International Women’s Day 2017
Be Bold for Change – My Story
In 2017 the theme for International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change, so I thought I would share my one of my boldest decisions with you.
One of the boldest things I ever did on a personal level was deciding to put myself forward as President of the Women’s Engineering Society in 2014. The reason this was a bold step for me to take was because I have never been good at public speaking. And when I say ‘never been good at’ what I really mean is ‘ had an absolute phobia of’. So putting myself into the role of spokesperson for an organisation was something that was not without potential problems. I decided, however, that since the organisation I was representing was all about promoting diversity, then there must be room for a leader who has a different set of strengths, and that there was probably a way for me to work around what was a going to be a clear handicap. Sure enough, I managed to get through the year by sending representatives to cover the major public engagements, whilst simultaneously working on my own competence little by little, with lots of help and encouragement from a pretty extensive range of professionals and non-professionals alike (including acupuncture, hypnotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, breathing exercises, courses, and advice).
It wasn’t, however, until fete took a hand on 8 March 2016 – exactly a year ago – that my fear was tested to the limit, when I delivered the Founders Day lecture at Bath University in partnership with my husband, Peter Bonfield. Vice Chancellor Dame Glynis Breakwell had invited us to speak at the event almost a year before, and on receipt of the invitation I knew immediately that there was absolutely no chance of accepting. Before the reply could be sent, however, we happened to bump into Dame Glynis in the breakfast room of a hotel where there were absolutely no other guests but us! What are the chances of that happening? Dame Glynis asked whether we had received the invitation, and waited expectantly for a response, and from a height somewhere near the ceiling I watched myself nodding my head in acceptance. From that point on, the clock started to tick down towards the fateful date, and the experts brought in one after the other to try to cure my problem.
Suffice to say, I survived the day, got through the presentation with great help and encouragement from colleagues in the room, and have never looked back since. I can’t say that I am now a hugely confident speaker, and still think twice before accepting an invitation to speak at events, but I am much more confident than before, and have nothing like what can be described as a phobia now.
The boldest part of this though, was putting myself up for something that I was not quite sure I could achieve, and the pay back in terms of the impact and change that I hope has resulted from my decision to be President and then subsequently Chief Executive of the Women’s Engineering Society, and lead this work on diversity and inclusion in engineering, has been my way of creating change.
I am now a much bolder agent of change, and recommend that you stand up and be bold for the changes you want to see too – in whatever way you choose to do it.