The thoughts of Claire Bonner – Director:
I’m know I’m being bold, but I’m also being honest – a ‘women’s leadership conference’ isn’t exactly my idea of time best spent. The individual components are fine: women…leadership….conference. But put them all together I start to lose the will to live.
Don’t get me wrong – I love being a woman, I adore my ‘girl’ friends, and I am in awe of many of the wonderful female colleagues and clients who never cease to amaze me with their talents, abilities and dogged determination. But a day-long conference, full of women, procrastinating about inequality? Where’s the balance in that?
Well, I was wrong. The IoD’s Women’s Leadership Conference delivered on its #WinningEdge promise. The old cynic in me was forced to munch her lunch (aka eat her words) and admit it was an invigorating, inspirational and dare I say, inclusive experience.Instead of being hit with a wave of womenhood, trying to prove their existence and claim back respect from their opposite gender, I was enveloped in a sea of authentic, purposeful, and exceptionally well organised tranquillity.
This wasn’t about women leaders who’ve battled the odds to become a success – this was about people, who’ve worked hard, juggled a lot of balls, made a few mistakes, and kept going. The level of honesty in that big Titanic function room with its sweeping staircase was almost palpable.
Star of the day for me was the hugely talented Susan Hayes Culleton who, like Sterling Moss, navigated us through an eight-hour programme of content, keeping us amused, enlightened and enthralled throughout. Her ‘Just two drinks’ story will forever be my networking mantra.
From the honesty of Helen Kelly, MD of Barclays Bank Ireland who has never lost her sense of place, nor her lovely Strabane accent…to the downright durability of Clare Guinness, who as CEO of Warrenpoint Port was the first female to hold such a role on the island of Ireland.
Maybe it was the lesson in learning to say ‘no’ from Not On The High St co-founder Sophie Cornish? Or giving ‘permission to fail’ as vocalised by local highflyer, Hilary McGrady who heads up the National Trust across the UK? Not only did she defy the odds and publish her email address in the Member’s magazine – but she personally responded to each message she received. Quite a commitment when your total membership is over 4 million!
Or what about the inimitable and unorthodox Christina Noble, the staunch champion of children’s rights whose stunning delivery transported us to a world of abject poverty and abuse, and gave us a glimpse of what isolation and adversity really means. Perhaps it was the radical thinking, pure genius and resilience of the enigmatic Professor Sue Black, who despite her dysfunctional family background, found the superhero in herself and is determined to help others do likewise.
Too many touchpoints to capture here – and to a certain extent you had to be there to soak it up. But for what we received – I was truly thankful.
Well done IoD. I’ll be back.
Pictured at the IoD Women’s Leadership Conference is Claire Bonner, Moya Neeson and Annette Small from Morrow Communications