Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Guardian Professionals' Women in Leadership: Celebrating the Reality of Life

I'm a fairly avid Guardian reader; always have been.  So when I discovered that Guardian Professionals was launching a new section called Women in Leadership I was intrigued.  Part of me was really interested to see that gender diversity was finally getting recognition in the media, and whilst the other part was frustrated that such a section was needed. 

I met up with Harriet Minter, the head of Women in Leadership, to discuss exactly why she thought it necessary to trial such a group.

Having worked within the Guardian Professionals section for the last three years, where the paper tries to talk to readers 'with their work hats on', she developed a proposal for a section that addresses the challenges that being a woman - specifically a woman in leadership - poses within the workplace.  With a membership of 7000 after a month, there's definitely interest.  It's about highlighting the issues and the problems that stop women getting those top jobs, and it's different for different industries: for Engineering it starts when a girl gets a doll instead of a lego set; and in Accounting it's making that leap from Senior Management to Director.  (Approximately 60% of graduates taken on by the Big Four accountancy firms are women, compared with the 12% of women who make director).

Women in Leadership is kind of like LinkedIn for female executives - although membership is not limited to women.  The idea to is to inspire aspiring women leaders by holding conferences that deal with specific issues (ranging from career breaks to pay), provide quarterly reports for its members, and tap into the 'wealth of experience that's already out there', inviting established CEOs, Directors and Partners to write articles about their own experiences for the website.

But why start a supplement like this now?

Minter argues that for her, at least, it is twofold.  'On a professional level, I look around me and see women I went to school and university with - women who were always top of their class - turning round and saying that there's no point going for promotion.  That they just won't get it.  And that's something that's only been happening within my group of friends over the last couple of years.  On a personal level, it makes me angry to think that my ability to help my parents as they get older and develop my own career may be curtailed just because I'm a woman and may decide to have children at some point.'

This is a point where I'd like to put in a disclaimer:  for all those of you who read this, assuming that I'm angry and man-hating and that I think that women should run all companies and men should stay home to bring up the children...I don't.  It's true that I think that companies should echo the diversity of its clients - and that means ethnically and culturally, as well as in gender - and it's true that I think that women should not be hampered by their gender in advancing within their careers, but I try not to be reductive.  The whole point of feminism is to encourage the right to choose.  Women should be able to choose what path they take - whether that's focusing on career, or being a stay-at-home mum - neither choice is wrong.  Both should be open, as they should be to men.

However, we do need to push for change.  As Minter argues, companies should be made 'responsible for their own corporate governance', it's no longer acceptable for them to deny plausibility, as the Leverson inquiry has proven.  Organisations need to be braver.  Yes, there are issues - predominantly to do with childcare - but in not normalising the alternatives companies are still holding back women.  I think that the move to have m/paternity leave split equally between partners over a year by 2015 is fantastic - that way, neither partner will suffer.

Chris Sullivan, RBS's CEO, won a European Gender Diversity award recently.  He argues that it's no longer the role of women to fight for equality, but men's as well.  In 2011, the growth of men joining the RBS focus women's network exceeded the growth of women. 'This isn’t a men vs women thing', he argued. 'It is a men and women together recognising that this is an economic lever within your organisation.'

Towards the end of my conversation with Harriet Minter, we talked about the fact that there are a lot of good things about being a woman in business.  'There are advantages to standing out and there advantages to being a woman,' though the ideal is to move away from the idea that business have to hire a certain number of women - positive discrimination is just as insulting as negative.

At the end of the day, business is business.  You can't, and indeed shouldn't, make allowances for anyone because of their background, but at the same time we live in a multicultural and diverse society and companies should 'celebrate the reality of life'.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

On being busty

I have big breasts.  We're talking 30J big breasts.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  30J.

Most people's reactions when they find that out is pretty standard:


'Can I have some?'


And even, on one delightful occasion (note the sarcasm) 'Look at the tits on that.'

Unsurprisingly, perhaps,  I've not always felt so confident about them.  Until I went to university I was painfully shy about them and was even encouraged to cover them up and wear clothes that minimized their impact.  At uni I went the other way, wearing tops that were pretty darn lowcut in an attempt to reclaim pride over how I looked.  And now?  Now I just wear clothes I like and that make me look half-decent - that usually means fitted, but I generally try for classy and classic over slutty.  (Note:  Pretty much any top that looks good on a size 12 30C makes me look like a porn star, so this can be quite difficult).

When I was about 22 I wet to Bravissimo for the first time.  I went in wearing a 34E, came out wearing a 30G.and in the three years since I've gone up four cup sizes.  Yet they've never made me feel like my only option is to wear frumpy cotton bras.

Having pretty much worn out all my current bras I popped into their Oxford Circus store after work the other day.  Bravissimo caters for busty women.  We're talking D to L cups, with 28 to 40 backs.  And their age range is pretty impressive:  One of the fitters I spoke to said that she's fitted 10 year olds up to 90 year olds!  All in all though, the average is about 20-50.

And the bras are gorgeous.  We're talking lace and satin and generally just pretty.

The majority of women who go there - especially for the first time - are pretty apprehensive.  My fitter for the session, Marika, highlighted a popular misconception.  'Most women are more self-conscious because there are female fitters.  Women seem to assume that other women are going to judge them.'  Indeed, when I first went I couldn't have been more nervous or embarrassed - I'd flinched at the sight of the mirrors, felt incredibly self-conscious standing there in jeans and a bra, and had to ask my fitter to stand outside the door every time I changed bras.

Not anymore.  One of the best things about Bravissimo is that it's less clinical than other places, it's more about teaching you how your bra should fit than whipping out a tape-measure and putting through that prolonged agony that makes you feel like a gawky teenager all over again.  Instead, they teach you things like how the wiring should lie flat against your breast bone, and how your straps should do up quite low on your back in order to support you properly.

Being larger than the average woman I have, as Marika pointed out, 'very powerful breasts'.  Some women who have a very large cup size, need a deeper cup due to the shape and weight of their breasts - limiting the kinds of bras they can wear.  I am one such woman.  The problem is that before being measured properly, and sometimes even after you have, being busty often means that even when wearing bras that are technically your size, you can spill over the top.  Now, this may be seen as seductive (though I'm personally not a fan of the double-boob), but it damages your breast tissue.

Plus, if you're wearing the wrong kind of bra, women with heavy breasts'll find that their weight and strength will cause the underwire to break out within a month, and that's just uncomfortable.

So it's in Bravissimo's favour to get you wearing the right kind of bras - there's no false flattery (we agreed that the gorgeous Paradise Fizz bra, despite fitting perfectly, kind of made me look translucent because of my colouring - my words, not hers).  And my aim to get two bras - one incredibly sexy (my bf is damn lucky) and one industrial strength (for support and to save me from back pain) - was met brilliantly.  Both ended up being sexy but strong.  Ladies, it's all about lace...

At the end of the day, it's important to feel confident in yourself and, through no-one's fault except perhaps the media's, women with big breasts are made to feel frumpy or slutty.  It's a polarising of perception that can hold women back.  I've a friend working in the city who, despite being one of the most intelligent people I know, got told at her induction by another trainee that she looked like a glamour model.  How is that ever appropriate?

I think Marika phrased it best, having worked as a costumer within theatre and in the vintage department at Liberties, when she decided to go part time she called up Bravissimo.  "I'm good at making women look and feel good about themselves, and I wanted to work somewhere where I could use my skills.  I've always got bras from Bravissimo, so I called up and here I am."

So, busty ladies of all shapes and sizes, feel confident because you are damn good no matter how big your breasts; know that you are not deined by anyone's perceptions of you; and above all, wear decent bras.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

FlashFiction: Busking

So I am joining Matt (found over at http://interstellarlovechild.com/) in writing Flash Fiction, especially in the build up to my big surprise unveiling!!  However, mine are more romantic dabblings rather than something of actual literary merit.  Either way, so much fun!  Enjoy.  :)

   London Tubes are no place for conversation.  Commuters, flat-packed into carriages with barely room to breathe, rarely strike up conversation with the person whose armpit they're currently occupying.  It's just not done.  So Abbie was surprised when the buskers stepped on to the train.

  She'd spent most of the journey attempting to read - no mean feat when her kindle was tilted so far upright that she practically had to contort herself to read it.  There'd been a brief respite once they'd reached Victoria, but upon stopping at Sloane Square an entire band of buskers - complete with fiddle, banjo and tambourine - had taken up the remaining space.

  The violinist started first.  Some jaunty tune that wound itself up in Abbie's head until she found herself tapping along to it.  The banjo and tambourine joined in and it was all she could do to stop herself from reverting to her five-year-old self and twirl around on the spot.  Looking up, she noticed people looking up from their newspapers, and pulling headphones from their ears, smiling at each other and even - horror of all horrors - speaking!  And then she looked at him.

  Blue eyes darting beneath that mop of dark corkscrew curls and fiddle tucked beneath his chin, he didn't see her.  Fingers darted up the neck of his instrument as the bow danced across the strings as if it were dancing a jig of its own.  Just as she was about to look back down and resubmerge herself in her novel, his eyes met hers.  He smiled.  She smiled back and in that moment, those thirty seconds, Abbie spoke more to the busker on the underground than she had to anyone else that week.

  South Kensington.  The train stopped.  The band left, taking their music and the fiddler's merry smile with them.  And Abbie went to work.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Why Heathcliff causes heart palpitations

I was fourteen when I first read Wuthering Heights.  It was the second text that my English teacher at the time had chosen for coursework (the first being Under Milk Wood which I’d detested) and so I wasn’t feeling too excited.  We were sent home with instructions to read the first chapter for the next day.

I read the entire novel.

Being fairly well renowned for my speed-reading abilities, I surprised even myself.  I literally devoured the novel.  For some reason the complexities of heartbreak, unbridled passion and star-cross’d lovers appealed to me, despite the fact that I’d never had a relationship, been kissed, or even had any idea what the word orgasm meant.

One my best friends, V, highlighted the fact that in all actuality it was Victorian melodramatic trash – for some reason she wasn’t as moved as I to read of Heathcliff’s anguish at Cathy’s death:

He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears.

But in rereading it recently I find myself a little discomforted by Heathcliff; far from being the brooding hero that I once imagined, I see him as a manipulative and physically abusive obsessive, who’d be branded persona non grata by any self-respecting jury.

And yet, when I read it now, there’s a small part of me that still thinks it’d be utterly thrilling to be adored in this way.  Plus the passion and torment in his words – there’s something terrible about the idea of living in a world without your love.

‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion.  ‘Why, she’s a liar to the end!  Where is she?  Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where?  Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings!  And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then!  The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe.  I know that ghosts have wandered on earth.  Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!  Oh, God! it is unutterable!  I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!’

There’s an Arabic word that, in some ways, evokes a similar sentiment:  Ya’aburnee.  This literally translates as ‘You bury me’.  Pamela Haag argues that it’s ‘a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.’  And it’s the intensity of this feeling that makes Heathcliff – psychopathic tendencies and all – into a romantic hero.

I may no longer have teenage yearnings for a Heathcliff of my own – for which my actual boyfriend can be infinitely grateful – but there’s still a small part of me that swoons at the thought of him.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Unspoken Narratives

To those who know me, it's pretty obvious that I have a thing for reality TV (namely Made in Chelsea and The Voice) but I haven't really been watching Brtain's Got Talent this year.

I am now regretting this immensely and intend to rectify this for the rest of the season.

Eloisa James, one of my favourite writers, shared a link to Attraction's Shadow Theatre performance earlier today.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried.  Not only was it a beautiful and original performance, with an unspoken narrative that left me breathless and more than a little heartbroken, it did more than a little to alleviate my doubts about such talent...

I am a little soppy - the bf had to put up with me weeping during the opening of the new Star Trek film the other day - but this was more than that.

As a writer, I value words an awful lot, but there's something to be said for the unspoken narrative: take the first fifteen minutes of Up, for example, or most Pixar Short Films.  Even a photograph can plot an untold story without the need for dialogue.  I generally dislike cheesy sayings, but a picture's worth a thousand words kind of sums that all up.  I'm not suggesting that we lampoon people for writing (far from it - we need more decent writers), but I do think there's value in just watching something play out.

So kudos to Attraction and kudos to BGT for showcasing such talent.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Once a Coloma Girl, Always a Coloma Girl

Today was the annual reunion lunch at my old school for all old girls.

Personally, I'm not entirely certain whether I'm particularly delighted to be considered an 'old girl', however the COGA lunch is always an absolute hoot.

The food?  Absolutely lush.  I totally approve of the move to canapes as opposed to having starters:  for one, you get to eat infinitely more than you would if you had a mere plate, PLUS you get to mingle and talk whilst eating.

Plonked up on the head table today - along with our illustrious vice-chairperson Sarah Turner - I managed to polish off half a bottle of white wine whilst rubbing shoulders with Sister Sheila, MM and even my old English teacher, Marilyn Williamson!  Plus, no matter what you're doing these days, it's always weirdly surreal to return to the haunts of your school days.

So, Coloma girls, pencil Saturday 10th May in your diaries and email Madame Secretary at hewish2@aol.co.uk to get your name added to our list.  More info to be found at http://www.coloma.croydon.sch.uk/coloma-old-girls-association---c-o-g-a

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" - Why Keats is the best of the Romantic poets

Julie Andrews first immortalised Keats' Endymion for me as Mary Poppins.  "A thing of beauty is a joy forever".  And in that moment I think I was fated to love Keats' poetry - goodness knows I loved Mary Poppins with an obsession that only a pre-schooler can.  But as for Keats himself, I think I would have loved him even if I didn't know of his and Fanny Brawne's tragic love story.

I do remember reading La Belle Dame sans Merci during my second year of university.  There was something haunting about its simplicity that appealed to the sensibilities of a young literature student.

But when I read Keats now it's all I can do to even breathe.  It is good poetry, and good poetry binds together pure unadulterated feeling with winning combinations of words.

And I know that when I am old, I will love him even more.  That is why Keats is the best of the Romantic poets.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Liveblogging Made in Chelsea

Join me at ten over at http://www.wordfaire.com/exploitsofachicklitaficionado/ for liveblogging the latest Made in Chelsea episode...

Calamity L 2.0

My sister superglued her hand to a friend of hers.

There's not much else I can really say.

For someone who's pretty smart (and I say this with authority as am currently proofreading her dissertation), she can be pretty stupid sometimes.

Apparently she thought it wouldn't actually stick.  Despite it being superGLUE.

Yeah.  I know.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


Back in 2010 the Royal Shakespeare Company did Such Tweet Sorrow, an interactive, live version of Romeo and Juliet via Twitter.  The critics were - for the most part - divided.

I loved it.

And when I say I loved it, I mean, I LOVED it.  I presented a paper on Romeo and Juliet and the Cybertextual:  Artistic Crowdsourcing as Audience Appropriation at the 2011 Cambridge International Shakespeare Conference in which this RSC production took centrestage.

And now they're doing it again.  Midsummer Night's Dreaming (aka #dream40) is essentially a digital theatre project, where aspects of the play will be posted over Midsummer weekend, culminating in the actual wedding from the play.  Which I will be attending.

This is literally the dream.

So the RSC have teamed up with Google+ to make it happen and if- like me - you're interested in the whole shebang, follow them at www.google.co.uk/+royalshakespearecompany

I promise you'll be in good company.