‘You are that talented woman who doesn’t see how talented she is’

Our guest blogger Sarah Fox landed up as a speaker and as a construction solicitor as a happy result of the suggestions of a partner in her law firm who believed Sarah had the right skills before Sarah believed it. Alison was her boss, then friend, and they are still in touch today, although they haven’t worked together for over 10 years.

Four years ago I was chatting to my sister over coffee, in Ed’s diner near Euston, waiting for a train home. She wanted to know why I was different – something she’d had to ask herself regularly since she was my identical twin. I’d been waffling in a rather lawyerly fashion about my business and she was getting bored…

She kept asking and I kept blustering.

Just before my train was due I proudly declared that the reason I was different was that – unlike my contemporaries and peers in the legal industry – I could write a construction contract in 500 words. I’m not sure where that gem came from and I guess my reticence showed in my face. She challenged me, menacingly asking “What… really? Really really?”

It was a matter of weeks later that I had written the contract, and, having ticked that task off, I showed it to her. Ta-da. Mission accomplished.

Success was mine.

And what did I do with this idea? I sat on it. I showed it to a few select friends and when one of my lawyer friends was scathing, I got scared.

Who was I, I thought to myself, to challenge the received wisdom that contracts had to be long and complex? Who was I, female upstart, to try and simplify the standard industry contracts down from 50,000 words to a mere 500? Who was I, an imposter, to do something new and innovative?

Writing the contract was just the start of my journey. I didn’t consider myself an expert (despite having 20 years’ experience in writing construction contracts, at least the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell refers to in Outliers). I didn’t appreciate what I did know that others didn’t. I didn’t value my talents and expertise.

It didn’t matter that I started to use the contract in training workshops and be asked if I would sell it to them. It didn’t matter that people learnt about it and it piqued their interest. It didn’t even matter when others started to say it was what the industry needed.

I continued to sit on my idea.

So what changed? There was a glorious synchronicity of events…

First, this quote from Playing Big by Tara Mohr slapped me around the face and woke me up: “To us, you are that talented woman who doesn’t see how talented she is. You are the woman who – it’s clear to us – could start an innovative company or pull one out of the dysfunction it’s in, improve the local schools, or write a book that would change thousands of lives. You are that fabulous, we-wish-she-was-speaking-up-more woman.”

Second, I got a mentor who I really trusted and he made it clear that sitting on my idea was not an option.

Third, I got the courage to send it to an industry commentator who immediately emailed me that he loved it. Wow!

With those events in place, I realised that playing small and considering myself an imposter was not helping me to serve others. That was when I decided that I could challenge the received wisdom, simplify contracts and do something new and innovative.

Sometimes it is not just about the knowledge, skills, and expertise you have. Sometimes success depends on having the character, the confidence and the support to make a difference.


Women who beat the odds

This is my first attempt at blogging, which is unusual as I always have a lot to say.  Approximately six months ago, it was my good fortune to come across the inspirational team from WayfinderWoman.  When asked to write a blog for WayfinderWoman, it sounded both daunting and challenging, all the things that women face on a daily basis when seeking work, starting work or returning to study.

During my early life, I did not have  many women who were inspirational to me. Bought up by a single parent father in the 70’s was not the norm but I do remember one thing he always used to say to me very often “If you educate a man, you educate a man. Educate a woman and you educate a family”.  I did not really understand what this meant until I started working in FE colleges and visited Wayfinder Woman where their motto is ‘Inspiring women, inspiring other women’.

Most women tend to return to study when they have time on their hands usually when their children finally leave for their first day at nursery or school.  Some see this as a time for them to explore a career or start a job for the first time.  Some women hold down a job and want to make life better for their family.  Being educated opens many doors and improves options for everyone.  I do remember my first course, that anxiety about entering the classroom, will I be able to do it, what if I can’t.  Again another saying which I always remember,  “There is no such word as can’t”.  Making that first step into education is challenging; walking through the door will be the hardest thing.  Just think of the rewards of following a path into education.  You will learn a new subject, be able to share that knowledge with your family and friends.

Along my journey in education,  I have met many inspirational women.  The women who I have met who have given me permission to write about them below,  hopefully will inspire you to see what opportunities are out there for you. You are never too old to learn!

Diana who suffered horrific burns as a child had no self esteem and has not been able to work for many years due to the continuous need to have operation after operation, skin graft after skin graft.  On the first day Diana started, she would not talk to anyone, sent by the job centre to improve her skills to add to her CV, she would not look up, speak to anyone and just sat in the corner, head down.  2 years on, after gaining computing, English and maths qualifications, Diana now volunteers in the library running basic IT classes for beginners on a Tuesday and supports the general public in the library as a computer buddy.  She was also the winner of the learner achievement award with learndirect in 2015. She is still seeking work but now feels more confident when going for interviews.  I am sure she will find work soon, someone will be lucky to have her.

Shadan is a Kurdish lady who was displaced during the war in Iraq.  Since moving to the UK, she has taken exams in IT, English and is currently studying maths.  She is now a teaching assistant in a local school and has recently passed her driving test of which she is very proud. Shadan has also been elected as a Parent Ambassador at the Bourne School of which she is very proud. Her next dream is to get onto the Great British Bake Off.   I am sure it has nothing to do with the blueness of Paul Hollywood’s eyes!  Shadan recently had a phone interview but did not make it through.  Their loss, Shadan’s cakes are superb.   Shadan is another example of an inspirational woman who has passed on her skills to her children, at home and in the classroom.

Finally and by no means least, I met another inspirational lady who recently came to the learning centre.  Amanda was very anxious and nervous but she soon overcame that. She passed her tests with flying colours in IT and now is working on her English.  She is also now working at Wayfinder Woman as an administrator and doing research on a project about inspirational women from the past who came from Eastbourne. She is also inspiring other women from the leaning centre to join the project.

There are many inspirational women in the world.  It just takes the first steps and the effort to make a difference.  Make yourself become one of them.  Give WayfinderWoman a call to find out how you can make a difference, educate a woman and educate another family.


Anita Gayton – Senior Tutor, Learning Services – East Sussex County Council.

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