Here’s the transcript of my speech at the ‘Women Mean Business’ Inaugural Event at Shrewsbury High School on 14th November 2019. The aim of the event was to inspire girls and young women, empowering them to make confident decisions about their futures, whatever path they take.
‘I’m delighted to talk you this evening, as part of this excellent event.
The workplace today is global, exciting, dynamic, unpredictable and connected, and it’s wholly unrecognisable to the workplace I entered over 30 years ago. This is fantastic and offers up so much to you!
To prepare for what I wanted to say to you this evening I have been reflecting on what I was like in school, at around the same age as you, and whether I was ready for the workplace?
I came across a school report, written in the summer of 1984, when I was just about to start my ‘A’ level exam year. I was studying English, History and Economics at Yale V1 College in Wrexham.
Here’s some of my teachers comments;
English; Vanessa tries hard
Economics; She performs creditably
History; She still tends to overwrite and be irrelevant (I don’t think you’d get away with saying that in a school report these days?)
However, under games and social activities it said; ‘Vanessa shows good leadership qualities, she’s a good organiser and she’s making an excellent contribution to life at college. She makes a wholehearted effort at all times.’
So, on reflection, I think it was my leadership qualities and my social and organisational skills that propelled me into a career in human resources and maybe not my academic ability. But I did pass my ‘A’ levels and once I got going in HR, it really suited me. Since then I have made the most of every opportunity I’ve been offered!
So, what advice and insights can I share with you? What things have I learned from my 30-year career in people management…
Be proud – but don’t confuse this with arrogance. By proud I mean be authentic, think about who you are, where you come from and what you stand for in terms of your values and beliefs. Make sure that you know what your values are so that you can match them to the organisation you want to work for. You will no doubt be asked about your values as part of any recruitment and selection process.
Be resourceful – there is a saying, ‘if you stumble make it part of the dance’. By this I mean, fail fast and move on, don’t dwell on it, as this is how we learn. Bounce back, be adaptable and agile in your approach to work and life.
Seek out help and support – source someone to be your mentor. Watch and learn from other peoples’ good and bad traits and take the best from the people that you encounter. Admit when you need help and take support when it is offered to you. Don’t think that this shows weakness, it doesn’t, it shows strength.
Stay curious – fresh thinking is a key skill, so keep asking Q’s, keep finding out about your product, about your market and about yourself. One of the greatest skills you can offer up is creative thinking. Keep asking the questions, even if you might not like the answer you get.
Maintain a good balance –you need to make sure that you are in the best shape to enjoy the journey of life so put your time and energy into the right things ; the people for whom you are indispensable not those for whom you are dispensable. By that I mean, yes, make friends at work, enjoy the workday, but remember your home and your safe place and those who love and need you too. Your retreat is very important. You will need to recharge.
Manage your inner control freak – we all have one! She’s the one who needs you to be in control of everything and when you are not, she sends you into panic. She will drive you insane at points and so you need to calm her down. You cannot control everything; the workplace is very unpredictable and so the best thing you can do is concentrate on your ability to influence in times of change and accept what you can’t change –just learn to let it go!
Avoid gossip – don’t be that girl who gossips! Please don’t get involved, it will take your energy, your time, your focus and ultimately your reputation. Avoid gossip!
If you get a chance, take it, and if it changes your life, let it – life is not a dress rehearsal, this is it, so get on with it and if you need to change direction just go with it. Your life will take you to new and interesting places, bad things will happen, then they will pass, and ………good things will come your way again.’