Northern Power Women

northern power women - post office

“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women” – Madeleine Albright

On Thursday 12 March 2015 I had the huge honour of hosting a table of nine fellow Post Office ladies attending the Northern Power Women conference in Liverpool.  We joined 230 other women from the North West for a jam packed day of networking, seminars, presentations and panel debates.

The variety of the conference was excellent, with thought-provoking content and uplifting speakers from all walks of life; there really was something for everyone.

The overall message from the day was loud and clear – we need to harness our collective energy and have the confidence and courage to stand up for what we believe.  We have a responsibility to use what we’ve already got within us to achieve for the next generation of women, especially considering there are so many women around the world for whom this is all an unrealistic dream.

So what were the top three key messages I took away from the day?

  1. Be clear about what you want for yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for it – what’s the worst that can happen? The fear of “no” is all too often what holds us back yet “no” is simply the start of exploring what could be possible.
  2. Don’t underestimate the value of your support network – harness the power of those around you, both at home and at work, to help you achieve in your career.
  3. Build your profile as an asset and give people a reason to believe in and engage with you. Everything you need to be successful you already have within you so be sure to package it well.

While we heard from many excellent speakers and panellists over the course of the day, the three key points made by Heather Jackson of An Inspirational Journey, about what women can do to get on in their careers, were the ones that resonated with me best:

  1. Confidence – if you don’t believe in yourself, how will others believe in you? You just have to believe that you can! (NB You can read my blog post about this very point here)
  2. Capabilities – understand what skills you’ve got, pin them down, and then be clear about what you still need.
  3. Contacts – don’t underestimate the power of networking, both internal and external.

If we all focused more on these three things, imagine what we could achieve?

It made me quite sad to hear that there are still too many women out there who don’t help each other.  Worse again, there are still too many who climb the ladder and then pull it back up behind themselves.

Imagine how powerful it could be if each one of us did one thing, no matter how small, for another woman, every day?

With love,

Gabriella x


New Year, New Opportunity

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves” – William Shakespeare

New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any?

Or are you one of those people who gets caught off guard when someone says, “what’s yours?” and comes up with the usual roll-off-the-tongue response: “oh you know, just the usual, lose weight, do more exercise, achieve a better work-life balance, win the lottery.” And then do absolutely nothing about it.

There are many reasons why New Year’s resolutions end up falling by the wayside. It’s usually because we haven’t really thought about them properly. We haven’t really thought about what we want to see, feel or be able to do differently when we’ve achieved them or, indeed, how we’re going to get there.

And, typically, New Year’s resolutions focus on similar themes: start a new hobby; give up smoking; drink less coffee; see more of family and friends; run a marathon; jump out of a plane; do voluntary work. The list goes on. Sound familiar?

But how many of us start the new year thinking about our job or career resolutions? And do something about it?

I often hear people say, “I want to get a new job this year”, but do you really? In some cases it may be true, but have you thought about how you can make the job you already do work better for you and your aspirations? Too often we get to the end of the year, look back, and know we’ve done a bit of this and a bit of that, but find it hard to quantify and articulate the big stuff. How much further forward are we on the path to achieving our career goals?

Do you have ambition? Do you want to be in control of your career?

Yes? Then a new year is a great time to start!

Imagine how good it would be to finish 2015 and look back on two or three big things you’ve achieved which have really made a difference for your company, your career or, indeed, for yourself. What would you like to be celebrating as your achievements a year from now? What do you want to be known for? What will make you feel most proud? What will demonstrate that you’re two or three steps further down the path towards achieving your ambitions or indeed your happiness at work?

Each year, I decide on the two or three big things that I want to achieve with my career. Whenever someone mentions SMART objectives to me, I cringe. But the concept works. The difference is that in this context you’re not writing them so your employer or investors can hold you to account; you’re writing them to support yourself to realise your dreams. You’ll achieve so much more if you commit to achieving specific goals which are time bound. If your timelines slip, that’s fine, just reassess. You’re in control. But, if you don’t plan in the first place, the chances are that you’ll achieve a lot less. In fact, you’ll achieve very little.

This year I’ll achieve my three big goals within the following categories:

1.What I’ll do for the greater good of the organisation I work for through the job I’m employed to do, i.e. a single project that will make the greatest tangible difference;

2.What I’ll do to support my career as a learning and development professional, i.e. the opportunities can I create for myself in the workplace that expose me to areas of my profession that I’m yet to explore;

3.What I’ll do for myself as a person in the context of work, i.e. how I’ll continue to work on achieving my optimal work life balance, through loving what I do but remembering there’s life outside of the day job to be enjoyed as well.

These categories may not work for everyone but hopefully they’re a good place to start.

The main message I’d like to convey is that only you can take control of your career. Gone are the days where keeping your head down waiting to get noticed was a strategy for success. Sitting back and waiting for things to happen is old news.

Remember this:

1.STOP waiting for things to happen. You are your own change maker.

2.START planning your future. What does success mean for you? How are you going to get there? Who can help you achieve your goals

3.CONTINUE being the best version of yourself. The best version of you is AWESOME.

So what are you going to do in 2015?

If anything in this blog post struck a chord with you, I’d encourage you to put aside 30-60 minutes of your time, sit alone with a pen and piece of paper, and write a note to yourself about what you want to achieve in your career during 2015. Share it with someone.

Not only do I look forward to hearing your plans, I also look forward to writing a new post in January 2016 and celebrating everything we’ll have all achieved in 2015.

Happy New Year to one and all. May it be the year that sees all your dreams come true!

Live. Laugh. Love.

january blog pic

“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything that it is.” – Mandy Hale, The Single Woman.

It’s 1 January 2015.  It’s exactly a year since I wrote my first ever blog post.

2014 has, on balance, been a pretty good one.  Yes there have been a few tears along the way (mostly caused by (once again) falling for all the wrong guys!) but I’ve ended the year pretty pleased with how it’s turned out.

I saw friends get engaged, married, have babies, get new jobs.  Each of them a lovely moment of happiness that I was lucky enough to share with them.

I took a few holidays; some more relaxing than others! Camogli in Italy was by far the most beautiful, France with the kids the most knackering, Cornwall with the girls the most cathartic, a mini break in Barcelona the most liberating.  Thanks to everyone who shared the experiences with me.

I moved house in June.  It was super stressful but my sister, Claire, Steph and Rich were my absolute rocks and I’m super happy in my Little Venice bachelorette palace. There’s always a bottle in the fridge for anyone who’d like to stop by!

I had the chance to do some cool things in work with people I like in a business that fits my values.  I once again provided CV and interview coaching for army soldiers facing redundancy, became a mentor for Women1st and even got a few of my blog posts published. I got the wheels in motion to do some interesting work with a homelessness charity in 2015.

I discovered Hershesons Blow Dry Bars, Jo Malone candles and wedding photo booths.

I did fun things. Back to the Future at Secret Cinema, dancing in a Bristol nightclub with no shoes on until 3am and another brilliant Proms in the Park and Christmas panto outing are up there in my top ten.  I drove a left hand drive car in France for the first time. On my own. It wasn’t so much fun!

By far my most favourite experience of 2014 was the wedding of Gemma and Paolo Carpanini in Camogli, Italy.  Not only was it a wonderful celebration of marriage but it brought so many of our family together who we’d not seen for many years, especially from the Italian side. We also met some wonderful new friends with whom we shared an amazing few days and a newfound love for the occasional Aperol Spritz! The highlight for me was partying until 4am and then lying on the beach with my one of cousins to watch the sun rise over the Ligurian coastline before falling asleep in the sunshine.  So many happy memories to treasure.

I popped a few corks with friends, created new experiences and memories, and laughed a lot.

So what are my big lessons from this year?

Sadly, people aren’t always who (and what) they say they are. I trust far too easily. Not everyone is honest.  Not everyone is real.  There are some bad people out there who won’t stop at anything to try and de-fraud you, all for their own selfish gain.  But, in all of it, I’ve never compromised my values, I’ve kept my head held high and my dignity intact.

Be kind. Be nice. Always. I feel so much happier when I know I’m doing good for others. Listen. Be present. Show you care.

Love is all around me. Friends old and new have continued to radiate energy and positivity, in person and online. I really do have an amazing network of friendship and support and I learn so much from everyone I meet and spend time with. I don’t think I’d ever felt as loved this year as on my birthday.  Thank you to everyone who was a part of my special day whether through online messages, cards or being there in person.  Thank you also to those who helped put my pieces back together when I was a little broken and didn’t know how to do it for myself. I love you all!

So what are my hopes for 2015?

The same as I hoped for in 2014: health, love and happiness. I’d still love to meet someone special but, through some of the more difficult lessons of this year, there’s no compromise when it comes to integrity and I’d sooner be single than with the wrong person.  And, of course, I’m going to continue to be the best version of myself, no matter what (or who!) life throws at me.

2015 is simply the next chapter of the story of my life.

A life well lived. A life full of laughter. A life full of love.

Thank you for sharing my journey.

Gabriella x

You just have to believe that you can

“I don’t think I’m as good as people seem to think I am. I’m out of my depth. I’m not sure I can do this.”
“I feel like such a fraud. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds me out.”
“I’m just setting myself up to fail. I’ll forever be known as the one who just wasn’t quite good enough.”
“Everyone else seems so much more capable than me. They must all be thinking I’m the weakest link.”

How many times have you told yourself one or all of those things?

Growing up, I believed I could do anything and there was nothing I couldn’t achieve. I remember my gymnastics coach, Phil, telling me “Gabriella, there’s no such thing as “can’t”.” Granted, it was usually when I was hanging upside down from a high bar not entirely sure how I was going to get down in one piece, but still, I always just believed that I could achieve anything I put my mind to with a little bit of determination. Failure simply wasn’t an option.

So when did it all change? When did I start to question whether I was actually good enough?

I was lucky enough to have a childhood full of love, support and encouragement, and so the first time I faced rejection or ‘failure’ it was like a proper train crash moment. From the first time a boy broke my heart (I’m over him now) to getting rejected at the final stage for a graduate job (I got a great one in the end), I only had myself to pick myself back up again but actually didn’t know how. Failure was not a word I’d ever contemplated let alone experienced.

In all those years growing up where we’re empowered to believe we can be anything we want to be, there’s no-one telling us that sometimes we’ll fall and how to pick ourselves up again, dust off our shiny shoes and go forth with confidence. We don’t learn how to leave the moment in the moment, simply put it down to experience, learn from it and continue to look ahead without a second thought. We analyse. We exacerbate. We catastrophise.

In my career to date, I’ve had many of those ‘train crash moments’. And for some reason I started almost to collect them until such point that I lost some of that strong-willed steely determination I’d had when hanging upside down from the high bar, aged eight. Back then, I’d have probably fallen off the bar but got straight back up, bruised and battered, yet determined to prove to myself and everyone around me that I could do it.

So what’s the difference with my career?

“The Imposter Syndrome”, as it’s affectionately known, affects most successful women (and some men too!) at some point in their career. Some admit to it but most suffer in silence, not wanting to admit it for fear of being exposed as a ‘failure’, ‘weak’ or ‘not up to it’. I’ve battled with it for many years. My most vivid memory was deciding not to run for Students’ Union President when I graduated from university because I allowed the other candidate to convince we I wouldn’t be as good as him. Instead I ran for Vice President and, as much as I loved my term in office, always regretted doubting that I’d have been successfully elected as President and have done a great job.

Yes there are times when I probably am out of my depth but most of the time it’s all in my head. A wobble triggered by something relatively insignificant, catastrophised into something insurmountable that means I’ve decided I’m just not capable enough and it’s only a matter of time before I’m exposed for being the fraudster I’ve somehow convinced myself I am.

I’m increasingly surprised at the number of women – and men – at all levels who open up to me about how they feel it’s only a matter of time before they’re found out and are shocked to hear that I’m no different to them.

Yes there are days when I have a wobble. Yes there are days where I want to run away and hide because I suddenly feel exposed and vulnerable. But over the years I’ve found my own ways of coping when the voices in my head are telling me I’m not good enough and I can’t do it.

So, aside from just making sure I walk a little taller, painting my smile on and polishing my heels, what have I learnt?

1. Talk about it (or write about it!) – when I start to articulate how I feel out loud, I’m acknowledging the voices of doubt in my head. The more I formulate my thoughts, the more I realise I’m blowing things out of proportion. Only then can I logically rationalise what is and isn’t true about what I’m thinking and focus on working on the things that genuinely need to be fixed or controlled.
2. Use my network – when I know I’m out of my depth, rather than burying my head in the sand, worrying when someone is going to hunt me down, I find someone who does know what they’re doing (in or outside the business) and ask them to help me. Most people are flattered to be asked, can help me re-gain perspective and offer me some practical steps to empower me to move forward. Before I know it I’m back on track.
3. Ask for feedback – I ask people I trust (friends, family, colleagues) to write down what they value me for. I also file emails where people have praised me for a job well done. I keep the feedback and re-read it in times of self-doubt to remind myself of all the good qualities that I have, both personally and professionally. I also keep an up-to-date list of my achievements from over the years. It’s all too easy to only ever focus on all the things we think we’re not, so reading my feedback and achievements is a good way of building myself back up quickly when I have a wobble.
4. Stay true to myself – being the true you is important for getting the best out of yourself. Showing your vulnerable side is a strength and not something to hide from others; it shows that you’re real. People warm to people who are human. It’s also our responsibility to show other women to believe they can too by always remembering to be authentic but at the same time remembering to walk tall. We need to empower ourselves but empower them too.

And the biggest thing I’ve learnt? The most effective way of overcoming imposter syndrome is to simply recognise that it exists. And that it’s completely normal.

We have to remind ourselves to be secure in the knowledge that the success we’ve won is quite simply down to our hard work, determination and talent. We weren’t just in the right place at the right time or born under a lucky star.

So the next time that voice in your head tells you you’re not good enough, aren’t capable or aren’t the right person for the job, remind yourself to simply believe that you can. Because actually, deep down, you know you can.

And do you know what? I still believe I could get myself off that high bar in one piece, albeit maybe somewhat less gracefully than I did aged 8.

Gabriella x

Learning & Development: Manage or Deliver?

A few weeks ago I found myself in an interesting debate on Twitter about the role of learning & development (L&D) professionals within organisations.

It all began when one of my fellow HR twitterati tweeted that he was shocked at number of internal L&D roles that are about the management and provision of L&D as opposed to delivery and facilitation. In turn, I responded that I was shocked that he was shocked at that.

A number of years ago, ‘training’ departments seemed to reinvent themselves as ‘learning & development’ functions and, with that, came a shift in the role they needed to play within organisations. ‘Training’ had very much been seen as a luxury, an expensive headcount and on cost to the organisation, difficult to measure its commercial return and value-add. As a result, team sizes were reduced and there was a need to look at different ways of continuing to provide a ‘training’ service.

So in the move from ‘training’ professionals to ‘learning and development’ professionals, what changed?

With the reduction in team sizes, in house L&D functions began to function as commercially-driven support functions focused on the internal and external management of L&D services rather than pure delivery itself. The roles today focus so much more on building self-service Academies and business partnering with the leadership teams within an organisation to understand their key commercial challenges in order to work on finding the right leadership and technical solutions to leverage organisation growth against the strategic direction. For me, the key benefits of repositioning the L&D headcount to move away from an internal delivery model to one of management of the service are as follows:

1. You get to stay current. With leaner organisational structures and operating models, there is no way we as L&D professionals could possibly be experts in everything we need to provide. By outsourcing provision of key training and learning interventions, you will always be working with partners who are true subject matter experts at the top of their game and able to keep their expertise current, putting it into practise with, and learning from, other organisations. Therefore we get far more than simply a trainer who loves their subject with case study examples drawn only from their personal experience but ones who can draw from multi-industry experiences.

2. Scalability and pace. We can deliver and cascade multiple programmes on scale, consistently and at a pace so much greater than if we were to do it ourselves. Working with external organisations allows us to focus more on supporting our line managers and organisation leaders to embed and sustain their learning rather than on the design and delivery itself. Yes we would still be involved in the design of key programmes but the key focus of our role is the output of the training and the longer term sustainability.

3. Creating organisations that learn from themselves. My personal view is that we should only do in the classroom what can only be done in the classroom and that if, outside of work, people don’t typically learn in classrooms, then why do organisations still have extensive course curricula? By stepping away from delivery, we maintain our focus on the holistic side of our role which is to ensure that we are creating blended solutions which embrace new technologies and the principles of social learning. Rather than organisations seeing building capability as L&D’s job, our role as professionals has become one where we need to help our organisation’s leaders and line managers to own 70:20:10, supporting them to encourage their teams to focus on the 70% of the learning model, i.e. putting their skills into practise, whilst pushing themselves to deliver on the lynch pin of learning which is their role in providing coaching and feedback on the job.

As organisations face head count and efficiency challenges, learning and development departments have to prove their value more than ever. Gone are the days of large scale training teams whizzing around the country with ‘training kits’ in the boot of their car. Organisations need quality, consistency, scalability and longer term value.

So the final question is then, in order to be an in house L&D professional of today, do you need to have a background in training or knowledge of the subject that needs to be delivered? My personal view is that you don’t. Our role is to act as the catalyst for helping people to align to strategy and so understanding the mechanisms of the operational and commercial drivers of the organisation allow us to focus on outcomes rather than input. We need to be curious, engaging, collaborative, planned, and be able to source and manage the right delivery partners whilst working along the true subject matter experts within our organisations. This is where we earn trust and our value is proven as we facilitate bringing their strategies to life through embedding new skills and practices.

And the future? There is still a place for all of us – trainers, facilitators, managers, but as the digital and social learning evolutions come to fruition, it’s surely only a matter of time before we see a shift in focus once more.

I would love to hear the views of other learning & development professionals to see where our thinking does or doesn’t align and where you see our future direction so that collectively we can always be the best we can be.

Gabriella x

Disclaimer: please note these are my personal views and not those of my employer.

Being me is good enough

In my 20s I worked really hard at trying to morph myself into the mould of the person I thought I needed to be to be successful. I was driven and determined and would do anything to be seen, heard and recognised as someone with the potential to get on. I wanted to be hand-picked for promotion and to be talked about as future potential, hoping that one day I would be a senior director in a FTSE100 organisation. I wanted to defy the tradition of age to get there and so I was constantly trying to figure out what it was I needed to do to get there quickly without trying to jump through too many hoops, wherever ‘there’ may be.

In a hierarchically male environment, I kept being told to look around the organisation at women who had ‘made it’ and to focus on role modelling the qualities that set them apart.

The problem was that, in the most part, I was nothing like them.

These women were cool and seemingly unflappable but I would watch how other people (men and women) would change when in their presence, often for fear of the iron fist appearing through the velvet glove. Even so, I figured that I would get ‘there’ if I tried harder to be more like them.

Then, one day, a HR Director for whom I will always have the utmost respect, raised two key points which literally changed my life:

1. She told me that she wasn’t sure whether, when delivering my role, I did the right thing or the thing that I thought people more senior than me would want me to do. Whilst I initially felt defensive about the feedback, I realised she was absolutely right. I was so eager to ‘fit’ that I was almost too scared to go with my own instincts or ideas, preferring instead to try and please.

2. And then came the killer question. She asked me if the person I was trying to become fitted with my personal values. The answer was simple; it didn’t.

This was a real epiphany moment for me. It was as though I’d been pushing hard for years to make a bad relationship work, never wanting to give up as there was always that glimmer of hope that the best things come to those who wait or, in my case, to those who persevere. But ultimately the culture within which I was trying to fit was misaligned with what made me ‘me’.

Then I did one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I resigned. Not because I didn’t enjoy the challenge of my work, that I didn’t see the opportunities in the organisation or that I didn’t work with great people. Quite simply, it was because not being me was exhausting and I wanted to find out if being the same me at work as at home was possible somewhere else.

Being me at work has taken some time. I was lucky that my next boss really helped me to feel more comfortable allowing the real me to show herself more often and to ditch the layers of ‘polish’ I’d tried to build up over the years, but it took time to really change when I’d spent years trying to become someone else.

So what have I learnt?

Whilst I regret the impact some of my more negative ‘learnt’ behaviour may have had on others over the years, I’m thankful for everything I’ve gone on to learn from making the mistakes that I’ve made. I don’t want to be known as a ball breaker or as someone who’d trample over anyone who got in the way of what they want, I just want to be known as me and all of the good things that naturally come with that. And so what if I have long hair, wear dresses and high heels and choose to build personal relationships with the people who work with and for me? It defines who I am and allows me to be completely authentic. Being authentic gets the best out of me and creates an environment of trust with those around me.

So what are my key messages to anyone reading this?

Trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting. I don’t believe in walking away when things get tough but if to get on where you are means you have to compromise your own values, and in particular your integrity, then I would encourage you to have the courage to make a different choice.

There’s no longer such a thing as a job for life and more often than not people don’t stick around in the same company for ever. Organisations are ever changing and so we either need to change with them or go and be the difference somewhere else.

The challenge is to find an organisation with a culture that appreciates the authentic you. Then there will be no barriers to what you can achieve.

Today I am authentic.
Today I am true to myself.
Today I am happy.

And the most important thing?

Being me means I’m the best I can be.

Being me is good enough.

Gabriella x

Catholic Guilt

It’s that time of year again. The 40 days (and nights) of hell that they call Lent where I will once again be sacrificing an abundence of indulgences due to eternal Catholic guilt.

When my (English Protestant) dad asked my mum’s (Italian Catholic) dad for her hand in marriage it was given on the proviso that any children would be brought up in the Catholic faith.

As a youngster I got christened, received my first holy communion and was confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was sent to the Convent for catechism lessons and on a retreat to deepen my connection with my faith. There was even a time that I thought I wanted to be a nun. Yes, really.

So what have I learnt from being brought up with my faith that’s helped me in life?

1. Doing the right thing. Yes sometimes the Bible may feel like a set of stories but a great Priest has the gift of turning them into messages that resonate in our contemporary lives, helping make sense of our Christian purpose. One of my favourites is about when Jesus heals the leper. Ultimately it serves as an excellent metaphor for encouraging us to be the person that proactively seeks to help those who have been ostracised in some way, be it socially or in the workplace. Always be the one who seeks to welcome, involve and do the right thing by others, even if sometimes it means you may face being excluded in some way for doing so. We all have a different measure of what’s right and wrong but staying true to my own morals and beliefs so that I live my life through integrity is what’s most important to me.

2. Teamwork. Never before had I felt the sense of people coming together to achieve a goal than I felt when we’ve lost family members. It’s never too much trouble for the regular church goers to turn up and make everything happen so that the family has the opportunity to focus wholly on saying their farewells. There’s a role for everyone, respecting each other’s strengths and the contribution they’re making to the task. From the florists to the cleaners, the readers to the musicians, there is no hierarchy; people just seem to get on with it.

3. Presenting. I love an audience. From the age of 11 I was on the reading rota in our church, reading bible passages to large Sunday congregations, learning how to deliver the messages in a meaningful way. I also learnt a lot from listening to the sermons of my priests over the years, some good and some less good. This experience set me up well to speak in public as head girl of my secondary school and again to audiences of thousands in my role as Vice President of the University of Bath Students’ Union before taking on the most special role of all – reading at the weddings and funerals of those closest to me. Needless to say, the skills and confidence I gained from an early age in the church have put me in great stead for presenting with impact in the business world. Yes I get anxious before a big presentation but more because I’m fuelled by the adrenaline of wanting to perform well than the fear of the audience itself.

Whilst nowadays I would describe my relationship with the church as fair weather, going only when I feel I need some time for quiet reflection, ultimately I am thankful for being brought up with the church in my life.

And as for the Catholic guilt at Lent?

This year I’m giving up sweets, chocolate, crisps, chips, cake, biscuits, ice cream, Lucozade (red cap), pizza and McDonald’s. Basically, all of my indulgences. I’ve also contemplated throwing alcohol into the mix but I have a hen do and wedding during Lent, not to mention England v Wales in the Six Nations.

If Moses did it so can I. The chocolate bunnies will simply have to wait.

Gabriella x