Category Archives: Leadership

What can change in 100 days?

100 Days
the becoming | wing – by nayyirah waheed, salt.

100 days

In ‘normal’ times, what changes would I really notice in 100 days? Not many, I reckon. But we are not living in ‘normal’ times, are we?

100 days ago (January 16, 2020… so I can keep my dates straight in the years ahead) I was on a plane, heading to New Zealand with my family – making the most of the Chinese New Year break to go visit my favourite place on the planet. Footloose and fancy free, as the saying goes. The longest time away on holiday we would have had as a family, with plans to explore and adventure and just breathe in all the being outdoors and away and in heaven.

My time in NZ will go down in my memory as some of the very best days of my family life. And they will also always carry the stain of a murky shadow; a storm building on the horizon at the end of a glorious afternoon, rolling closer, threatening to break at any moment, making me nervous as to whether I should risk a little more fun, or just gather everyone up and run for home before we got drenched (with the children screaming that I am ruining their fun.)

I started thinking about writing this post after I read the hugely impactful Guardian newspaper article 100 Days That Changed The World. It’s taken me the 2 &1/2 weeks since to get anywhere close to being able to process my version of those 100 days… Three things prompted me to start putting pen to paper (so to speak…)

Firstly, I stumbled upon the fact that today, April 24, is both 100 days since I left Shanghai and exactly 100 days until my birthday. Something about this seemed significant to me. (I’m very well aware no-one else on the planet thinks this matters, at all…I’ve tested it out for significance on a couple of people and they did not bat an eyelid!)

Secondly, I am becoming more and more aware that I have no desire for things to ‘go back to normal’ – prompted somewhat by this piece written on Medium (Read it – it’s US focused but relevant elsewhere and I found it to be hugely thought provoking.) I want to use this ‘pause’ to re-evaluate what I want to bring into my world. I want to use this time to change things up.

Thirdly, I was speaking to a good friend earlier this week and they told me that they felt I came alive in my writing. It’s true. I love having the time and space to process my thoughts into written words… and up until now, during this ‘crisis’, I have chosen to not ‘allow’ myself this luxury. Well, it’s clear I’ve reached a breaking point, so it’s time all my disparate thoughts came tumbling out so I can let them go and see if my head clears a little. Here goes…


At the start of the year (& the decade, let’s not forget that it’s a whole new decade going on here…) my intentions were: to choose slow, to move towards minimalism, to focus on the essentials (I wrote about it ‘humorously’ in my last blog post here).

In many ways, COVID-19 has walked me towards all of these goals… but I have not felt ‘at choice’. It also foisted so many other changes on me that I could never have been prepared for (multiple location shifts, work pattern adjustments, “home schooling” in multiple formats over multiple weeks, fear of my kids getting ‘lost’ in a healthcare system I would never understand… mainly due to my own language deficiencies…) that I am now at the point of being able to see, and say, that I am (mentally) exhausted.

I know I have been, and still am, drinking too much – to numb the sadness, the anger, the anxiety…

I’m finding it hard to focus on anything other than very practical day to day matters (like food and laundry… things I can ‘control’)

I have walked myself right into the gender based stereotype of a 1950’s housewife (baking bread, home schooling, nagging the kids – constantly) while getting more & more narky with the husband as he gets to ‘waltz off to the office’ (my words) each day – as he’s the one with the ‘full-time job’ (his words – and you can imagine how well they went down with me…)

And by feeding my saboteur ‘the pleaser’ this emotional diet for the past few days / weeks / months I’ve made it all the way through ‘martyr’ (the one role I swore I would never take on) to breaking point.

And so now, it’s time to regroup and start making some different choices.

The next 100 days

The image at the top of the post is my favourite poem ever, by the magically talented nayyirah waheed. (So few words, so much emotion.)

I am taking the next 100 days, up to my birthday, to ‘be easy‘; to come home to myself.

There are things I need to do for myself personally (meditate more, start to run again, do some stretching, run a bath more often...) and things I need to do for myself professionally (I’m a thoroughly average stay at home mum, and a much nicer person generally when I do good work, I need to actively remember that) and so I’m stepping ‘into choice’. I’m actively working on what I can choose to change in the next 100 days.

And as my new (online) yoga teacher tells me, recognising what is going on and what you need is the first step.

If I show up (which I have been doing… it’s Saturday now, so day 2…) then I am already half way home.

How to say goodbye

how to say goodbye

I’m working on learning how to say goodbye.

It’s come round to that time of year again in Shanghai and so on top of goodbyes for the summer, there are the longer term ex-pat life goodbyes as families head off on the next part of their adventure.

I’m trying to get better at making the goodbyes feel less awkward. And it’s hard.

There are the people that I have spent the last two years with, closely connected. The people who made our move out here so much simpler than it ever should have been. Who found houses and school places. Who had BBQ’s and beer and ‘gave’ us their network of friends. What words there can express my deepest thanks and the strange shaped hole that will be left?

And then there are the people who smiled and said hello whenever they saw me and the gang. Who knowingly laughed along as I cajoled three kids on bikes with bags to school in the morning. Who took 3 minutes out of their day whenever I saw them to ask how I was doing. Who had the kids over for play dates or took them to parties to make my day a little easier when it was all a bit chaotic.

These are the unsung players in our adventure out here. We each have our own network of close friends, but these ‘extras’, these friendly faces, these awesome supporters… how can I say goodbye to them appropriately?

Each person I interact with out here shapes my overall experience. And yet the majority of these interactions are just so transient. Adding up to mere minutes of a life well spent… and yet…

I don’t want to ignore or avoid the goodbyes. I want to find a way to honour them. To let them know that their small kindnesses won’t be forgotten. They had an impact on me. They made a positive difference to me and my family.

And it’s been made more awkward for me this year, as I run off early from the school year – to have my own goodbye elsewhere…

I’m on my way to California for the last time – finishing up my Leadership course. How on earth do I say goodbye to those guys? My tribe. Well, maybe with those I’ll stick to Au Revoir or Hasta Luego…

Because what I do know is that these days, goodbye never has to be final. But for me, it does need to be heartfelt.

So maybe that is how to say goodbye.



From the heart.

I will miss those that I no longer get to see regularly. And I will look forward to those precious moments when our paths unexpectedly cross again.

Leaning in to the Gender Pay Gap

Leaning in to the Gender Pay Gap

How do we go about leaning in to the gender pay gap?

This story began a long time ago for me.  While I can’t quite pinpoint the exact moment in time when gender equality became a ’cause’ for me (as opposed to something that I just thought I could work myself harder to get over), I know that the flames were fanned by the publishing of the phenomenon that was Lean In.

A friend of mine, the uber talented Harriet Minter (journalist, speaker and women in leadership advocate) wrote a great piece last week in The Pool about whether Lean In was still relevant today – concluding that yes it was, even with all its faults.

“It’s relevant because it shows all of us clearly exactly how the power structure is set up to support men and discourage women. It’s relevant because it challenges us all to take action in our own lives and not settle for less than we’re worth. And it’s relevant because it started a discussion about women and work without which I’m not sure we’d be where we are today.”

So what now?

Well, right now in the UK (which still counts as home whenever I get a chance to rant…) companies with over 250 employees are required to publish their gender pay gap figures for the first time by end of day today.

This has been a hanging question on my part for at least the last three years – since just before I went on my final maternity leave when it was just starting to get discussed as a possibility.

To find out what UK employers are required to publish, together with the explanations of the data requested – plus a link to the database of what companies have published –  click here

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading a selection of the published reports.

Some have made my blood boil. Made me so angry that I didn’t know what to do or say in response. The tone cursory and derisive.  Explaining that it really wasn’t an issue at all. Just historical fact (repeating itself, again and again).

Some have come across as transparent and written in good, if slightly awkward, faith – making me believe that closing the gender pay gap is being taken seriously in at least some quarters.

And some have had positive stories of negative pay gaps that could have been spinned…but instead they faced the fact that they had other gender equality issues to face. Other areas to improve.  That their work was, in fact, far from done.  These are the ones that had the most uplifting impact on me – the ones that openly acknowledged that there were still so many ways to be better.

And then as a working female, I was left with a lingering, uncomfortable question.

What’s next?

What’s the next step?

I’m a firm believer that once a step is taken, once we get beyond thinking and into action, the ground will rise to meet the foot to complete the next step.  The path will become clear.  But this time? I wasn’t so sure…

Until I started talking about it with some of my Leadership tribe – who made me realise that my staying quiet was just my own fear getting the better of me…(& if I can’t face my fears of not being liked and speak out, in the absurdly lucky & enjoyable position that I have managed to create,  then who the hell can? )

Plus a non-response would be a complete disservice to the empowerment & equality of women – something that I have been working on for years – for myself, my teams and anyone who in any way stood to benefit or be inspired by even the smallest step in the right direction.

So here goes…

Here’s how I think we can start leaning in to the gender pay gap

Firstly, if you’re angry (as I most certainly have been) then read this – some of the tone still chafes a little, suggesting that now is not the time to be belligerent (which I get, but – if not now, when???…) – but their proactive suggestions around actively making your bosses feel the heat, interrogating the promises to do better and being on the look out for corporate hogwash are helpful – and if followed en masse, might just help keep the fires of discomfort burning a little longer, which can only help shift the conversations along another notch or two…

And then I came up with my own list of questions that I would want to be finding answers to, if I were an employee in the UK today…

If the gender balance of the company is significantly out of kilter – what are the Leadership of the company doing to balance that out? Diversity (in all its forms) offers a strategic and financial competitive edge to companies.  McKinsey have been reporting on this for years.  If the company isn’t actively listening to that message and acting upon it – why not?

How many Board & Senior Management positions are held by females?  On the assumption that this is not sat at the same level as males, what are the company’s plans to address this? What initiatives do the Leadership Team have in place to support the promotion of women into more senior positions?  How do they actively support and promote flexible working? What % of their women who leave on maternity, return?

Do the company have a good story to tell on a role-by-role basis?  If yes, why not openly share that data? It is illegal to pay men more than women for the same work, but it’s hard to get actual data here as no-one likes to talk about money and companies often make it feel as if it is  ‘not allowed’ to talk about your salary (& bonuses & package etc etc).   However it is important to know that The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to prevent employees from having discussions to establish if there are differences in pay.  So be brave. Get asking… (More info from ACAS on that and what ‘equal pay’ actually means here…)

What are the Leadership actually DOING to address the real-time pay differential? What is their plan? What are the details?

What timescale do they have in mind to achieve what hoped for results? Do they have a Diversity Champion on the Leadership Team? What diversity metrics are being tracked at Board level? And how often?What are they aiming for – and by when? It’s sad but true that there won’t be an overnight fix but… when it comes to efforts, what gets tracked, measured and reported gets focused and acted upon…

Do they have a clear, open channel of communication for anyone who wants to talk about the Gender Pay Gap Report data now that it is published? If not, why not? If yes, has it been strongly communicated to all employees (from the top down, at each & every level) that the Leadership want to actively engage in this conversation with people?

How are raises given? And bonuses awarded? Are there standard procedures? Scales against which these are awarded based on merit? Are they transparent? These factors can weigh more heavily the more ‘loyal’ you are to a company and if they are entirely ‘discretionary’ based on individual Managers feelings, then you are at more risk.  Be aware.

Why do women leave the company? What Exit Interview data do they hold on this? And what actions have they taken to address any recurrent issues?

And what if you feel that your working life is okay right now?

Well, firstly – hurrah – I’m super pleased for you.  Share your story – and that of your company, because right now, I feel we could all use some good news.

And still…

My advice would be to read the data, and the stories, from as many similar or interesting companies as you can. Get a feel for the tone, the words, the personal, the truth…

Even if you think it’s not relevant to you now, I can promise you that knowledge, and informed opinion, can quickly become power in the right hands.  So better those hands be yours…

Work out what IS important to you right now about the company you work for (or the company you want to work for) and see how they stack up against your desires.  You are entitled to want things.  You do not have to simply be ‘grateful’ for the fact that you have a job.

It is by being curious and voicing your questions that we all get to start leaning in to the gender pay gap.

A Bridge to the New Year

Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

The Bridge

It started out as an end of year review.  My completion ritual (you can read more about that here).

I like finding the time to look back and celebrate the year that has been.  Take stock of the positives – what I’ve done, what I’ve learnt, how I’ve grown – rather than just focus on what ‘next’ I want for the New Year.

This time round, I used a format suggested by Unstuck (which you can find here) and enjoyed thinking about what my achievements had been (personally & professionally), how I had grown and what I had enjoyed most over the year.

What surprised me here was how many physical things were on my ‘most enjoyed’ list: Lake swimming in Finland, my pole climbing escapades in Sonoma, yoga classes that made me cry… I hadn’t realised how alive doing that kind of stuff really made me feel.

A good friend then suggested that we build on the reflection – and create our plans for 2018, based on appreciation for the positives of 2017… So creating a bridge between what has been, and what is yet to come…

For anyone who wants to do the same thing, the questions that got added in, to look forwards, are:

  • Who did I become in 2017, to achieve, learn & enjoy so much?
  • Specifically, how would I like to deepen this learning and forward this action in 2018?
  • Who will I need to become this year to do that?

My bridge

Well, my bridge very clearly stems from ‘challenges’.

Last year I really challenged myself – to step outside of my comfort zone (and not just physically) – to see how I could grow.  I made myself act braver (& then found out that by acting braver, I became braver).

I took one step. And then the next step. And by the end of the year I found myself somewhere quite different to where I had expected – in lots of ways.

I can run 10k (slowly, and with little style, but…).

I do write (and people do respond).

I have a (small and perfectly formed) roster of coaching clients and I LOVE coaching.

I allowed myself to go on big adventures, not knowing quite what they would bring.  I made myself uncomfortable and I kept on trying new things, in new places, with new people – all of which has had a huge impact on how I head forwards.

And so how do I want to deepen this learning and move the action forward this new year?

I want to do more. Try more. Challenge myself more.

I want to move my body more. And more often. In new and different ways. (Hawaii / Paddleboarding here I come…)

I want to keep ‘in action’.  Do / move / fail / recover / repeat.

Who will I need to become this year to do that?

Me.  Just braver.  More passionate. More vulnerable.  More willing to try and fail.

The Golden Gate Bridge

And the best part for me? The bridge at the top of this post, the Golden Gate Bridge, will get to be a powerful reminder, at least twice more, of the choices I’m making and the actions I’m taking as I head back out to Sonoma for the next half of my Leadership studies.

I’m not sure its possible to drive over this bridge without smiling and feeling inspired – as to all that is around us, and all that is waiting for us on the other side.

Here’s to a great 2018.  Where is your bridge going to take you?

Can I have some help please?

Image courtesy of Nikko Macaspac – Unsplash

Help anyone?

So, the Leadership course that I’m (super enthusiastically) working my way through sets us tasks and inquiries – to support the learnings we had while we were all together. And this weeks inquiry is to do with our relationship with asking for help.

Any in all honesty, my relationship here sucks.

So, the task to undertake was to try and find at least five opportunities to ask for help where you might not normally, and see what happens.

So… this is where the challenge starts… but I’m going to claim an early win here, from the return leg of our vacation.

Help me to fly

Ok, so that’s a bit of a stretch but…

We had a great Golden Week holiday in Bali.  And I’m a fan of direct flights where possible… but the reality of 01:30 kicked in loud and clear at about 20:00 on the night of the flight, and suddenly our allocated seats at the busy front end of economy (to hit the Immigration Hall as swiftly as possible) were not looking so charming – with three tired, grouchy and borderline unwell kids.

I have a tendency to assume there is little point trying to sweet talk airline staff, and so normally would have just ‘made do’ with what we had allocated… but… why not? Why not just ask…? Is the back of the plane quieter? Could you move us so that we could hopefully be able to spread out a bit and find a way for the kids to lay out and sleep a bit on the way home?

One cute toddler smile (littlest is still super useful being cute at this point in her life)… and yes… moved to the back of the plane where our 5 seats managed to spread into 7, and then 9, during the flight.  One tiddler sleeping on a blanket in the floor in front of me (well, she’s still pretty small), middlest and eldest bundled out across 2 seats each… and hubby managed to see off a Chinese contender for three middle seats and a couple of hours kip in between some email clearing.

Yet again, it appears that if you’re able to ask (politely, and without assuming you are owed anything) sometimes the universe comes through for you…

So, what else do I need help with?

My course taught me (very clearly!) not to be overly specific in my demands for help, rather to simply ask and see what might happen when people have the opportunity to help in the way they want – rather than the way I would typically prescribe so…

I’ve decided to lay out my current wishlist – to see what the universe comes back with.

Parenting 101 Help

I’m trying to raise 3 small children, whilst living abroad in a wonderfully amusing yet challenging city, a long way from my small but well honed support network – and I’m finding it hard.  Eldest is a ‘spirited, independent, strong-willed’ chip off the old block (b*gger – it’s sometimes like looking in a damned mirror!), eldest and middlest fight like cat and dogs, and littlest, whilst still super cute, has decided it’s time for her to find her voice in the family… But I don’t need any more voices to try and listen to. I can barely hear my own… Can I have some help here please?

Add to this a desire to still keep a marriage / partnership in tact – rather than just feeling like co-minders of a small zoo.  I think you can sense the personal struggles here…

Friendship 3.0 / 4.0 / 5.0 Help

I keep moving. I keep heading off around the world, and my nearest and dearest have done so well at holding the fort for so long for me that the scorecard is weighted heavily in their favour. How can I keep my longest and most important friendships alive across the miles and years (3.0), whilst truly allowing myself to open up enough to make some real friendships out here (4.0) – without the fear that everyone is essentially just at some part of the ‘moving on’ phase of ex-pat life?

And then how do I successfully manage the amazing new global network of friends (5.0) that I have made through my studies and adventures? I struggle with enough hours in a day, let alone managing the time zone game…

Portfolio Career Help

I’m a solid Gen X, not Millenial.

I’m not a digital native and yet I want to find a way to utilise the new ‘social’ networks to showcase myself as a brand – with multiple, linked, well developed and seriously studied strands of talent and interest.

How can I best serve a company that I still love, whilst also developing myself to be the best leader and coach that I possibly can be? So that my wider aim of inciting positive change, and inspiring real action to support true working ‘equality’ can be met?

And does this one not really boil down to – how can I show up as the best leader I can be?

Answers on a postcard please… Oops sorry, showing my age there.  Add a comment. Email me. Facebook me a thought…

I’ve decided that all offers of help will be welcome – however they show up.

Actually, I can

actually, I can

Can I have two Mondays and enjoy them both? Actually, I can!

A story of Time Travel and Bravery – via the Golden Gate Bridge

So I’ve started in on a ten-month Leadership programme that involves the unfortunate requirement of having to go to Sonoma, California four times.  It’s a hardship, I’m sure you can imagine.

I left Shanghai about midday on the Monday, and thanks to a rather brilliant United flight made it safely to San Francisco for about 0830 on that same Monday morning.  Confused? My head was.

My first Monday, aboard the plane, was about as nice as it can be – aboard a plane.  I ate, I drank, I slept, I read a bit.  Traveling without the three little ones in tow really is a pleasure.  I now truly get why hubby doesn’t mind all his to-ing and fro-ing.  No one gets to ask anything of me on the plane – other than whether I want beef or chicken!

My second Monday was pretty awesome too.

I picked me up a fantastic little Fiesta (can’t kick the Ford-ness out of me, no matter how you might try) and headed from the airport through San Fran and out across the Golden Gate Bridge and down in to Sausalito.  How could that drive not make you smile?

I can

When did I last get to explore on my own? To just meander around, stopping whenever and wherever I wanted?  Well, on this second chance Monday, that’s exactly what I did.

Iced coffee and cookie overlooking the city? Yes please.

Hearty singing to a truly bad playlist, whilst happily following Google Maps? Actually, I can. (With a little help from SYNC technology – sorry, couldn’t help but put that little plug in there!)

And then a night to myself in a gorgeous hotel in Napa – the River Terrace Inn.

And that’s when I decided to be brave.  (After a little power nap to head off the jet-lag snoozes.) I could have just hibernated in my room. Grabbed some room service, watched some bad TV and gone to bed early.  I was on my own after all. And I didn’t know the place at all.  But instead I decided to take myself out for dinner.  To get in the car, and drive myself 30mins up the road to head to the Auberge du Soleil for dinner.

In pre children times, hubby and I had talked about heading there for a Napa Valley vacation, but it just never happened. Other things did instead.

So I took myself there.  I got a table out on the veranda. And I sat there, with my book, surrounded by people on dates, and I felt brave and happy. And well fed!

Actually, I can!

And that kind of sums up how the rest of the week went.  I got to challenge so many of my own assumptions of what I can and cannot do.

Can I walk into a room of 20 or so strangers and tell my story of why I’m there? Actually, I can.

Can I show up and really listen to all their stories, even when uncomfortable, or heartbreaking, or both – and not try and ‘fix the problem’ but instead just listen? Actually, I can.

Can I climb a 20ft wooden pole, stand on the wobbly top and then jump off it – knowing that this group has got my back?

I can
Yep – that’s me up there. Crapping my pants!

Actually, I can.

There were a whole pile of other, smaller wins as well.

Can I sit and talk with this group of new friends about my biggest fears – without a glass of wine in my hand?

Can I dance as if nobody is watching? (Um… this one, maybe not quite so easily.  I can shuffle from leg to leg, and then slowly and gently be persuaded that with my hair and my dodgy rock loving past, I could manage a ‘rock-on’ that no one would laugh at too much!)

Can I enjoy whatever food happens to have been made that day, without getting fussy? (Um… yes, the food at Westerbeke Ranch where we were staying was unbelievably good.  I was so sad to leave it. Shanghai, you are sorely lacking right now.)

It was a great few days that put the sparkle back into the tired old (jet-lagged) eyes.

The question now is whether I can put what I’ve learned into practice in the real world?

And whether I can enjoy the next three trips out there as much?

And I know the answer…