Imposter Syndrome is that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, that any moment now you’re going to be found out, that you don’t deserve to be where you are. And lots of us suffer from it. Vicky Walker discussed the issue with Bex Lewis, Natalie Collins and Jo Dolby who all talked about their own experience of Imposter Syndrome and gave tips on how to deal with it. Jo Royal summed it up as comparing your insides with other people’s outsides. It was really liberating to hear how widespread it is and to be given practical suggestions for how to deal with it. Cecilia Eggleston has written about the day on her blog, including how this issue affects her.
Rosemary Lain Priestley is a priest and works as Dean of Women in the central area of the London Diocese. She chairs the Church of England’s national network of advisers in women’s ministry and does a lot of work on the inclusion and flourishing of ordained women in the Church of England. She spoke to us about Authentic Inclusion and the fact that God welcomes everyone and loves us for who we are, not what we do or produce. She said: ‘It’s that principle of inclusion, based not on status but solely on God’s love for us, not on our achievements but on God’s grace, that sets the scene for Jesus’s radically inclusive relationships with women, with people who were vulnerable because they were poor or socially marginalised, with those who were sick or dying, with tax collectors and sex workers, with people entirely outside the Jewish community like the Syro-Phoenician woman who persuaded him to heal her daughter and the Samaritan woman at the well with whom Jesus broke social taboos and made himself ritually unclean just by sitting and talking with her and sharing her water.’ You can find her talk on her website.
Next was our regular celebration of a woman in leadership. Wendy interviewed Liz Clutterbuck, who has trained for ordained ministry but was not able to find a curacy for this year. Liz talked honestly about feelings of disappointment and confusion, how she has coped with friends being ordained and started curacies and what she’s doing now.
Finally we heard from Jendella Hallam Benson, a photographer, filmmaker and writer based in London. She talked about her latest work, the Young Motherhood project, which enables women to tell their stories of being young mothers. Jeni had been thinking about doing the project but got the final impetus to do it at a previous GWL which was very encouraging to hear! She says: ‘Unlike common documentary photographic practices I do not wish to co-opt the stories of the “marginalised” or “disadvantaged”. The most important part of this project was travelling around the UK to photograph and interview 27 women who are, or have been, young mothers – that is women who have given birth to children in their early twenties or below – to hear directly from them what their experiences have been raising their children. I see myself as using my skills to amplify their voices in the hopes that their experiences can intelligently inform discussion and start a much-needed conversation within our communities on how best to support young families in our common goal for an inclusive and healthy society.’
Sara Hyde began the day by talking about her journey from a fairly naïve girl brought up in a ‘nice middle class, 2,4 family’ to a woman who is passionate about women who are caught up in the Criminal Justice System and currently campaigning to become the Labour candidate for Salford. She gave us an insight into women’s prisons and challenged us all to look beyond individualism to the broader community. We were asked to think about our background, to consider why we hadn’t been to prison and to think about how we could contribute to making a difference in the lives of women who often face incredibly hard life decisions.
Wendy Beech-Ward interviewed Jude Levermore about her many years of experience in Christian leadership. Currently working with the Methodist Church, Jude has chaired the board at Greenbelt and worked with her team to transform the event into a sustainable, successful festival. Jude brought great wisdom to the room as she shared what has helped her work in very male dominated environments, how she has navigated the challenges she has faced and how she has learned that to lead you have to be prepared to make unpopular decisions.
Andrea Boden, marketing and partnerships manager for Relate, talked about networking and encouraged us to think about what makes it hard for us to go up to someone new and introduce ourselves. We discussed the assumptions we make about other people before we’ve ever met them, the damage that comparison does to our self-esteem and the negative things we believe about ourselves that make us think people won’t want us to talk to them. Andrea suggested that we exchange those thoughts for their opposites and speak out of those in situations where we’re meeting new people.
Lara Bianca Pilcher wrapped up the day by talking about her work in the creative arts. Dancer, singer, actor and producer Lara talked about the kind of resilience it takes to work in an industry where you might not get work for two years, face endless knock backs and wear your heart of your sleeve. She shared top tips for setting up new projects and fundraising, and left us to remember that we are more than the product of someone else’s imagination.
Thanks to Bekah Legg from Liberti Magazine for this report.
Tamsin Martle talked about her experience of finding what she was passionate about, moving from a successful career that didn’t particuarly inspire her, to becoming an executive coach and using her talent for motivating, developing and envisioning people and organisations. She led us in an exercise towards crafting a personal mission statement, thinking about what’s at our centre, what motivates us and what might be holding us back. We were all left with plenty to think about and to do some more work on.
Wendy Beech Ward interviewed Ruth Mawhinney as part of our mission to celebrate women in leadership. Ruth has been editor of Christianity Magazine for several years and has just moved on to edit ChristianToday.com. She talked about her calling to the city, to connect with the community around her, about what she’s proud of in the work she’s done and her hopes for her new role.
Cath Pearson talked about The Marylebone Project which houses vulnerable women and helps them move on in their lives. The project is in need of volunteers to spend time with the women and money to create comfortable lounges that they’ll want to hang out in.
And then Jenny Baker talked about her book Equals, explaining what equality is, why it’s so important and how we can create environments where equality can flourish. She talked about gender at work – how organisations and workplaces are not neutral places but actually help to construct and reinforce gender stereotypes. There’s a follow-up post on her blog about why some of us need to stop making the tea.
We failed to take any photos but we did have an amazing time again, with great connections being made and people leaving encouraged, inspired and determined to pursue their callings.
Vicky Walker hosted a panel including Chine Mbubaegbu, author of Am I Beautiful?, Sarah Smith from Esteem Resource Network and Hannah Jean who is an image consultant, exploring appearance, confidence and the beauty myth. We talked about how we can resist cultural pressures to conform and help younger leaders do the same, examining the voices we absorb that shape our own self image and confidence and asking whether Christian culture helps or hinders us in developing confidence in who we are and how we should present ourselves.
We want GWL to be celebratory rather than competitive so we introduced a new strand celebrating women in leadership. Rachel Jordan, National Mission and Evangelism Advisor to the Church of England, talked about the challenges and opportunities in her role. Her top tip for women in leadership is ‘Just say yes!’
Ann-Marie Wilson talked about her work on Female Genital Mutilation through 28 Too Many which was powerful, passionate and funny at times. She talked about her seven years of preparation from having the vision to end FGM, and getting started and the support she has had from her church. One person commented: ‘This session was HUGELY challenging. Anne Marie was a humorous but humble speaker, who confidently challenged us. She was clear and unafraid to be explicit with the facts. This was educational and vital. It was good that she ended the talk with clear details on how we can respond and helpful that we could finish with prayer.’ Ann-Marie urged us all to do something about FGM – see her website for more info or follow her on twitter
Kiera Phyo facilitated an open-space discussion exploring barriers to leadership. People suggested topics that they would be happy to host a conversation about which included: how to balance work, money and time when the thing that you’re passionate about is not what you do for a job; developing confidence in leadership; imposter syndrome where you feel like you’ll be found out any moment; how to pioneer and get something started; patriarchy, stereotyping and sexism; taking on the authority and leadership that comes with a top job. Some great conversations which we hope will continue.
We asked people what they thought of the October gathering and this is what they said:
‘Good to meet some interesting, motivated and pioneering women and to absorb the excellent content.’
‘My experience of the day was great. I found the women I didn’t know very friendly and willing to chat. It was good to have some space in the day to chill and it wasn’t too intense which I really appreciated.’
And from someone coming for the first time:
‘I was a bit apprehensive about coming on my own but I found others were friendly so this wasn’t an issue. The other thing I was concerned about was that this would be another ’tissues and issues’ women’s conference type thing but I was reassured of this before the day by talking to one of the organisers. It was really good that is was normal(ish!) women who lead normal(ish) lives gathering together to share their experiences without any hype.’
On Liz’s communication session:
‘I was apprehensive when we started. I don’t mind public speaking but usually hate this kind of training. I was pleasantly surprised though. Liz was great and I felt there were some techniques here I could use in the future.’
‘energising, useful, exciting and great to try these things out in a safe environment.’
On Emily’s work with vulnerable women:
‘Humbling and heartbreaking. Great to be reminded of the pioneering work that motivated and incredibly brave individuals can inspire. Has some resonances with the work I am involved and we plan to keep in touch.’
On Kristin’s session on feminism:
‘Probably the most useful session for me. I don’t get as much time as I would like for reading and thinking and this session was informative, interesting and presented in a manner simple enough that my brain could cope with on a tired Saturday.’
Kristin Aune talked about the resurgence of feminism, and her book Reclaiming the F-Word. The word ‘feminism’ carries lots of baggage and so her definition was helpful – ‘Beliefs and actions that challenge women’s subordination and promote their equality and value’. She talked about the connections between feminism and spirituality, and the rise of activism which challenges sexism, such as the Lose the Lad’s Mags campaigns and Everyday Sexism. You can download a handout of her presentation.
Liz Garland is an actor and presentation coach. She led us in a very practical session on communication skills which saw us shouting across the room, whispering in each other’s ears, standing up tall and generally thinking about how to get our message across. Lots of fun and extremely helpful. Jeni Hallam Benson bravely volunteered to be coached by Liz, and the difference between her ‘before’ and ‘after’ short talks was dramatic and very enlightening.
Emily Vesey then talked about the work she does with vulnerable women, which was incredibly powerful and moving.
Thanks to Liz Clutterbuck for hosting us at St George’s and to Jeni Hallam Benson for taking photos. A fabulous day with some outstanding content.
The summer Gathering of Women Leaders was fabulous – a cool church full of inspirational, feisty, funny, courageous and creative women on a very hot day.
We talked about coping with criticism, helped by a panel comprising Jude Trenier, Vicky Walker and Vicky Beeching. We discussed how not to take it personally, when and how to respond, how to discern the opportunity for growth and the particular nature of online critique.
Next we heard from women who have acted on ideas and made things happen. Rachel Warwick started Lunch almost accidentally after watching the documentary Poor Kids and being struck by how families with children on free school meals don’t get any extra help in the holidays. She started talking about it and inspiring people to get involved. That summer Lunch served 300 meals, last year it was 3000, and this year it will probably be more.
Shannon Hopkins is a social entrepreneur who was involved in the Truth isn’t Sexy Campaign, and has set up Sweet Notions, a social enterprise that trains women to repurpose jewellery and accessories and sell them. She talked about the Transformational Index, a unique way of measuring social change, and Chateau Duffy that brought together a broke owner of a property in France and a group of people who needed somewhere to go on holiday and which has resulted in an almost renovated building that will be finished this year.
And then Jo Dolby gave us her wisdom on starting new things, and of not being afraid of collaboration. Her latest project is Coffee Rings and Beautiful Things that nurtures creative community and is a treasure trove of wonderful content.
Finally Rebecca Baron talked about the IF campaign and particularly how hunger is a gender issue, affecting women and girls disproportionately.
In between there was lots of time for talking and connecting, eating and drinking, listening and learning – a fab day.