What I learned at the inaugural #WomenInLearning conference

I was highly appreciative and privileged to get a late ticket to the first #WomenInLearning conference last week.

When I’m at events like this, my bias is to share the insights as best I can. I try to honour the speakers for their content as much as I can and offer my stuff in addition to what I hear. So I live tweeted the event. You can catch the complete thread here. Better than that thread, though, is the actual #WomenInLearning hashtag which has everyone’s contributions at the event.

We live in an age where it’s becoming easier to identify where there is unfairness against women, what kind of societal norms prohibit and reduce the progression of women in the workplace, how discrimination both knowingly and unknowingly takes place, and just how much privilege there is to just being a man. This doesn’t mean that men have it easier than women, it means that the barriers to ease are less than they are for women.

And for the sake of completeness, I think it’s fair to say this event was addressing exclusively bias against women. It did not look at bias against any other group. There’s a good reason for that, too. The event came about as the result of a survey carried out by Donald Taylor a few years back where he sought to understand the gender difference at senior levels in L&D. The results showed that only 31% of senior roles are occupied by women. From a sample of 2635 respondents, that’s fairly representative.

From those results, several conversations carried forward to a group of women – Kate Graham and Ashley Sinclair, deciding further positive action needed to be taken. (I’m sure others helped to make things happen, I just know these two did a good amount of PR and marketing.) How do you have a positive and progressive conversation about why there aren’t enough women in senior roles in L&D without it becoming a man bashing or destroy the patriarchy event?

You hold an open conference where men and women are invited to attend. I think in the room there were probably about 15-20% men in attendance. It might have been lower than that.

The speakers were chosen really well.

It was fascinating listening to Nicole Kilner, the CEO of beauty company Deciem – a $300 million global business with 800 staff. Oh and by the way she’s only 30. She shared some fascinating insights into how she leads and how she shows leadership to her whole team. In her company, they’ve chosen to use a combination of Thrive Learning and GetAbstract to provide learning solutions to Deciem staff. Instead of off the shelf content on leadership insights, Nicola and her team have recorded videos to be shared with their company. In her opinion, if you’re going to hear about leadership why hear it from people that have nothing to do with your company?

I loved hearing from Julie Brayson, Head of OD at Card Factory. When I think of how to use my platform when I’m speaking st conferences, its Julie’s example I recognise as being necessary and highly effective. Julie left school with no formal qualifications. She went on to work at a retailer who sent her ok workplace training to improve her skills. She learned that she wanted to be a trainer and thus began her career in L&D. Several roles and years later she’s now heading up OD for a national card retailer and later this year will take up her first Exec Director role. A far cry from being told that because she didn’t take typing at school she wouldn’t get a job as a secretary.

Catherine Cape shared her story of how she left school to join en estate agents where she first went on workplace training. And she, too, was inspired by the trainer. She shared that when as a woman you ask for what you need – a promotion / a raise / more experience, it’s not being pushy or demanding. It’s recognising your needs and honouring that. She told us that she’s fortunate to have a husband who supports her being the main breadwinner. Pretty fantastic.

The event finished with a panel of Jane Daly, Chief Insight Officer at Towards Maturity, Kristina Tsiriotakis, Global Director L&D at Deciem, and Catherine Cape. This was nicely done with the audience rating the questions they wanted the panel to answer. I do love good use of tech at a conference. And on that point, the use of menti.com is well worth checking out for your interactive audience needs at a conference.

Also, we found out Don doesn’t know what Percy Pigs are (they’re soft sweets from Marks and Spencers).

The conference was really helpful for my own learning in this space. As a man, I’m going to be mostly unaware of the day to day barriers and everyday sexism that women have to put up with. I try to do what I can in this space and a very recent experience tells me I have a fair amount to yet understand and be better.

What stood out for me from the women speaking on the day was their personal experience they shared with us all and what they’ve learned about themselves along the way. We all of us battle with narratives given to us from our younger years and have to find our way forward. For women, these narratives are often reinforced in many direct and indirect ways. As men, we can do a lot to just listen to the experience of women and understand it better. That’s why I went to the conference – to just listen. It can be really easy for men to feel they need to have to interject and comment on everything they hear. I’ve learned my voice is not needed in many situations – even those where I’m leading or facilitating a session.

There’s more to be done in this space. More for men to understand the experience of women in the Learning profession. More to do to actively seek to develop the progression of women into senior roles. More to be done to reduce gender bias in the profession. More to be done to raise empathy. More to be done where we have strong representation of women in decision making roles.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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