#BloomFest: The Secret Self

I was honoured to be invited to speak on a panel at BloomFest on 8th November, bringing together my work life and my infertility life - this was truly ‘coming out of the closet’!

BloomFest is a one-day conference and the flagship event for the Bloom network, a professional network for women in communications. The theme for 2018 was ‘Fighting Our Fictions: Challenging myths within the industry’, with proceeds from the day supporting Women’s Aid

We believe that myths within our industry are barriers to women realising their ambitions. Accepted fictions about power, privilege, pay, parenthood and beyond, become the basis upon which the industry is built and influence how women shape ourselves and our careers. At BloomFest 2018, we will uncover and meet these fictions head on, challenging the narratives woven into the workplace and ourselves in order to drive real change.

It was daunting and thrilling to be on the bill alongside incredible women in the industry (keynotes were delivered by Dame Carolyn McCall and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez), and it was a fantastic and inspirational day

I took part in a panel about the Secret Self, about hiding invisible struggles at work - concealing who we are, or what we face, in order to project a professional image of ambition and perfection. I was honoured to speak alongside some amazing women from my industry (Helen Calcraft, Founding Partner, Lucky Generals; Jan Gooding, Chair, Stonewall UK & President, Marketing Research Society; Charlie Hunt, Head of New Business, Digitas UK; Namrata Dhadialla, Associate Director, MediaCom; moderated by Victoria Brooks, Sustainability Strategy Director & Head of Programmes, Bloom) discussing issues including sexual harassment, cancer, mental health, sexuality, bereavement - and infertility & pregnancy loss.

Whilst the other sessions were filmed and tweeted, our session was kept private to respect people exposing their vulnerabilities - but what was very clear was that whatever we see on the surface, we never know what someone else might be going through. I was the nominated ‘infertility and pregnancy loss’ speaker, but I wasn’t the only one on the panel who’d gone through multiple rounds of IVF. I spoke to lots of different women during the day, and many revealed their own struggles.

 Confessions from ‘The Booth of Truth’

Confessions from ‘The Booth of Truth’

Attendees were encouraged to share their anonymous confessions about their own experiences within the industry around key themes of the day; which were then posted on boards and shared with the audience.

These included:

When your CEO tells you that he only hires ‘pretty blonde girls’ and then regularly invites female employees back to his hotel for champagne.
If a woman does call out a man for sexual harassment, she will never be able to find a job again.
I came back to work recently, six months after having my baby. Because, to keep my role, I had to. In hindsight, it was too early and I cried in secret, not being able to continue breastfeeding.
I lost my first daughter, she was stillborn. I left my job as no-one knew how to ‘deal’ with me after my loss.

The last of these was utterly heartbreaking, and it’s exactly why we need to talk more openly about pregnancy loss - so that those who suffer devastating losses are supported, not awkwardly ignored.

Within the workplace - and outside of it as well - there are plenty of #EverydayActions that we can all embrace to help us thrive, not just survive: wisdom that I know I’ll try to carry with me:

WISE UP

  1. Be proud and wear your scars: they make you you.

  2. Know it takes more energy to hide than to flourish.

  3. Understand you are not alone in your struggles, your fears, and your experiences.

  4. Mistakes happen; learn and move on from them.

  5. Remember diversity is more than just skin deep.

  6. Don’t try to emulate others: be the best version of yourself.

  7. Respect that people respond to challenges differently.

  8. Remember judgement from others is often rooted in jealousy.

  9. Know perfectionism can lead to paralysis; learn to let the little things go.

  10. Recognise you can do it all; just not at the same time, unless you don a cape.


EYES UP

  1. Take time to think about what success looks like for you: create your career map once you know your destination.

  2. Play to your strengths: harness what you are good at to grow your gravitas.

  3. Avoid the ‘just’ trap

  4. Use language and body language to have more impact.

  5.  Make time for training.

  6. Step outside your comfort zone: challenge should be positive, not negative.

  7. Focus on producing quality work not putting in hours: if your work is done, go home.

  8. Invest in yourself: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

  9.  Learn to delegate in every aspect of your life – work and home.

  10. Surround yourself with people who lift you up – team, sponsors, mentors.

  11. Don’t say yes to things when you want to say no; saying no is the best skill you’ll ever learn.


RISE UP

  1. Give those who are under-represented a step up so they can be heard.

  2. Call it out if you witness unsavoury behaviour, if you think there is a lack of representation in the room or if you feel something is not right.

  3. Create a safe environment for your teams.

  4. Demand blind CVs.

  5. Talk to your male colleagues: we cannot thrive if we only talk in the echo chamber.

You can find out more about your rights at work whilst struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss in my post about Fertility at Work