At Women in PR we were so impressed by the quality and number of applications for our 2020 mentoring programme, that on Thursday 24th September we held a virtual event to provide an evening of support to those who weren’t matched this year.
We were delighted that 40 guests came along to what turned out to be a dynamic, interactive session, void of tech issues, that was packed full of the inspiration and hope so many of us need in our current world of chaos.
Sarah Samee, WPR Vice President and Group Head of External Communications at Lloyd’s Register, hosted the event and was joined by some of the industry’s finest voices:
- Nichola Johnson-Marshall, Co-Founder of Working Wonder
- Jane Fordham WPR mentor team member and People Consultant
- Tony Langham, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Lansons
- Ronke Lawal, founder of Ariatu PR and 2020 mentor
- Evadney Campbell MBE, Managing Director of Shiloh PR
- Sarah Scholefield, Global CEO, Grayling
As expected, the panel rose to the challenge and brightened Zoom screens across the country, with discussions around imposter syndrome, leadership stereotypes, ageism and parenthood in PR. While we had to mention the C word, Ronke quite rightly said this has actually meant that the subject of flexible working, that has been half-heartedly on the boardroom table for years, is now finally being embraced and we can only hope Covid will bring much needed change for future generations of PR professionals.
The panel speakers were energised and full of impactful insight and information. To kick things off, Nichola reminded us that as PR professionals we need to give the press what they want, but we also need to keep it simple and jargon-free and as you write it, imagine you’re explaining it to you mum. She also made the point of not going in for the hard sell, but to communicate stories and build connections.
Jane, ever the optimist on the WPR team, said that while progress has been made when it comes to working parents, if we are to truly harness this pool of exceptional talent, employers need to think laterally around flexible working and this is something that has to be about impact and delivery, not bums on seats.
A raw candidness was at the heart of the comments Sarah Scholefield made about putting her career on hold for four years when she had her children, a choice she never regretted, and one she thinks others can do too. Now a major player in London agency life, she believes if you’re talented, determined and ambitious, a break doesn’t have to mean the end of your career, but she also cited that being a parent isn’t an automatic right to flexibility.
Bringing honesty and humour to the table, Ronke believes that as women we need to remember that our presence is of value and to embrace this. She has refused to let her working class, Hackney background, work against her and instead she channeled her London charm and chat to help dismantle the structures that hold so many of us back, structures that will keep us under worked, underpaid, under-valued if we continue to question ourselves.
While Ronke noted how these structures can bring Imposter Syndrome to the door, something many mentor applicants mentioned this year, Tony made a stand out point that this 21st century phenomenon can actually motivate us to make progress. He suggested that if we ride on the waves of Imposter Syndrome, rather than letting it paralyze us, it can propel us to learn more and become better, rather than sitting back in the seat of vulgar complacency and entitlement.
It was refreshing to hear that Tony isn’t one to put up with cliques in the workplace and that either everyone is invited for drinks, or he won’t go – socially distanced of course. It was clear that Lansons, a launch pad for women who go on to take seats at senior tables, nurture staff, see potential and promote their people before a promotion is asked for. Interesting!
Just as the panel session was vibrant and thought provoking, the breakout rooms were just as informative and attendees had the chance to ask the questions they don’t always feel they can ask those they work with and learn from.
Sarah Samee, says: “There is no doubt 2020 has been a challenge for many of us in the industry. We were really humbled at the number of applicants for this year’s mentoring scheme, and it was hard to not be able to offer everyone a place, so we hope this event has given some much-needed support.
“We’ve had great feedback from attendees, panelists, breakout room hosts, and committee members and would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part. I was really impressed at the openness and honesty of both our panelists and our attendees. The PR Week Mentoring scheme and our networking events are at the core of what we do and we weren’t going to let Covid-19 stop these from going ahead. As we look forward to the last quarter of 2020, and into next year, we do have more virtual events planned and are more committed than ever to help women, of all backgrounds, to progress and reach their full potential.”
Coming from an eclectic range of backgrounds and roles, the speakers shared their points of view, as well as their pearls of wisdom and the one strong message was that now is a time for change and if we can embrace the challenges ahead, great things can happen.