BLOG: She taught me how to fly

“Keep pressing” and “head up” are the two phrases most frequently hollered by my son’s football coach on a Saturday morning as I watch (usually freezing!) from the sidelines. These words sum up how I feel about upcoming International Women’s Day – so much has played out, but there’s alot more pressing to be done.

More inclusive styles of career progression and definitions of career success, including flexible working patterns for women and men in senior roles, shared responsibilities in the home and more job / power share opportunities at work, need to be tackled virtually everywhere until the game is levelled and the player gender ratio improved.

Most of us will have been lucky enough to have a role model, mentor or manager whose style or approach we’ve admired and has been impactful on progressing our careers. My mum was my favourite role model, she taught me the importance of perseverance no matter how many times you get set back, an incredibly resilient woman and the primary breadwinner in our house growing up. She ran the housing department of a London borough council, working long hours to find homes for those who needed it most from an ever-depleting council housing stock. Giving shelter to families in the most desperate of circumstances was her mission.

Her father in turn had been her inspiration, a man who had fought in World War II, returning home with a single-minded purpose to break out of the poverty-stricken slums of Birmingham he’d been born into and become the first homeowner in his family; he achieved it through sheer grit and ambitious determination. She’d seen what it took to make a home when birthright or social privilege weren’t on your side.

The woman who raised me up and taught me to fly was also the woman who caused me to crash land when she presented me with my life’s hardest challenge to date, her unexpected diagnosis of a terminal cancer. True to character, when the doctors told her the best case in store was 12 months to live with treatment, she stubbornly persevered in living when she was dying and exceeded their expectations to reach 21 months.

Last year, I met Fearless Girl in New York while she was still serenely staring down the raging bull on Wall Street. She’s smaller than I expected in real life (smaller than me even at 5ft2!) yet she’s made a mighty global impact standing head defiantly up with a simple message to “Know the power of women in leadership”. To me she symbolised hope and, in spite of her size, gender balance in a more grounded way.

I’ll be channelling her attitude this week, thinking of all the women I know or have had the pleasure to know who consistently press…with my head up!

Male or female, who has made a positive impact on your career and made you feel like you’re flying? What are the qualities they have you most admire? Don’t forget to let them know!


Song credit: Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Watch the music video.