SMV’s International Women’s Day 2021 Event

Insights from SMV’s IWD21 event

We’re feeling so inspired following our International Women’s Day event that took place last week. Thank you to the incredible women who attended and for taking the time to share your positive feedback, including this insightful review from one of the attendees, Jo Redman.

The Society of Merchant Venturers’ International Women’s Day annual event was not going to be stopped by a global pandemic! We gathered on Zoom as a group of over 80 women from a wide range of sectors, industries and different points in our careers. The event was chaired with quiet confidence by the Society’s leader Gillian Camm and led by renowned author, inspirational speaker and thought leader on women’s development, Kathryn Bishop who is an Associate Fellow at the Saïd Business School and Development Director for the Oxford University leadership program ‘Women Transforming Leadership’.

“Over the 35 years we have known each other, we’ve talked, laughed and shared stories,” said Gillian as she introduced Kathryn. “We have helped each other stay brave.” If we weren’t all tuned in at that point, we were then…….

As we emerge from the third lockdown, Kathryn encouraged us to use this extraordinary juncture and time in our lives to consider three key themes identified through a piece of research carried out by Oxford University with 12 female CEO’s:

  1. Self Acceptance – choosing to accept ourselves and working with what we have; recognising our strengths and capabilities; choosing to accept trade-offs that come with a working life.
  2. Self Development – how we take proactive ownership of our development and seek the relevant support and guidance we need; usually the development is not through the formal performance appraisal channels.
  3. Self Management– how we proactively micro and macro manage our daily lives.

Kathryn’s key premise is that we should all “make our own maps” using tools and techniques that are typically used by organisations as they explore their futures and build strategies. Starting with these three key questions:

  1. Where am I now and how did I get here?
  2. Where do I want to be?
  3. How do I get from where I am to where I want to be?

Simple enough at a first glance, but of course each requires some considerable thought and soul searching, and that is where Kathryn encourages us to use the various strategy models well explained in her insightful and practical book ‘Make Your Own Map, career success strategy for women’.

Kathryn encouraged us to focus on the ‘choose’ aspect of the International Women’s Day core theme for 2021 #choosetochallenge, as we emerge from Covid-19. This extraordinary time that we have all lived and worked through and continue to do so, has caused so many of us to stop and think about the world we live in and how we live in it. An opportunity to reset, a sense that there is a divide in the road and that some of us may want to choose a different path, make our own path or even forge ahead and lay our own road. Almost a sense of rapid reinvention coming into play – if businesses can do it, then why shouldn’t we as individual women take the same approach?

Kathryn went on to share some real nuggets that resonated deeply with many of us and were cheered in the chatbox; and now are almost certainly jotted onto post-it notes as timely reminders on numerous desks across the city region. These are:

  • Create a ‘to NOT do list’, a shortlist of things you know you do not want to do and will not carry forward into the new normal.
  • Give yourself strategy away days, time out to reflect and think about your career and how you want to move forward.
  • Imposter syndrome – rather than woefully wearing it, grab it and decide what you are going to do with the feeling. In fact, turn it into rocket fuel by being really well prepared for whatever it is you are facing or having to do.
  • Build a sense of self-acceptance by looking back at what you have achieved, crisis you have overcome and how you got through them.
  • Consider your strengths – of which there are three types and craft your career to focus on the first two:
    • Natural – what you are really good at
    • Potential – what you can develop and invest in
    • Fragile – stuff you have to do, but aren’t great at
  • Only do what you can do – at work or at home, there are plenty of things that you could give to someone else to do if you really think about it.
  • Learn to say no and if you struggle to say no straight away, apply the delaying tactic of “let me get back to you”.
  • Identify your sense of purpose– time stamped because your purpose will change depending on circumstance and which career juncture you are at. Build your life around your purpose.
  • Use the Japanese Ikigai model to identify what you LOVE, what the world NEEDS, what you can be PAID FOR and what you are GOOD AT – and the overlap of these will give you your reason for being. How brilliant is that?

For two hours we inspired and were inspired, not only by Kathryn, but also by each other as we shared our career stories to date and our hopes and aspirations for our working lives as the world starts to climb out of the pandemic.

It was an incredibly open forum, with displays of genuine vulnerability, searching questions, well-placed humour and that quiet female acknowledgement of successes and achievements. We could have carried on the debate and listening to Kathryn for so much longer, but our other lives were calling.

We left heartened and determined to make choices about our careers, creating individual maps that we can own and influence. Sisterhood shone through, both in the feedback and as we waved our Zoom farewells, with Gillian promising to bring us all back together for a ‘real’ event later this year – where we can hopefully gather face to face (Covid permitting) and continue the debate and discussion.

Many thanks to SMV for arranging this thought provoking event, to Kathryn for inspiring us and to all the women who joined in on the day and shared their stories, thoughts and ideas.



Written by Jo Redman.

To watch Kathryn Bishop’s presentation, please click here.