I can’t operate that’s my Son…..

When we were growing up my Dad used to like to tells us ghost stories and riddles and one that he favoured I’ve heard a few times again as an adult and most recently read it in a book.

The story goes that a young boy is involved in a car accident and as a result is rushed into hospital where he immediately whipped into Theatre; just as the surgeon is about to start their procedure they freeze and say I can;t operate that’s my son.  Whats the surgeons relationship to the boy?


Now be honest what was your first thought?  His Father?

That’s what the majority of people think – it’s where our brains go when we think of a surgeon.  Often when someone is told Nope – not their father they move into Step Father, Foster Father, Grandfather even Uncle.


All this before they get to the actual answer.  It’s his Mother, the surgeon is his Mam.

This happens all the time, we make assumptions based on roles that we consider to be gender normative:

team administrator = woman

operations director = man

electrician  = man

receptionist = woman.

Its the way its always been, and the truth is what we see.  So what can we do to change this?  What can we do to help people be more open to thinking that roles are not gender specific.

Well we have to start with ourselves right?  Be honest about our own unconscious  bias, and then challenge it and address it.  I do it at work al the time.  Colleagues talking about future Directors in this role or that more often then not talk about Him or He (other than HR which is a whole other discussion as recent research shows the majority of HRD’s are in fact men) I’m that voice that pipes up ‘or her’ (and the same when today and Office Administrator was referred to as she).  Perhaps if I do it enough times it will stick.  I’m not giving up that’s for sure.

So what else, I read that people believe what they see.  So taking this to be true we need to see more women in traditionally male roles.  More role models, more examples celebrated and recognised.  And the same for men.  Lets think about a primary school teacher – again if we are completely honest I imagine most people think of a women before thinking of a man.  But we know that young boys need positive male (and female) role models and that there is a shortage of teachers.  What can we do to encourage more men into the primary education sector?

What else?  What are your organisations doing to remove unconscious bias and improve diversity?  I’ve focused on gender bias here but what’s the additional impact if someone is BAME or disabled?

I don’t want to repeat the books I am reading at the moment but if this is a topic that interests you I highly recommend What Works – Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bonnet and Inclusive Leadership by Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick.  I don’t have the answers that’s for sure but am going to educate myself, and in turn share that knowledge with others to improve representation in the workplace.


(this post was written on a train – apologies for any typo’s or ramblings…..)

Working with Captain Whirlwind

Captain Whirlwind

You know the sort, you’ve received an email that on the face of it is quite simple but it might require a bit of thought and discussion and input from others.  But not Captain Whirlwind – they’ve already forwarded it on to someone else, asked them to reply and moved on.

The problem is the person asked you the question, they want a full and measured approach but instead they are going to get a phone call from a colleague who’s been told to call them, doesn’t have all the back ground and can’t actually answer the questions on your behalf without speaking to you.

So that colleague now either calls  the original questioner who has to re-ask the question and wonder why two people in the same department don’t speak with each other. Or they call you to follow up (hopefully).  Either way work is created and potentially duplicated in an effort to respond quickly and move on.

Captain Whirlwind meanwhile has moved on to the next emergency – the next call they can make quickly and the next thing they can fix.  The challenge is if you’re always moving at whirlwind speed you might not always hear the full story, consider the full picture.  In their desire to please everyone, find a solution and ‘get things don’t they often leave behind a bit of chaos and destruction; leaving colleagues to pick up the pieces.

Captain Whirlwind is often seen as a hero – they are a do’er, they get things done, rarely say no and if ever challenged will (legitimately) say I was only trying to help.

Working alongside Captain Whirlwind can be exhausting and frustrating.  I also want to help, want to find solutions and get things done.  But at the same time I want to do no harm.  I want to respect the time and input of those around me and consider the impact of my action on others.  Maybe I’m a little too collaborative.  Maybe I worry too much about the perception if we are constantly playing catch up or as a team look like we don’t even wear the same jersey let alone read the same playbook.

So I count to ten, I take a breath and I try to slow the Whirlwind down, not stop them…their energy and passion to get things done are great in many situations and I want to help them be successful but not at any cost.

A little wind to blow the sails and move us along is awesome – but I hate it when my team and colleagues (and lets be honest when I) find ourselves shaking our heads and wonder how it is that we’re not in Kansas any more.

I’m here to help

Day 2 done and dusted and I’m still full of oomph (& cold to be honest). Met some of my team today and called/contacted the others. I’m all tooled up (phone, laptop etc) and raring to go.

As well as meeting some of the wider HR team I took the time to call some of the key people in the business that my team are there to work with, our internal clients or out more simply the people we are there to help. It’s a simple concept that others talk about far more eloquently than I can but at the end of the day it’s true.

I’m there to help them win new business, mobilise and transition contracts so that staff are motivated, engaged and have what they need to be successful, demobilise contracts so that staff can move smoothly and know that they are being treated well and fairly and leave feeling good about us.

I’m there to make it easy for them to manage their teams and support them in doing that. I’m there to help.

Yep there’s a bit of leading and managing and even strategy setting but that’s all worth nowt if I don’t get the ‘help’ bit right.

You could hear the smile in the voice of the chap I spoke to today when I told him this – he sounded genuinely pleased, became much more open and welcoming.

More of the same tomorrow. Bring it on.

(Traffic jams : 2 (closed road, turned over bus; cups of coffee: 3; lemsip: 2 ( plus those horrible tablets); tissues: a small rainforest; employee handbooks given: 0)

New start

First day in my new role today. I’ve been laid up with cold/flu this week and my brain hasn’t been working well at all. BUT I was really excited about getting back to work after 4 months off – And really excited to be back in an industry and role that I have enjoyed in the past.

So I dosed up with lemsip (other cold remedies are available) and headed off round the M25 to meet my new colleagues.

It was brilliant. There’s a massive task ahead, so much opportunity and potential and desire to improve, change, develop, harness the good, chuck out the bad and drive forward.

It’s an exciting time and task – it’s a bit daunting but I feel like a fire has been lit that I haven’t felt for a while.

Going to get rid of this stinking cold this weekend, send the last project work I did to the client (after review I finished it whilst full of snot so it’s going to need a good, hefty review) and then come Monday get cracking!

Can’t. Bloody. Wait.

(Miles driven 90, minutes spent on M25 not getting out of 2nd gear 75, wine opened after 7pm (on a Friday unheard of!) episodes of HUTH 0)


When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.
— Mahatma Gandhi


     Sometimes I find myself getting a bit shouty – rolling my eyes or taking a deep breath.

     Sometimes I feel a rage that I know is irrational and unhelpful and (honestly) unnecessary.

     Sometimes I can be Queen of ALL the Drama – arms thrown in the air, a whirlwind of for fraks sake and what the fudge and motherfreaking idiots.


These times are not my finest minutes. And they are that – minutes.  They are flashes of emotion, anger and reaction.

And then they are gone – I’ve caused a bit of a commotion, nothing has changed, the action that caused the reaction is the same; no solution has been found if one is needed, no one has changed.  I’ve just had a potential hissy fit (minor or major) and the only person who feels a bit of an arse is me!

So I’m taking a breath, considering the impact of my action/reaction and seeing what the real issue is rather than the perceived slight.

So something has gone a bit askew (in my mind/view) or someone has made a decision or action that wasn’t in the plan – so what?  Stuff happens, people are people not widgets.  Take a breath, sometimes things are made a bit less easy…deal with it, move on.  Leave some of the emotion out of the office and do yourself and your colleagues a favour.

Less drama for drama’s sake.

Do unto others……

It’s the Golden Rule isn’t it?  Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.  It’s not difficult or complicated.  It really is quite simple.

This morning on my commute to work a heavily pregnant lady got on the full train and walked past at least 30 people who avoided eye contact and looked the other way.  It wasn’t one of those situations of is she isn’t she pregnant, not only was it clear physically but she was sporting one of the London Transport Baby on Board badges.  Yes I was comfortable, and yes I had a good seat and some reading to do, but the golden rule is that you offer you seat.  So I did.  She gratefully accepted, sat down with a sigh and I had a short journey to stand for.

Next stop a seat came free, another person was standing but she had seen me stand previously and offered me the seat that came free.  Yeay – people are good and I took it.

But then it happened again, I had just sat down and another clearly pregnant lady got on, again sporting the badge, and again made her way down the carriage.  Again I was the only one to offer a seat.  She asked me if I was sure – (is this a peculiarly british thing?) – but gratefully accepted.  When I was stood I counted, she walked past 15 people before she got to me, 11 of them facing her.  Again the avoided eye contact, the head down, the don’t look at me.

Research undertaken by Kerstin Sailer, a lecturer from UCL, indicates that women are offered seats about 50% of the time (read more here):


This isn’t a post about me, or that I’m getting over ‘all magnanimous’ (thanks @sukhpabial) but rather my disappointment in people not following the Golden Rule, the absence of good manners.

So what about at work? I had the opportunity to read a presentation that talked about Eurostar’s behaviours, how they want their staff to behave, they are simple, clear and most of all common sense and follow the Golden Rule:

Warm – We are approachable and human

 Intuitive – We are proactive and understand the needs of our customers and colleagues

Genuine – We’re open-minded, honest and express our own personalities

Looked After – We treat everyone as we would want to be treated

It’s not quite as straightforward as that for me, yes its a great place to start and should be the basis of relationships both at work and in life but I think we need to go a little further.  For me we need to consider how the other person wants to be treated and adapt accordingly.

But the Golden Rule is a good place to start or as Franklin D Roosevelt said ‘If you treat people right they will treat you right… ninety percent of the time’ – I like those odds. 

How was your weekend?

I wrote this blog originally 3 months ago – it has sat here, I’ve tinkered with it.  Deleted, undeleted, edited, added, chopped and changed and its been hard to let it go.  It started as a series of thoughts on working 24/7, never switching off and expecting those that work for us to never switch off and how that couldn’t be good.  But.  But somewhere along the way it got very personal, confessional and this has been whats held me back from pressing publish.  In a world where putting something on your blog is pretty much the same as putting it on your CV did I really want my mental health on display? Its not that I hide it – I don’t lie about it, I’m open about my issues with depression but to be quite so….well quite so has taken some thought.

My point is still the same – we are human, we are not unbreakable, we are pliable and flexible and we can be bent and stretched and usually we bounce back.  But if you stretch too far, bend too often then something might have to give.

So excuse the confessional tone but well here is the actual blog part…..

Late last year there was a news article about how workers should take time off at the weekends and not work on Saturdays – just Sundays, but that they should check their messages throughout the weekend.  It was one of the banks or accountancy practices I think – not the NHS or emergency services but people dealing with paper and numbers.

Now to be honest I’ve worked this way for many years, if I’ve got work to do I’ll usually push it to Sunday and always check my email/messages over the weekend. I’m not a surgeon, no one will die, no business will fold if I don’t but I like to be ready for the week with a cleanish slate and a plan of what’s to be done.  I never completely switch off, you see I love what I do and I think people and the way we work, interact, behave is fascinating.  So I’m never truly ‘off’ but I certainly ensure I have ‘down time’, I relax, spend time with those I love and the dog.  Eat, drink, be merry – sometimes I stay in my PJs for 24 hours and barely move from bed to sofa to bed again (sometimes).

But should we be encouraging the don’t switch off culture that the article suggested? Would we better benefit from truly rested employees? Or is switching off a myth in this age of 24/7 communications? What does this do for equality, diversity? How does this allow those who worship a particular faith to participate?

What about the magical work life balance?

A few years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression, this diagnosis came after a particularly dramatic breakdown whilst working in a job I loved, with a team I really enjoyed being with and with challenging work. But in the previous 12 months I had spent 180 days in hotels in different timezones, I’d separated from my husband of 10 years, moved 200 miles south back to the town I went to school in, started smoking again. Slept badly, ate badly, drank too often and had a constant sniffle. In short I hadn’t taken good care of myself and took next to no time off. There had been one holiday – a yoga retreat in Italy where I spent 5 days sobbing whenever I was alone or in yoga practice (nice right?) and every afternoon on my laptop checking emails, responding to work queries and requests. But otherwise I’d fly out on Sunday lunchtime and back overnight Friday. When in the UK I worked the hours of my colleagues around the world so yeah sure 7pm phone call no worries – and then in the US the same. 5am teleconference you say a yeah I can do that.

Despite the physical mess I did some great work that year (supporting an acquisition in Belgium, a global restructure in procurement, leadership development in Sau Paulo, Montreal and Geneva, a shift in the working relationship between finance, legal and HR) I was relied on, known for my delivery and professionally fulfilled. All the things that ticked my need box.

By the time the year end came and I returned from my 3rd US trip in 6 weeks my body said no, and soon after so did my mind.

Have I lost you – I’ve revealed and rambled a bit sorry.

There is a point – it was only when I stopped and looked back that I realised I’d had no down time. I’d been so busy being needed (and fulfilling my need to be needed) and filling gaps that I had taken no time to recharge, enjoy life and just stop. I’d missed a year of my god children growing up, a year of birthdays, celebrations, a year of adventures with friends and grieving for the end of a marriage.

I’d read very few books for pleasure, cancelled social events, only watched a film on a 9inch screen on plane, no theatre, no music. I’d taken no real time. If anyone asked I was happy, I was focused on my work and loving it (honestly part of me was) but at what cost.  I’d been bent and stretched beyond my limits and eventually I broke.

Ok my example and reaction was extreme but my point is clear – people are not unbreakable.  If we don’t give people room to breath, relax, unwind and rest then can we expect the best from them?  There are some people who thrive from being always on (I was one of them – and still am to an extent) but those people generally love what they do – and what they do is generally their passion not just their work.  They also often have the choice – the choice to work every day, the choice to get up at 5 and work until 8.  But what about those that don’t?  Can we really get the best from them? Can they really be their best?  Are we helping them to succeed?

I don’t have the answers, what I have is this:

It’s ok to take time out.

It’s ok to not read that blog, not react to that tweet, not read the latest book, article, theory.

Its’s ok to take time to do something completely different.

And I believe that you will genuinely benefit from it.  And so will your employer.  I hope that when I am working with others I can spot the signs that I didn’t spot in myself.  I hope that even when things seem ridiculously busy I can encourage those around me to take some time for themselves and benefit from switching off.

In the meantime I’m taking my own advice, allowing myself some real time off.  Nothing major will fall apart – I’m just not that important – and I will be better for it and so will my work.  I know the signs I’m pushing too far these days, know what the black dog looks like and have strategies and plans for coping.  It took me to break to do this though and I don’t wan to see that ever again either in myself or others.  What about you – are you taking care of you?