Sharing stories to inspire future female leaders

Each year, Wacl gathers inspirational speakers to share the secrets of their success.

Sharing stories to inspire future female leaders

Find your voice and speak up – you owe it both to yourself and to other women. That was the key message at last week’s annual Gather event.

The Wacl-organised training day for future female leaders has been running since 1996, when it was first held at the ICA with 200 delegates.

This year, there were more than 500 in Kings Place and it was a busy day, with a broad range of speakers taking to the stage to tell their stories.

"Having a voice doesn’t mean shouting loud – it’s talking with passion about something you care about"
Louise Pentland, YouTube vlogger

Louise Pentland, the YouTube vlogger who runs Sprinkle of Glitter, kicked off the day with an honest telling of her story. She was stuck in a boring office job when she started reading blogs by other women. Pentland noticed she felt an emotional connection to the vloggers, and thought she’d try herself. She now has two million followers on one channel and 1.5 million on her second.

"Having a voice doesn’t mean shouting loud – it’s talking with passion about something you care about," Pentland said. "It’s about finding an emotional connection."

Something to offer

Daniele Fiandaca, founder of the Token Man initiative, spoke of his experience of being in the minority when he went out for dinner with a group of women. "I lost my voice," he said. "When someone finds themselves in a minority, they feel like they have to represent that minority. It’s hard to be yourself."

While Aviva group brand director Jan Gooding commented: "I’m disappointed to find that relying on meritocracy doesn’t work, because he who decides what is of merit is in charge."

She added: "It’s not about women or gay or black people having special favours – it’s about acknowledging that everyone is different and everyone has something to offer."

Perhaps the most poignant quote came from Pilar Peace, an art director at Mother London who was a recipient of Wacl’s Future Leaders Award last year. It’s a simple lesson that she learnt during her career: "I can take up more space."

20 things I’ve learned from 20 years of Gather

By Tess Alps, co-founder, Gather; chair, Thinkbox; honorary member and former president, Wacl

1 There is no member of Wacl, however high-powered and busy, who won’t bust a gut to speak at Gather.

2 There is no member of Wacl, however high-powered and successful, who hasn’t suffered from imposter syndrome.

3 You can expect great work and business advice but, amid a room of women, speakers feel more able to share their personal, often very moving, stories.

4 The more sceptical the delegate on arrival, the more enthused and inspired they are on departure.

5 The noise of excited conversations during the breaks exceeds health and safety recommended levels.

6 "If I could tell you one thing", the regular session where a dozen Wacl members get two minutes to share a pearl of wisdom, has covered every important topic you could ever need over the past 20 years. Here are a few of the most recurrent themes, summarised:

7 "You can do anything, but you can’t do everything."

8 "It’s less about work/life balance than work/home balance." Work is a big part of your life – so if you’re not enjoying it, change it.

9 "Surround yourself with brilliant, decent people and praise them lavishly."

10 "Be a radiator, not a drain." Keep smiling and stay positive.

11 "Put yourself in front of the work." Take due credit and don’t assume your boss knows what you’ve achieved.

12 "Keep your inner child." Stay curious, ask for what you want straightforwardly and have fun.

13 "Don’t run away from office politics but learn which political animal to be." Innocent sheep get eaten, stupid donkeys are despised and wily foxes wreak destruction. Try to be a wise owl and use politics to make the whole company happier.

14 "Always be true to yourself." Bring your true self to work. Listen to that inner voice and trust your instincts.

15 "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

16 "Be fearless." The price of silence is too great, so speak up.

17 "Love is more important than work." Live every day as if it’s your last because one day it will be.

18 The most famous pearl is from Stevie Spring, who taught us that "You can’t cry and whistle" – which is invaluable advice when anger, frustration or sheer injustice pushes us women to the brink of tears. We’ve since learned that it’s now OK to cry if we want to and we’re also allowed to show how bloody angry we are.

19 There’s just one pearl that has never worked for me: "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." No-one has offered me a job as an itinerant gardener.

20 Above all, the past 20 years of Gather have proved that by continuing (today) to address the gender issue, and all other diversity shortcomings in our industry, we are making life a whole lot better for every single one of us.