As we celebrate International Women’s Day today (and we certainly can’t escape the media attention as the PR machine whirrs), it’s hard not to think about the plethora of support and goals and aspirations women come with.  

I appreciate so much about that. I have a daughter so I’m glad of ever evolving times for future her also.   

But I feel a health warning percolating.  I appreciate this may not sit well with some. Others might say it’s a radical notion.  But I’ve noticed I’m reacting against something as the week has gone along.  

And it matters because unless women weave in this watch-out, striving for equality could paradoxically, get in the way of getting what they really, really want. 

Because it’s not equality.  

Don’t get me wrong.  Equality has so clearly been powerful in setting the direction for the various ‘waves’ of feminism so far.  But feminism brings an ever-evolving subjective significance with it.  And so it should.  Because the issues move on in response to the cultural times we live within. Oh and we’re all different. Which is allowed. 

A simplistic timeline showing how complicated equality is:

It was everything for women to own and inherit property back in 1870. By 1928, having a female share of voice via the right to vote was the focus.  

Educational reforms brought equality to academic pathways for girls from 1988, the results of which were seen when girls outnumbered boys in UCAS applications for the first time in 2014.  

The ripple effect, long since evident in changing employment patterns for women, triggered attention for issues of Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination in the 1980s.

At a policy level.  These things are the start lines and work is in progress. Always.  

The Search For A Cure (To The Right Problem)

But the problem isn’t as simplistic as my tiny timeline designed to make a point about shifting priorities for women.

What does seem simple is this: if we don’t sharpen our focus on the right problem, then the cure will be off-point too. I worry about that.

Financials can appear to be the core of feminisms pursuit of equality. But there’s more to it than that. Because striving for equality has always been about something else. Our powerful predecessors were seeking the cure to a problem that goes beyond the bank balance.  

They assumed our financial independence would unlock a more important currency – a currency of choice. Feminism was solving for empowerment via financials for a really important reason.  So we could strive for fulfilment. 

Our horizons, and expectations for our participation in the world we move in are so far beyond traditional roles, it is certainly true women have far greater individual choice today.

But I’m not sure we’re always very good at knowing ourselves. Which could be the evolved problem and the pivotal piece to making the right-fit choices.  For us.

Women and Board Games

On Monday night I was in London attending an event hosted by Women On Boards.  They exist to provide the information, encouragement and connections that help women get to the top within their own company … or a lateral ladder elsewhere, taking a board / committee role as a non executive director (NED), trustee or governor to help ‘ladder up’ another way.

I will certainly be integrating their offering with my executive coaching as often as it fits.  Largely because there are a number of good reasons to be a NED and they inspired me with an analogy of Snakes and Ladders.  

I’ll explain! In brief, we all know the stats for women on boards are well…still not keeping pace with womens’ ambitions in this area. Or indeed, with the trajectory women want for themselves, which isn’t necessarily as linear as for men.  Their brand of help stops women sliding down a snake because we assume your executive CV will help secure a NED position, or assume our relevant skillset is as literal as our current job spec’.

WoB ‘had me’ when they said talent and ambition are equally distributed between men and women but today it got better. They’ve launched a bursary programme which invites women who may otherwise feel stuck at a low-paying day job or have been out of work for a year to apply for their unique brand of help to hop strategically onto a different ladder, leveraging transferable skills and creating fresh pathways for their own career trajectory. Love that.

The Health Warning

Creating a mindset of possibility and ways to explore fresh options is critical when you feel unhappy doing what you do and stuck doing it.  But … here’s the health warning that has been percolating for me. 

We must all stay the agent of our own choices. Because equality isn’t a competition where women are vs. men, or even The Goal.  Because women’s progress is not about levelling the board game or the bank balance. These are vehicles we can use to drive us to where we want to get to – when the professional opportunity is aligned with what matters personally. 

Which is the point. Because women are not one homogenous mass. There is no single thing women all want beyond the radical notion that we are people first.  Which means we’re all different. Literally. There will be as many wants and needs ‘out there’ today, and as many definitions of fulfilment, as there are individual women. Which means the radical thing every woman wants is to curate her own choices … and the watch-out is that these are designed to seek fulfilment and be purpose-driven. Our own bespoke sense of purpose, to be clear.

Careering on Purpose

Choosing what you do next, and being ‘on purpose’, are the biggest watch-outs my coaching keeps firmly in focus. I recently asked my own audience what support they wanted next and the response was overwhelmingly clear.  

Help unpacking what I personally want my next career (or business) step to be, so I have clarity about what career-life synergy to create. And confidence about how to get it.  Quite quickly please! 

So as today is about women, I am offering my first in-person intensive to an intimate circle of just 5 women.  Who want to choose their next career step on purpose.

If you feel stuck at a career crossroads and would like to know more about the upcoming intensive (or this kind of day – designed to be as intense as it is intimate – on a future date) here’s more detail or a way to book your ticket. I look forward to spending proper time with you on the sofa at ‘our’ luxury hotel soon.  


  • Helen Hanison

    I'm a leadership coach helping seasoned professionals who are at a crossroads, with a growing need to redesign their career but feeling blocked. And worried about that. Together we make a plan realigning work they love with what matters most so they can finally make aligned, confident transformation instead.

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    My story could be called 'from career to motherhood and back again'! With a 20 year 'tour of duty' in the worlds' largest PR firms, I came to a career crossroads after I transitioned from woman to mother. I got lost for some years and having moved country (and back again), and tried a bunch of different ideas both sides of The Pond, I went back to University for a second time - to do psychology. My efforts were well rewarded with first-class honours, an energy ‘reset’ and clarity about the fresh career ladder I wanted so badly. I had found Leadership Coaching and subsequently completed a (rigorous!) programme of training with the world’s largest coach training institute – CTi and have since become a narrative therapist too. Now I love that my commercial edges and marketing savvy work alongside my brand of positive psychology coaching, and know the integration is a powerful one for my clients. I passionately believe we only get to feel as alive and aligned as I do today, if we shape work we love around what matters most and that has synergy with the life we want to be living. In some ways my story represents the hard way to figure what work-life synergy looks like. And that's what I help others with now. If you feel stuck and wish you knew how to make a plan to change that, I'm happy to offer a complimentary clarity conversation. Just email me - [email protected] - and we'll organise that.