A businesswoman called Wies Bratby came up to me at the coffee break and asked a direct question: 'Do you feel overwhelmed?'
I was attending the Telegraph's 'Women mean business' conference in London this week. Hundreds of women, less than a handful of men. I was there to gather clues about the reality facing senior women ambitious to enter and thrive in the C-Suite.
The event was tremendous, and it has been written up elsewhere; I'm not about to add my review. But the question Wies asked me was a wake up call. I had just come out of a plenary where the microphone was being handed around the audience for questions. It was near me. As an extrovert, and a man with an ego, and a 'good' question in mind, I had a strong feeling I wanted my voice in that room! It's happened before, you can tell. But I hesitated.
Would my question be treated differently because I was a man? How would I phrase it to somehow negate gender bias and survive it? Would I be more or less to everyone around me once it was out of my mouth? Who was the question for? Did it need to take up space when so many other 'good' questions were being asked? And then the microphone disappeared and the moment was gone.
So I shared this with Wies. Yes, I did feel overwhelmed in a self-conscious, unable to speak kind of overwhelmed. I felt in the minority, possibly for the first time ever. 'Welcome to our world' she replied!
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