Today we are posting some personal thoughts in honour of the centenary of women's suffrage. We would be delighted to add your reflections on this important day.
"I am shocked at how little fuss there is about today, 6 February, marking 100 years since women gained the Vote, at least partially. (Full suffrage, at the same age as men, had to wait till 1930).
Maybe, scarily, it’s because we take it for granted. Until 2016, I thought of myself as post-feminist: earlier generations of brave women and men had fought, and as a result I was free. I was tall, noisy and from New Zealand, where pioneer generations tied chains around tree stumps, and whacked bullocks on their backs to drag them out, clearing the land. No-one got in my way.
But the viciousness, the vitriol, of the attacks on Hillary Clinton caused the scales to fall from my eyes. It smacked to me of the slumbering old monster of systemic sexism, uncoiling up from the deep to strike again. If the candidate had been a mediocre male, like so many before, we would probably remember the 2016 campaign as dull, and be living with President Bland. But the candidate was female, and the boorish male won. Yes she was imperfect – but Trump was perfect?!
So we can never take it for granted. As we coach male and female leaders to be their most astute in battling the world’s great ills, it may not be enough for us to do so in person, by emails, by writing blogs. Freedom has to be fought for again by each generation; we might need to take to the streets. I hope not, I’d be scared. But for that very reason, I think with grateful thanks today, of the women and men of all backgrounds who courageously fought for our equal right to vote, and won the first great battle on 6 February 1918.
What does it mean for you?"
Anne Scoular, Meyler Campbell
"The 100 year anniversary is rightly a moment to remind ourselves of the powerful effect this occasion has on the global spread of rights-based, legislative driven gender equality. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that the spirit of activism/protest that propelled the voting equality movement helped ‘birth’ much of the subsequent global socio-political revolutions over the last century such as the fight for workers rights, the independence post-colonial movements, civil rights in the US and global LGBT protections.
But as Anne rightly posits - recent events suggest that legislative victories are only the start of powerful behavioural and cultural change needed to address the systemic sexism we now see.
For the business world, this implies transformation at a number of different levels but I will highlight one critical area - for women to "have a real say", "to be heard" requires male leaders to learn to listen without prejudice, engage without threat and drive to unleash the corporate value - and competitive advantage conferred - by the genuine embrace of difference. This might be the next 100 year plan!
As coaches, we need to hold a mirror to ourselves - and our clients - to awake an awareness of these undeclared or embedded bias (including racism) - and help to make the change where necessary."
Sheldon Daniel, Director and Principal Consultant of SXD Leadership Communications Ltd
"This day deserves to be marked for all that it represents in the calendar of progress towards global equality and human rights. It serves as a staging post in that continuing journey and should rightly be celebrated for that. However lest we become too complacent we need look no further than #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein, The President’s Club, the gender pay gap and Grid Girls to be painfully reminded that while we have come a long way we still have a long way to travel, and that is only in terms of gender equality, what about race, sexuality, disability, age, underprivileged and so on?
I overheard a conversation between two apparently well-heeled and successful middle-aged white men in a restaurant in the City of London last week. The first man asked the second whether he wasn’t bored by the constant stories in the press about women’s claims of inequality and sexual harassment to which the second responded that yes indeed he was sick to the back teeth of it and was itching to get back to some ‘real news’. They had no compunction about having that conversation at normal volume while I was sitting at the next table and clearly within earshot.
As coaches to some of the country’s most senior business leaders we are in the privileged position to call out the behaviours which fall short of the level required in our leaders and to challenge those leaders to be ever better, braver and stronger in their pursuit of a truly equal society. The legacy of the suffragettes is to remind us that freedom is a universal right and not a right to be granted only to the most privileged. If we can deliver a society in which we are all recognised and treated as equal by our laws, our culture and our institutions perhaps we can all move on to some ‘real news’. I for one am itching to!"
Catherine Devitt, CEO of Meyler Campbell
"In taking a moment today to reflect upon the importance of the women's suffragette movement and the heroes among them, for me I will remember the tale of a young teenager from Glasgow. During the war, and in her first weeks working as a seamstress in Glasgow, Agnes Wotherspoon was told to deliver a finished garment from the shop urgently to a lady in the city centre. In her haste Agnes took a wrong turning and was confronted by a crowd of marching women, shouting, singing and waving banners. With equal measures of fear and curiosity Agnes was swept along with the crowd and, following sisterly encouragement joined in the singing and banner waving until the march stopped to listen to impassioned speeches.
Only then (and when the police appeared) did Agnes grasp that this was a women's rights march. Skilfully escaping the rammy, Agnes continued to deliver her (now late) package and returned to the shop. However she kept her banner and a new and profound indignation about how women were treated in society. That never left her. Living to the ripe old age of 104 she would regale her adoring granddaughters with colourful stories of how she became an 'accidental suffragette'. And at the same time, she instilled in them a belief that they could conquer the world if that's what they wanted.
Hazel Mofat, Partner of DLA Piper Scotland LLP
"I was lucky enough to go to the unveiling of the suffragette, Alice Dawkins’ statue in Leicester. There was marching and music; joy and celebration. But when her speech was read out, what struck me was how relevant it is today.
We still need to stand up for those without voices in our society and women’s liberation still has a way to go to ensure that everyone is free from toxic masculinity and the effects of the patriarchal society that we inhabit."
Ama McKenley-Ballantyne, Primary Teacher and Math’s Leader
“With an all girls’ education and a feminist mother, it never crossed my mind that women and men weren’t equal, and equally capable of doing whatever they put their minds to. I dived into the adult world and started my career without a second thought for the sisterhood, or the brotherhood. But of late, I’ve come to realise that the battles fought by our forebears are anything but won. There have been the little things, like re-applying for a DBS Certificate (for a voluntary role involving children) only to find that the selection of ‘Ms’ comes with it an assumption that I must be divorced and thus need to supply my maiden name; I thought that the argument about titles had been done and dusted in the 70s. And of course there have been the bigger things. Trump’s election and the outpouring of sexism and racism spurred me out on to the streets with the Women’s March – a place I hadn’t been since holding my Mum’s hand when she marched for human rights back in the day.
Reflecting on the challenges faced by my female coaching clients I realise many other struggles also continue – quite apart from equal pay and access to top leadership – such as how to be heard in meetings, how to walk the impossible tightrope between being deferential and direct, and how to reconcile leadership with parenthood. These reflections remind me that the conversations must continue, that we need to remember our history and the progress made, whilst also putting past battles to rest and looking forward for ways in which people can properly work together as equals.”
Katie Driver, Thinking Alliance
"Dear Colleagues and friends,
The articles on 100 years of women’s suffrage are excellent, thank you. I am thinking deeply about the exercise of power, both by men and women, over others and how this can bring out the worst in people. We coach leaders and so their exercise of power over others is at the heart of the matter. I was interested to see that some men were only given the vote 100 years ago today. And the women who received the vote were those with property. So the stratified power-laden system was reproducing itself.
For more equality of opportunity to really flourish, we all need to learn to appreciate each other and listen open-heartedly to points of view that differ from our own. I was in conversation with a middle-aged white man this morning who talked about his lifelong struggle with mental illness after being neglected as a child. Who will you listen to today, without prejudice, in order to embrace the life that they are experiencing?"
Eleanor Sturdy, Director of Jackson Sturdy
"I am in awe of the commitment of the suffragettes and forever grateful for the shift that they started. Yes, there is still a long way to go, gender pay gap, senior leader pipeline and offensive sexist comments dressed up as banter to name but a few. However, I’d like to also pay tribute to the emancipated men who have also been great enablers for women in the workplace.
For me, these include a line manager who appointed me as a Cell Manager in an engineering manufacturing facility when I was 6 months pregnant (and returned post maternity leave); a mentor who was my ambassador during 3 spells of maternity leave, twice returning to a promotion; a global defence organisation that was immensely supportive when my child was seriously ill for an extended period and a terrific husband who has been my rock throughout. I also believe I have recognised this support, I have been a highly engaged and productive employee making a tangible contribution during my career.
Now as a coach to senior leaders I can witness a shift in leadership attitudes and leadership style. It can feel like slow progress, yet let us also celebrate the great men working alongside us."
Susan Binnersley, Coach and Business Consultant, h2h resources limited
"History isn’t linear and while it feels to me that we're in a bit of a backward loop (poised for a great leap forwards), including of equality between the sexes, it's humbling to remember how far we've come and how fast.
A girls' school attendee myself I remember my mother describing her lessons at school which included "how to bath baby" and "housekeeping". She was having none of that for me. With two young daughters I've been enjoying reading with them "Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls". Written in simple language, the stories of inspirational women from around the world are reduced to about 250 words without questioning the ultimate success of each. Elizabeth I, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Kate Sheppard, Hillary Clinton, Evita Peron, the Venus sisters, Zaha Hadid. One hundred tales of inspirational women, many of whom I've never heard of before but changed history. My girls accept the strapline from the editors to "the rebel girls of the world: Dream bigger, aim higher, fight harder and when in doubt remember you are right". I hope that they continue not to see a problem in getting anywhere they want to, at least not because of their sex and to fight it if they do.
As coaches we are privileged to be able to perhaps have a small part in history in unsticking stuck perspective and in challenging "the norm". This is no longer the fight just of women for equality but of humanity in recalibrating "fair". Keep it up!"
Penny Terndrup, Executive Search and Coach
"I went to see the film 'Suffragette' with a group of sassy, professional, women friends. We were all quiet, almost stunned at the end. Not necessarily from the film but from the roll-call of when countries worldwide achieved women's votes and the dates. It was the last that was so shocking; some of these dates were so recent, some still not achieved. One of our group said vehemently that the showing of this film should be mandatory for all young people to see the struggle that had occurred. Really, history in our time.
And I think it's up to women today to push back with some of the inequities that continue, or just call-out bad behaviour. I worked in the City, in Lloyd's until recently, at a senior level and because one of my roles was senior recruitment I had some influence on whom we brought in and the culture of our organisation. I was reasonably well known in the market and when standing in a coffee queue in the Lloyd's building one morning I couldn't help overhearing the graphic description of an upcoming medical check up from a couple of the guys behind me and what the Dr would do! It was early, I just wanted my coffee and not the 'locker-room' talk, so I just turned around to face the guys, smiled and asked them if they wouldn't mind having this conversation somewhere else? They were exceedingly sheepish and very apologetic. I don't think it's a bad thing to tell others when we are uncomfortable; they genuinely often don't know and don't always think. It does take a little courage and chutzpah.
And as coaches we don't always see the 'unenlightened' ( I'm thinking of the guys that Catherine overheard). Often the clients who decide that coaching would be very helpful to their personal development are the more enlightened already (in my experience). But we can work with them ( if they wish), to 'carry the torch' in their own worlds, as the inequities often trouble them too.
So I guess it's up to us to continue the education that the Suffragists started and won for us so well. I was heartwarmed at Christmas, at dinner with friends, which included their beloved 94 year old Auntie Winnie, to hear her talk about when England entered the Common Market in 1973. She didn't support it but did all she could to find out about what the Government then was taking us into. You have to, she said, otherwise we will remain ignorant....Likewise she didn't agree with Brexit either and was cross that so little real facts were available when she cast her vote to help her make an informed decision. We all learned from Auntie Winnie that night!
And I'll finish with the legacy my Mother left her 3 girls. She was passionate about women's rights and woe betide her girls not to vote or to waste our vote. That legacy is the legacy that the Suffragette's fight gave to us - thank you."
Verity Lewis, HR Consultant and Business Coach
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