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  • Alex Davies
  • 13 November 2013
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The Journey

On 14 November last year, my colleagues and I, whilst cruising the waves of social media, all had to ask the same question: what is this #wifm event going on, and why is it clogging up our twittersphere?!

Quite unbeknownst to (and more fool) us, the Women in FM Special Interest Group were staging their inaugural WIFM Annual Conference at Channel 4, a get-together of the movers and shakers of the X chromosomes in the FM industry – and what a stir they were making! Never in my experience of conferences has a hashtag been used so widely – this was the social media coup marketing dreams are made of. Throughout the day we were regaled with minute-by-minute updates on the events of the day – the speakers, their stories, the whole event. I resolved that next year I would attend in person.

A year later, and it’s another broadcasting venue – ITV this time, on the South Bank – and by 9.10am the Twitter levels of excitement were reaching fever pitch over the goodie bags – a mug! A memory stick! A light aircraft! – and one thing was clear; I was here to add to those social media airwaves.

Maybe it was intentional, or maybe not, but I hadn’t received a programme before the day, and so had absolutely no idea what to expect. All we knew was that the theme of the day was ‘The Journey’, whatever that may entail.

My own journey getting to the venue had been particularly fraught – despite having been on the South Bank just a few weeks previously, I had managed to get lost, emerging from the depths of the Thames subway system like a bemused meerkat, wondering which way to turn. I wasn’t the only one. Lucy Jeynes, one of the stalwarts of the Wifm committee, and due to deliver the opening address, had issues with a broken down train. Luckily the marvels of social media kept us informed of her progress.

Despite the setbacks, the day kicked off in fine style, with Chair, Debra Ward, proving herself a marvellous host, introducing the first speaker, Natalie Reynolds, who delivered a great session on negotiation, reminding us that the hardest person we’ll ever have to win round is ourselves.

Hot on her heels was Louise Webster, who talked about her journey back into the workplace having taken a career break to start a family, who reiterated the message that the toughest person we have to convince we have value is our self, and who urged new mothers to remember that they are not defined by their new role, and still have a wealth of talent they can bring to the workplace.

Barely had we had time to pause and reflect when Lynette Allen, author of four books and founder of www.herinvitation.com, took the stage, recounting her very personal tale of success, and the pitfalls she’s encountered along the way, giving her six tips for survival. It was clear that all of them resounded with the people in the room, but her overriding message was – ‘know what you want, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.’

This echoed the point made right at the start of the day, introduced in the delegate handouts:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight is what all of the speakers did – both today, and throughout their professional lives. Lynette is an example of a woman who decided what it was that she wanted, went out and blagged (confidently), and trusted in herself that she could deliver.

Her inspiring speech gave us all food for thought as we paused for a delicious lunch, to be brought back in the afternoon by a film – ‘Miss Interpretation’.

A brave choice, to fill the infamous ‘graveyard’ slot with a 40 minute film (and this after no coffee) but you could have heard a pin drop as it got underway. Despite the A/V set up breaking down twice (a theme of the day), we were gripped, and I only wonder what the camera crew made of the audience’s faces as they panned around the room.

The film, written and directed by actress, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, explores the representation of women and girls in the media in America, from politics to showbusiness, to music videos and reality TV. Twerking interspersed politics; late night TV shows featuring misogynistic shock jocks wove amongst stories of domestic abuse and sexual violence; astutely-aware High School students bemoaned the lack of respect they received from peers and authorities – and a palpable tension filled the room.

According to the scheduled programme, what was to follow was to be a panel discussion featuring FM notaries Anne Lennox Martin, Julie Kortens, and David Emmanuel. Perhaps much to their relief, the running order was changed to accommodate MP Stella Creasy, who was due to be back at parliament for 3.30, and who had arrived early for her session.

Stella was no less impassioned, however, and regaled the audience with her recent experiences of attempting to get a woman (other than a monarch) on a bank note – a move that had, earlier in the year, led her to receive death and rape threats, aimed at her and her contemporaries. Speaking authoritatively, emphatically and reasonably, she gave a reasoned argument for feminism (the F word) and what it should mean in a democratic and modern society. Without letting her political colours dominate her argument, she affirmed the arguments the film was making, backed up the growing opinion in the room that change was required, and bade her leave.

After a swift coffee, the panel resumed, and led an interesting discussion around perceptions of women, particularly in the workplace.

The final session of the day was delivered by a lady who had sat next to me throughout proceedings (and who had proved herself a formidable arm wrestler) – Claire Smith. A Foreign Office diplomat of some 35 years, she provided the international perspective, and like the other speakers before her, outlined the many ‘roadblocks and speedbumps’ that had hindered her journey throughout the years. Offering similar advice to those who had gone before, she urged everyone to trust their instincts, go after what they want, help others, and accept help ourselves.

It was a truly inspirational day, not just for the calibre of speakers and their messages, but for the audience participation during the breaks and evening networking. Everyone knows that the queue to the ladies loo will always be long at this type of event, but it was a hive of gossip and feedback, of laughter and anecdote.

Having an all-female list of speakers is a new one on me, and a refreshing take, although it was interesting to hear the views of the men in the audience (who made up roughly 10% of people there). I did find it interesting that the dynamics of the event were very different to how they would be if it was a more evenly dispersed audience. Every single speaker, without fail, blamed herself when there was a fault with the A/V system, and this wasn’t the only example of self-denigration. Whilst clearly impassioned about their cause, and confident, proud women, they still defaulted to ‘silly old me’ when something out of their control went wrong. Would a man have done that?

The day was good-humoured and affectionate in a way I’ve never experienced at a conference – these women genuinely care about each other, and want each other to succeed. When Jason Gurd, a well-respected (and now self-confessed feminist) blogger, won the raffle prize of four VIP tickets to watch Loose Women being filmed, the whole room erupted in delight.

This is Debra Ward’s first major wifm event since taking over the reins from Julie Kortens in May this year, and a was a huge success – and judging by the deluge of tweets appearing on the big screen throughout the conference, I imagine we’ll have clogged up many people’s Twitter feeds today. Hopefully we’ll have inspired some of those watching (female and male) to join the sell-out crowd next year.