This year we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and one that also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. With these important themes in mind, we took some time to talk to one of our expert trainers and creator of our Women Advancing in Leadership courses, Emma Walker-Cotton, about her work, her experiences and what a day-in-the-life of a Hub Events trainer means for her. Outside of The Hub Events, Emma is a founding partner of Causeway Consulting, an experienced group of consultants helping businesses create positive cultures, develop leaders and embed sustainable structures.

For The Hub Events, Emma facilitates a number of different courses, including several courses designed and developed specifically for women. We chatted with her to find out a bit more about how she runs these courses, what makes them special and the important impact they have.

How do you prepare yourself and your environment for the course ahead?

To begin with, I’ll make sure I know the venue well. If it’s an open course, that’s pretty straightforward as The Hub Events hand-pick their venues and there are a number that we use frequently. If it’s an in-house course that’s different because you might not know the venue or who’s going to be in the room. You have to read the room pretty quickly, particularly to identify those attendees in the room who have been ‘told’ to attend. They might need a little more encouragement to engage with the content than those who are engaged, willing and actively want to be there.

I would say the women's courses generally are a joy to run because people really do want to attend and really do want the space to talk. In some ways they might be the 'easiest' courses to run because you have a group of people in the room wanting to think about themselves, where they are at in their career and where they want to go next. The dynamic is different from course to course.

Is there anything especially that you do individually that's important in your preparation?

Before I begin I’ll adopt a power stance on my own in front of the bathroom mirror. It just changes my mindset. If there’s any imposter syndrome popping up or I start overthinking it enables me to stop and take control. I’ll stand up, put my hands on my hips and make myself smile, which can feel really uncomfortable but it releases dopamine!

There’s a TED talk by someone called Amy Cuddy that I find fascinating and it’s all about body language and impostor syndrome. We talk a lot on the women's courses about how we master imposter syndrome. Now I know not everyone has it, but we talk about that technique, we talk about recognising what's going on in our heads - why do we have that interference that pops up where we start overthinking about certain people? Or in certain situations? Or in certain meetings? I share this technique with the group.

This month we recognise International Women’s Day. Tell me a bit more about the courses you run that have been designed especially for Women.

We started the first course around ten years ago. The reason it came about was that we recognised that it was something women were talking about during other training courses, raising concerning points such as ‘I don't get heard much in my workplace’ or ‘I'm not advancing at the same pace as men around me.’

In the early 2000s, I used to be the HR director at Amnesty International. I got invited to join the initial government think-tank around the creation of the Equality Act 2010 and became really interested in the subject. When we were profiling organisations across the UK, basically and bluntly, most exec teams were still predominantly older white men leading the organisations. I was really interested in why that is - what is it that means women aren't advancing?

So at that point, I became really interested in this as an HR director, and then working with the team at The Hub Events we had conversations around a market for women-specific courses to address these specific issues. We had a whole load of pushback at first. I know Emma and Christine got a lot of emails asking ‘Where are the courses for men?’ Most of our courses are for everyone! It’s like the complaint about the lack of an International Men’s Day - It does exist. (It’s November 19th, as Richard Herring painstakingly pointed out whilst raising money for charity)

I’ll give you another example. My wife, Ruth, and I appeared on Bargain Hunt (If you haven’t seen it – the episode is here for your viewing pleasure!). When our episode went out, there were some negative posts on social media about it, saying: “Oh, look at the lesbians…this is BBC ticking the ‘L’ box”, that sort of thing. It's like, whenever there’s visibility, we will get pushback from people. So with the courses, it can be the same thing. As soon as you put something out that is specifically for an underrepresented group, there is that challenge. And as long as it's still being challenged, it reaffirms the need for a course specific for an underrepresented group!

How do you begin to approach such a big task in the courses?

We begin by considering global and national issues but then focus on what we as individuals can control. It does seem overwhelming at first, but then people will share their experiences of their own organisational culture. The aim of the day is to get really practical tips that can be used when you get back to work.

We think about your competencies as a leader, how to give feedback, how to confidently say ‘no’, as well as better understanding the bigger issues and exploring them together. People also go away with really clear actions that work for them and empower them. The courses are a chance for you to think about what’s happening globally and locally, but also a chance for you to get some really practical frameworks to help you.

What sort of challenges do you come up against?

In some cases, I can remember that the course has triggered some negative reactions in the group. It is a global issue that can also be highly personal. The lesson for me is that we should always reflect on what feels comfortable to us. I think it’s important to highlight how the course has evolved and changed over the last 10 years. It's always current. As a trainer, I’m always looking for new research to include. In terms of the actual flow of the day, it's changed dramatically from what we talked about the first time we ran it. The statistics are different, the presentation is different. The narrative is, however, really similar, which I suppose is a bit depressing. It's still the same issues that women are facing. I think that’s sad.

Fundamentally, the three things that hold women back are still exactly the same as they were 25 years ago. Organisationally, women can still be stereotyped, organisations often don’t address unconscious bias effectively and there often aren’t role models for women in organisations where can see themselves in the hierarchy. Those three things haven't changed from when I was involved in the Equality Act in 2010 and it’s still the same today. Deloitte is predicting equal pay in the UK to be achieved 99 years after the Equal Pay Act came out. We need to do things to help it to change.

There are some things that are changing for the better, however. An example of this is the conversations around menopause. Lots of people are talking about it so much more and having a women-only space certainly helps to facilitate the conversation. We never talked about that 10 years ago. It is a good indicator of how organisations are thinking about how they support women in work. It’s being spoken about more openly and it's fantastic.

If the issues have stayed the same for 25 years, how do you convince people that these courses are worth taking?

It's a really good question. I think it is because there are things that we can do ourselves, and those things still remain really important if we want to affect change. As individuals, we can't change the world. But we can change when we decide to apply for a job role, for example. In my courses, I share a statistic, which is that the normative statistic around when men and women apply for a job is; that if men meet 60% of the criteria, they'll go for a job. For women, that goes up to 95% of the criteria.

With that statistic in mind, I have had lots of women email me after the session telling me they went for the job and got it. They would never have gone for that job if I hadn't known that stat and we hadn’t been able to talk openly about it on the course, so there are brilliant things that happen after the day, through people having the knowledge of how we hold ourselves back and being able to act on it.

What’s your favourite part of the day?

I mean, we do absolutely have a laugh, which sounds surprising maybe considering the scale of the issues and concepts in the courses. But you know, people will share amazing stories with each other about their workplace cultures. Some are horrendous, and some are brilliant and inspiring. I would say I have way more fun on the day, generally, because people are sharing pretty vulnerable stuff with each other. We get to know each other really, really quickly on those days. It definitely changes people's behaviour.

People will often pass around their details from our own networking groups at the end, then carry on the conversations with each other. I’ll always share my email address at the end of the course for anyone who wants to find out more. I think it’s important to offer that, especially for people who are big reflectors, who might not want to be shouting out as much as others on the day. It gives people the opportunity to reach out. I think one of the real indicators is that I often get follow-up emails from people, it’s brilliant to know that people are using the course content straight away.

How do you know if it’s been a successful day’s training?

It’s not necessarily a measurable thing, but I know if I'm totally myself, on the day, if there's never that moment where I feel like I've got to put on a protective shell and operate slightly differently, if I know I've been totally ‘me’, that's a massive indicator of that was a really good day.

If I have a whole load of questions or really get people talking that’s a good thing. For me, the group should be talking more than me, sharing experiences is a key thing. If the room haven't chatted, it wouldn't have been a good day, But I mean, that just doesn't happen on these courses. People really, want to speak out.

What do you think are the three most important characteristics a trainer needs to have?

I think particularly in the women-specific courses, I feel ultra-confident about the content. I really believe it. I do on all the courses I facilitate, but these ones even more so, having been a leader, knowing what's happened around the narrative for women advancing in leadership roles. So, confidence in content would be the first thing for me.

Being my real self is the second thing. On these courses, for example, I find it easier to talk about the fact that my partner is a woman, that I have a wife. It just feels like there is a space where everyone is much more open. It’s a common thing for many people who aren't straight have to think ‘Right, when will I have to come out today?’ So, on that day, I always feel it's just a natural thing to say at some point. I don't think ‘now's the point where I'll say it’, but it just will be it will just be known. I can just be myself and that’s really important.

And then the final thing is - listen and adapt the day. It should never be the same course every time, is my belief. The conversation should be really different each time because the course is about the individual delegates and their experiences. The very first thing I do is ask everyone to share why they signed up for the course. Then the course is different. I write that all down to find out what each person wants from the course and draw that out over the day.

What are your three top tips for candidates attending a course?

  1. Challenge yourself. Ask yourself ‘Why am I on this course?’ If your narrative is: ‘because I was sent on it’, then you have to change that mindset. You’re here for the day – you may as well get some use out of it.
  2. Interact. Even if you are the most introverted, shy person, that day is designed for you to be able to interact with the group. You don’t have to stand up in front of the room or present anything, but you’ll have the chance to talk to people in a really safe space. So, interact in a way that is comfortable for you.
  3. Be present. Really try not to look at your phone when we’re in the sessions. There will be opportunities for you to check in and catch up, but on the day be present, because you'll get so much more from it.

Emma runs a series of courses for us here at The Hub Events, including- Women Advancing in Leadership, Women in Leadership – Succeeding Through Uncertainty (online), Empowering Women in Management, Confidence to Succeed – Assertiveness for Women. If you want to know more about how The Hub Events can help your organisation learn, inspire and thrive, get in touch today! You can find out more about Emma and our other amazing trainers here.

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