The women to whom I belong

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My Equal Talent colleagues suggested that we each write an article about an inspiring woman in our life, as a celebration of International Women’s Day 2020. Here’s mine.

I mused on the suggestion and realised what a difficult challenge it was for me personally: to choose one inspiring woman in my life. I can’t, for two reasons:

1.  [The most obvious of the two reasons] There are too many inspiring women to choose from. I can’t whittle it down. There is my fiercely proud mother, there is Hilary, my independent and adventurous godmother, there is Ruth, my ‘family-first’, life-affirming other godmother, and my straight-talking, surviving, hard-working and humorous Aunty Brenda – to name a few. To choose one would be to exclude the others, and so I can’t do this.

2.  I have a preference for celebrating groups of women. Collectives. Tribes, teams and communities. My FOMO cannot resist them and I collect them. My book club, my PTA mums, NCT, my girls’ grammar school friends, my BMC babes, my BeefaBabes, my Ladies Wot Lunch, my coach tribe, my Digital Leading Ladies and my Equal Talent team of women. And I deliberately repeat the possessive pronoun here because of my pride of belonging to each and every one of these gangs of women. And the list goes on, and has been going on all my life. As the hugely inspiring Paula Jago (of aforementioned BeefaBabes) once put it at one of my dinners: I “curate inspiring leaders” (leadership, in my book, starts with the self and emanates inspiration, influence and impact on others).

So instead of celebrating one inspiring woman, I hereby celebrate a group of them: namely the SULRFCOGA (Sheffield University Ladies Rugby Club Old Girls Association), otherwise referred to in my common parlances as “my rugby girls…

There is Justine, second row (sometimes Number 8), criminal psychologist by day, and whose nickname is Stumpy;

Niki, prop, professor of stroke medicine and Team GB Ironman/Woman. Her nickname Doc never stuck beyond her first year in the Club;  

Hood, real name Helen, also interchangeable second row and Number 8, triathlete when her knee is behaving and Team GB duathlete, inspirational mum and IFA;

Dusty, real name Jodi, one of the first, youngest women to make partner at Deloitte; beacon of health and resilience and former Hooker;

Then there is Bonney, Reema, Nic, Ali – our token footballer – and Mel (all real names). There are others in our Old Girls gang too. Some we no longer see – the inevitable ebb and flow of friendship. Over the decades our reunions have flexed in numbers from eight to eighteen, depending on whether we were on tour and therefore requiring a minimum of fifteen, ambitiously playing Sevens, skiing in synchronicity or simply playing drinking games in the pub while watching the Six Nations on TV. 

Why do these women inspire me? Because we’re committed to each other. Because we have each others’ backs – we’ve learned, from our formative late teens, to defend one another (both physically, on the rugby pitch, and emotionally). We have kicked, scrummed, laughed and cried together – on and off the pitch. And we’ve learned lifelong team-working skills together, as so many rugby teams do (see this article for more).

We know everything about each other because we’ve travelled so far and so vulnerably together, in working out how to live happily and healthily enough. We’re way beyond the point of judgment. 

We continue to lovingly poke, prod and make fun of one another’s way of being and challenges – over the years we’ve found humour is definitely the best tonic. In our conversations we listen and we coach one another. We empathise, understand and accept one another – warts, flaws, injuries ‘n all.

Now celebrating our 27th year of friendship we have literally spent thousands of hours in each other’s company, despite the fact that nowadays we only meet twice a year and live in different parts of the world. In these more recent post-phone conversation, digitally connected years, month in month out, the reality is that we barely talk to one another. Year in year out our parents age, our children grow, our partners come and go and our bodies creak. All of us have experienced loss, grief, trauma, broken relationships, parenting heartbreak, career tribulations and disappointment – together.

And so we go on. We belong to one another. The closest feeling to family outside of our families. This is what belonging feels like – a way of being that we’re all hugely invested in. Why? Because everyone feels seen, heard and included. We’ve known from day one that we’re all different (in size, shape, rugby position, upbringing, geography, ethnicity, how we parent, etc.) and we’ve known that this is our collective strength. The diversity of thinking and perspective of the group is our unspoken superpower. And this gets stronger over the decades. Time and life experience brings perspective and collective learning.

It’s hard work keeping in touch so why do we bother? Our rugby playing days are long gone. Our unspoken, collective mission is to always be there for one another. Nothing else matters, frankly. We’ve talked about spending our ‘retirement’ years together in a shared old girls’ home. 

And so I dedicate International Women’s Day to my rugby girls. I’m seeing most of them this weekend, in fact, so we’ll be able to celebrate one another in person. We’re going to Butlins in Minehead for Hood’s hen weekend. We’ll be the ones singing, hugging, playing games, crying (for joy), watching rugby and darts, and wearing silly fancy dress. Obvs.

Equal Talent are committed to helping organisations create better, fairer and more inclusive workplaces for everyone. If you’d like to explore how your organisation can reinvigorate their D&I programme this year, please do get in touch. 

We’d love to help.

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