FEATURE15 April 2020

Setting a manifesto

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The first senior female executive retreat from WIRe this side of the Atlantic took place at the end of last year. Emma Cooper was one of the organisers and here she describes what unfolded.

Setting a manifesto

For the past few years, non-profit gender diversity organisation Women In Research (WIRe) has been running a San Francisco-based retreat for senior female executives in the market research industry. I was lucky enough to attend it in May 2018 – it was a transformative experience, both personally and professionally.

And so, Zappi’s Babita Earle and I decided to organise a European version of the event. Our aim was to replicate the success of WIRexec and the US executive retreat, in Europe, by building a supportive and accessible community for female executives and creating a force for change within the region.

Fast forward to October (without dwelling on the huge and underestimated amount of organisation this involved) and we were sitting in Cowley Manor, Cheltenham, a stunning location. We had gathered a group of 10 exceptional retreat delegates and five super speakers and facilitators. The purpose of the event was to engage the heart and the head, to power up the WIRexec European presence and to launch a new community that is aligned to impact the industry.

Exactly how we wanted to go about this was a manifesto agenda we developed throughout the two days, inspired by speakers, workshops and discussion. Kristin Luck, head of WIRe, Babita and I opened the retreat with welcomes, rules of engagement and introductions. The energy and openness in the room was apparent immediately.

The futurist Tracey Follows discussed world trends and how they might impact society and the workplace. It was a great way to set up the retreat, by taking a glimpse into the future, based on emerging trends such as activism – the rise of employees and consumers demanding action and evidence from companies that go further than an expression of values.

We all laughed at the Japanese worker with a virtual girlfriend, but the explosion of data and machines is serious – we’ve now reached the point where consumers are having conversations with machines without realising it.

Agenda points for our WIRexec manifesto from this session included: how can we better train, mentor and coach young women to prepare for leading the businesses of the future? How do we ensure that women feature strongly in the rise of the data economy and avoid male biases in how humans design the machines?

Following some time to discuss, reflect and consume Cowley treats, we moved onto a session led by Lucia Adams, co-founder of Digital Ladies, to talk about building your tribe. Lucia spoke about how she developed Digital Ladies, a networking group for more than 2,000 women who work in technology.

She shared the success story of today but also recalled day one and how it felt to be starting something new. Her session included an exercise in thinking intentionally about your network, something I did for the first time a couple of years ago on an executive MBA course – this includes positioning people or groups into the areas they provide value, from personal motivation through to future career growth.

One of the big revelations that came out of this session was the importance of networking with people that you want in your tribe, and so another manifesto point was added: how can we promote women supporting women, particularly at different levels within organisations?

Day one closed with Heidi Dickert, of Heidi Dickert Consulting, introducing vision setting – we were encouraged to close our eyes and envisage our perfect day in three years’ time – to form the basis of the intentions and theme with which we would leave the retreat. Finally, there was champagne, laser clay shooting, dinner and spa time – the foundation of every good retreat.

After an invigorating yoga session, we started the second day reflecting on day one and honing our manifesto. We agreed it was important for this to be actionable and measurable, committed to having an impact on the industry beyond what we’re achieving in our own businesses.

Jenny Garrett talked to us about Rocking your Role – the book she wrote on being a female breadwinner. She realised through coaching that this was a poorly understood – but rising – scenario in today’s economy, that should be celebrated rather than hidden. We added to our manifesto: how can we empower women to feel proud and confident in being responsible for household and business finances?

Next up, we heard from Jackie Wilgar, senior vice-president of marketing at Live Nation. She brought the client voice to the retreat, talking about the importance of impact and results in defining a marketing strategy driven by the emotional experience of escape created by live performances. This reminder of the connection between heart and head – the relevance of emotion in driving effectiveness – closed the speaker sessions.

We wrapped up our themes (my favourite being ‘Be a sharp shooter’ – from the laser clay winner) and intentions, along with intentions to support each other’s intentions, which ranged from undertaking finance training to finding a local Parkrun to help get in shape.

The retreat was closed by Kristin, with a session covering crowd-sourced topics such as embracing change at board level. We decided to establish WIRexec Wednesdays as a way of regrouping and holding ourselves to account.

As we went back to the real world, we took away inspiration, actions and the warm feeling of having found a new tribe. Babita and I reflected on our key aim and agreed we had successfully met our goals in organising the event. We are confident that it will grow in strength and have already been taking advantage of the new network to progress ideas from the retreat.

We received excellent feedback from attendees. In particular, they commented on the difference between this and other leadership events – which largely focused on heart, as well as head, and the inspiration derived from a roomful of female executives who all want to drive change in the industry by supporting other women and progressing their own careers.

In an industry where executive networking is dominated by men, this was a chance to network with women and discuss familiar challenges.

It is important to note the backing we received from male colleagues in doing this, including great support for me and Babita from our male CEOs.

P2Sample’s Jonathan Deitch wrote a white paper, recently published on the WIRe website, that outlined the gender imbalance in senior market research positions. This is something that men in the industry are as keen to change as women because they recognise the well-publicised advantages of a diverse team at board and executive levels.

For this reason, Women in Research has many male supporters and its other events are open to men to attend.

This article was first published in the January 2020 issue of Impact.