08 March 2017

My Standing Ovation – On International Women’s Day

“Everyone at some point in their life should get a standing ovation” – I’m not going to tell you who said this as it’s a key moment in a very good book!

 

On today, International Women’s Day I am imagining my standing ovation, as a woman and as a leader. So without any further ado, my speech!

 

“This speech is a recognition of all the people I’ve met in my journey through my work life who made a difference to me. There are several family and friends who can take the biggest bow for who I am but today I wanted to focus on those women who shaped who I am in my professional life.

 

First of all I want to thank the teacher who taught me that teachers were humans too, and by sharing something of herself with her students she opened up the doors to inspire me to feel like I wanted to learn, that I had something to offer, that I was good. Your success as a teacher, quickly rising through the ranks, showed me that young talented people can progress professionally whilst remaining grounded and having fun with their students. When I came back to the school for a visit, it was you that I wanted to impress with stories of what I was doing with my life. You taught me something about building mutual respect, regardless of the power you legitimately held as a teacher.

 

To the incredible woman who led my youth theatre. To you I owe a great debt, my drive to reach the highest levels of excellence possible in any performance. That used to be on a stage at the Bowen West, and although the Bowen West is long gone, the stage where I push myself physically and mentally as hard as I can go still exists within me. You refused to accept that our boundaries were where we thought they were and you always proved me wrong when I tried to limit mine. To have someone believe in you like that, to believe in a group of people – it starts something. You created a group who believed in the endless possibilities of one another and those of us who are still friends, well we never stopped believing.

 

And at work. I’ve had a fair few managers, they nearly all have felt it part of their duty to take me under their wing. Something within them must have felt an intuitive responsibility to ensure I grew to be the best I could be. They had the confidence to recognise their own expertise and that they had something to offer me. There are two women in particular that taught me something very important, about kindness and authority. I know, because of these people, that leading and managing with kindness is a power all of its own. I am a force, I will keep you safe and I will hold you to account, but I won’t intimidate you and I won’t diminish who you are to do this. The woman I work with now as a Co-Director has played an incredible role in shaping how I lead, from the moment she met me she gave me chances and it never mattered how ready, or how well I did but that I gave it my best and I learned from it. Always be on the look out for the next person whose life you can add something good to. Give someone an opportunity and if you do you will inevitably learn something yourself.

 

And so as I close this speech, in recognition of my achievements as a woman and a leader I have just one admission to make. This speech is false. The differences the people made, and what they did are all true. But none of them were women, and although my thanks to these men are endless, I am unspeakably sad that in writing such an important speech those significant people were not women.

 

Why weren’t you there? You should have been there… The head teacher deciding the promotions picked the charismatic talented guy that reminded him of his younger self. And the woman who wanted to run a youth theatre didn’t believe she had what it took to make it happen, felt that someone would see right through her for what she was: not good enough. And the women at work who should have managed me, you couldn’t ever afford to come off maternity leave as you knew you would have to start all over again.

 

What if there were as many women who had the opportunity to take the prominence they deserved? These men did deserve to be where they were, but in a patriarchal world it was probably a lot easier for them to get what they deserved. And I know that you don’t need to be in a position of power to be inspiring, you can inspire, support and mentor from any platform and indeed I have taken so much inspiration from my female family, peers and colleagues and that’s why I am here.

 

But WHAT IF?! Let’s pretend that there was a balance of successful women and men in positions where they were given prominence, where they could be recognised for the role models that they are? I would place a big bet that in that world a young woman’s confidence would not be a barrier to her ambition.

 

I have always found it uncomfortable to accept praise and encouragement, watch me blush as you give me praise! I will often defer credit to others rather than take it for myself and sometimes I worry that people will realise that I’m not good enough. Now while there is probably a generous dose of ‘British modesty’ in that, I think, and I have no way of knowing, but I think, that if I had had more women role models in leadership around me as I grew up, I might not feel such an odd internal discomfort with my own ability and responsibility.

 

I will finish now with a promise to some women who I probably don’t even know yet. When you get your standing ovation, I am going to get a mention in your speech. I will not allow anyone to ignore or side-line me when it’s obvious that I am brilliant! So when you are looking for experienced people to learn from, I am going to be right there. At the top. But totally within reach.”

Kelly Wolf x

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