forgotten. ‘It’s such a powerful form of erasure, it robs women of role models and leaves them going in circles repeating the same breakthroughs, diverting valuable energy and resources from real progress.’ So what I would say to my younger self is just make that progress, stop the conversations, and actually just make a difference and just do it.
MEET THE PANEL
Marketing Director, Searcys
Managing Director, London Chamber Orchestra
ESTHER VAN DER ZEE
COO, United Nations, Principles for Responsible Investment
Director of Operations, Portico
People Director, Searcys and BaxtersStorey
Managing Director, Searcys and Portico