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Category: People life

Penfold: moving great people around since 2001.

Connecting with brilliant people rocks my world. And to that end, I have the best job on the planet; I am tasked with finding the best possible people to join our brilliant (and growing) business here at Shazam.

I have taken great delight in helping great businesses find great people (and brilliant people to find brilliant businesses) over the years and now lead a team of fantastic Recruiters in the UK, dedicated to building Shazam the best possible team.

That time I officially got engaged

One thing struck me almost the moment I landed at Onfido; just how vocal our people are about what the business is doing and how the business is doing it. It stood out to me instantly as it’s something I’ve seldom come across before to such a high degree. You find it in pockets for sure, but never in a way that encapsulates all teams within the business in quite the way it does here – at least in my experience.

Let’s be clear here, this is a very great thing indeed.

Voices and challenge mean one thing and one thing alone: the team care and are invested in the business and are determined to help facilitate its success.

As part of my early audit of the business and my role within it, I set myself the challenge to unearth what the things were that make this so, and I managed to boil it down to one thing: involvement.

Put simply: people are consulted, communicated with and taken on the journey. Even in the times that this hasn’t been executed brilliantly, a genuine attempt is made. The business strongly sends the message as often as it can; we care.

The Founders ‘show up’ in all senses, and work tirelessly to try to get things right. As a leadership team we invite challenge and embrace all the different voices that help us stay on the right track. This starts with the Founders, who know the business and the people within it inside out, and care deeply about the imprint they are making in the world.

These are the same Founders that decided to hire an HR person as employee number 12; which is incredibly rare in a startup of that size. Also the same Founders who made the call to invest heavily in communications by hiring their first Director of Internal Communications last year. It’s a huge deal for such an early stage business to care enough about the involvement of its people to make this kind of investment so early on.

We’re still learning how to get things right, and iterating on what we share and how we share it, but for a business of our size and age, it’s pretty comprehensive stuff. Company wide goals are set via crowdsourcing data from company wide sources. Ideas and decisions are socialised via well thought out communications channels.

The business stands, for the most part, as one cohesive unit. Most work and projects are delivered by cross functional ‘squads’, which is by no means exclusive to Onfido, but it does mean that the wider community gains greater understanding of what one another’s challenges are by working together first hand. This is something you truly miss out on when you operate in silos.

We survey our teams regularly and we have a laser focus on continuous improvement. We take feedback and we act on it. We also make sure that our reward demonstrates our commitment to our people. This year we launched Onfido Balance, a flexible benefits offering that gives people support for the head, the body and the heart, we have a squad working on what we offer to parents as a business, and all employees have share options and flexible working.

Whether by accident or by design, Onfido has effectively provided the right platform for high performance working; namely igniting greater levels of employee commitment and involvement to achieve high levels of performance, productivity and ultimately profitability. This comes in the form of building skills and creating opportunities for innovation and creativity and is achieved via greater involvement and commitment of employees, which in turn leads to greater overall job satisfaction and motivation. Total win.

The question has been raised over whether you can truly establish a firm relationship between high involvement in work practices and overall firm performance, and perhaps it’s simpler for me to say a resounding yes to that, as I get to witness that first hand at Onfido, and the energy that’s created by working in this way.

The impact created by garnering the full commitment of your people can truly be your competitive advantage.

That is what we have seen at Onfido. The teams self manage in many respects, and our best ideas as a business come from them. They set their own goals mostly and consistently meet and exceed them. Where they don’t, it is typically as there has been another deliverable that has become more important. Because of their high involvement with us as a leadership team, and us with them, we get to see all of this first hand.

Allowing the space to innovate and create means that you can shape shift as a business to maintain or create a market leading position, and I for one can’t wait to see where Onfido go next.

That time when I learnt about the importance of hearing

If I consider some of the most important things I’ve learnt along the way, many of those things have come in the form of people; of friends who pop up and teach me something special that enables the growth needed to level up to wherever I am going next. 

Cynics will say it is just coincidence, haters will say I’m drunk off the joy of life (I am), but for me, I know there’s magic to be found in those moments. 

One of those moments happened to me recently. 

Through my deepening connection to myself via meditation, I found myself becoming part of a project a couple of years ago called Just Breathe – an organisation that creates mass meditation experiences that bring meditation to a wider audience. 

Through this group, I met with Jerusha and Adam Shulberg, who are are the owners of an awesome Audiology practice in Marylebone called Cubex

At that time, I’d paid very little mind to cognitive health. My interest and commitment to meditation was an abundantly personal one; one that was borne out of the need to create calm in my world, to find a way to be peaceful with myself and to stop my emotional pendulum swinging quite so broad and wide.

Jerusha and Adam had become part of the project partly due to their own experiences with meditation but largely due to their extensive knowledge and research into the link between meditation and cognitive health. Put simply; meditation elicits a relaxation response, which reverses the effects of stress in our brains. This allows the space for new neural network connections to unfurl and our brains to become healthier. 

In the world we live in, our brains are continuously exhausted and depleted by trying to make sense of the noise around us. It is up to us to become aware of the impact that our neural network killing way of living has on our cognitive health and what our current health report looks like, so that we can make the changes needed to make it better. 

Cubex were incredibly generous and hosted many of the project’s volunteers for cognitive health checks, and through that experience, I became more aware of the importance of preserving cognitive wellbeing, and how hearing loss can drastically impact the lives of those suffering from it. 

Whilst interesting, this new data merely reaffirmed the path I had chosen to walk along, and I merrily continued with my daily meditation and stillness work. 

A few months later I became aware that one of my parents was starting to behave in just the way that I had learnt might be possible: the quiet withdrawal of oneself from social situations and conversations. 

You see; our brains can only handle a certain amount of cognitive load, and with hearing loss what happens is that our brains have to work extra hard to make sense of the sounds around us.

Hearing is actually a brain process (thank you Cubex), without the brain we only have a series of unfathomable sounds. Those suffering from hearing loss therefore start to become exhausted by trying to make sense of the world around them and for the most part may not even be aware of what is happening until it is too late. The less we interact, the faster our brains deteriorate and the more likely we are to experience things like dementia. 

Even if a person is aware of what is happening this can be something that is incredibly hard to face. It takes real bravery to seek help, and even when you do, it’s hard to find access to the right kind of advice. My parent was aware of what had been happening and had sought medical help, but the solution offered was something that made the sound quality worse rather than better; so hearing became an even more painful experience. 

Happily the Universe had our backs. I could see the signs I’d been learning about, and could see the current solution was having a negative impact, so reached out to Jerusha and Adam and they were delighted to arrange to spend some time assessing both my parents to see what kind of support they might need. 

Because of their open hearts and informal style, the Cubex team were able to provide exactly the right kind of thoughtful but comprehensive hearing support and advice that was needed. 

Today my parent is the proud owner of a state of the art hearing aid. They also laugh more, they tell more bad jokes, they interject into more conversations and we couldn’t be more delighted. The change is quite simply life changing. 

If you recognise any of the signs I describe here, either for yourself or for anyone in your world, please reach out and I’d be delighted to connect you to Jerusha, Adam and their brilliant team. 

Cubex: I am forever in your debt and am eternally grateful for the work you do with both individuals and businesses to bring awareness to cognitive wellbeing. 

That time I learnt the art of negotiation

I’m often asked for advice by friends and peers on the art of negotiation. Over my many years of hiring experience, I’ve become a skilled advocate for the businesses that I’m hiring for, and have been able to hire tonnes of legitimately awesome humans to help towards their mission.

There’s an art to successful negotiation from the business side of the fence, a flow you need to create throughout the recruitment process that means that by the time you are ready to offer someone a job, you know what their motivations are and what matters most to them, as well as what matters most to the business you are representing. From that place of understanding you can safely lead process to a positive outcome for all, whether or not the person ultimately joins the business.

I’ve been great at helping others from the other side also, supporting others in getting clear around what matters most to them, when to show their hand and when not to, and frankly having the bravery to say no when they need to say no – letting them know that there is almost always at least some wriggle room.

Where I was less successful however, was when it came to advocating for myself.

At the time I didn’t really clock how strange it was for a person who understands the detailed inner workings of the offer process, to be such a novice when it came to negotiating their own situation.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now I can see very tangibly the reason behind the disconnect. Because, whilst I’m a seasoned recruiter, I’m also a seasoned female, with all of the wonderful self deprecating characteristics that are commonly found within that group.

You know the sticky stuff a lot of us wade through; the imposter syndrome, the low self esteem, the desire to feel ridiculously qualified for the role you are applying for, the ‘work really hard and wait for people to notice how good you are’ school of thought.

We have had a lot to contend with as women in the working world over the years, and it’s a delight to see the number of positive initiatives out there to support our development and progression in modern times. None mores so than when it comes to balancing the gender pay gap.

We need that continued support from businesses and other humans, gender immaterial, to get us there.

Sadly I am afraid that stuff alone won’t suffice on this one. We will never really progress past this point until we change the negative conversations that we are having with ourselves. On repeat.

We are responsible for our life experiences and are fully capable of creating a better deal for ourselves in the here and now; in the way we coach ourselves (and one another) to break through and ask for what we are worth.

There is no quick fix here. The only way to start to realise your actual value in the working world, is to realise the real value within yourself. That’s right my friends, personal perception is everything. You won’t be able to effectively ask for more, until you truly believe you are worth it.

The shift here can be a painful one as it comes from deep within, and change of this magnitude takes time and a lot of investment. My lead time for my shift was over a number of years and, whilst that is something that I continue to work on today, I am happy to say I do so from a place of now feeling brave enough to ask for what I perceive to be my true value.

At a recent #YouEqualTech meetup in London, we were reminded by Susie Ashfield that bravery always has to come before confidence. We have to say yes and be prepared to figure some stuff out along the way.

I’ve got a lot better at saying yes to the things that scare me, but some of other the things that have been most supportive to me have been:

  • Surrounding myself with a growing group of super women (and men), who champion, inspire and support.
  • Learning to connect with myself fully, through working on my stillness and my ability to just be, via daily meditation but also healing and coaching work with Sara Williams and Zofia Sharman.
  • Getting better at celebrating my successes first hand by becoming proud of my day to day achievements.
  • Developing a humble respect for my natural inclinations and talents. I recommend a simple Strengths Finder exercise to help you realise that so many of the things you currently take for granted are actually your super powers.
  • Learning how to take a compliment with a simple thank you.
  • Paying it forward and supporting other women in their development. The growth and learning you experience by championing one another is huge.

Never underestimate the power of the people you surround yourself with. They can make you or break you. Have you ever experienced a time when you feel like a friend is actively trying to dissuade you from doing something like negotiating?

Sadly this is something that is extremely common – even I have been that person in the past. It’s simply down to the relationship that person is having with themselves, it isn’t about you. They can’t support you putting yourself out there, because they can’t fathom doing it for themselves. You don’t need to go as far as ‘breaking up’ with those people, but do clock those who champion and those who dampen in your friendship groups, and choose the right audience for the right conversation.

I’d love to hear more from those of you who are working on improving the conversation you have with yourselves. Let’s join forces and co-champion one another.

That time when I realised that first impressions really count

One of the most critical moments of successful hiring comes not always in the hunt, but in the way a person is made to feel in the process that comes just afterwards.

That’s the time when employment battles can often be lost and won. What is the difference between it being done well and done badly…? One simple ingredient: LOVE.

Like all good love stories, it’s the simple gestures that matter the most. It’s not about adding in a tonne of expensive wooing, or crafting elaborate smoke and mirrors to win a person’s affection; it’s just about being authentic and making a real effort to make that person feel valued and important to you and your business. To feel loved.

I have recently had the pleasure of experiencing an awesome onboarding process at Onfido. No smoke and mirrors; just a genuine delight from the team at having a crew of new humans to come and help them solve their challenges. Their efforts meant that I spent my first week feeling immensely loved, valued and important.

So how did they do it? Here are some of the experiences that our clever team have crafted to ensure our new joiners get the best first impression of us.

1. Love letters straight from the heart

In the build up to the big day, you get a series of brilliant emails, that help prep you for what is going to happen on day one; the dress code, the tone of the day, what to bring, the expectation. Most of all, what you get from those emails is a genuine, heartfelt excitement that the team has that you are coming on board.

2. A tribe within a tribe

As much as possible, our global team begin their first week in London. Onfido consciously tries to only onboard people on the first Tuesday of each month, which means new joiners may wait a little longer than normal to start. The wait is entirely worth it.

In my case, there were 12 other humans from near and far, there with me to share in my day one nerves. It created a sense of immediate ease, as you have a crew of humans who you can share nerves, experiences and excitement with.

3. The wedding (slash first day) breakfast

The first thing that happens on day one, is that the whole business comes together for a team breakfast. The new crew are introduced one by one to the business by their manager, and honestly, being greeted by a warm group of smily happy people feels like the warmest welcome ever.

Abundant breakfast and an abundant sense of welcome. There’s something quite special about breaking bread with your new crew as quickly as possible.

4. Crew love

After getting set up with your tech and a talk from the Founders, lunch feels like it arrives very quickly. The idea for day one lunch, is the chance to go for some low key eats with your immediate team. So a chance to sit down with your own little unit.

5. Meet the family

The rest of the week is peppered by sessions where you and your fellow newbies get to really learn what the different departments do, and how the business operates. This includes the talk from our Founders, but also works its way through the whole team.

Think about how long it’s taken you to figure out what the different departments of your business does in the past. For me, that sometimes takes years.

At Onfido, you are given as much information as possible. If you want to then deep dive in specific areas, that’s up to you. It’s like you don’t just get to meet old Uncle George at the wedding, it’s getting to meet him and getting the skinny on his repertoire of ‘in jokes’ before you do so you know where to laugh.

What’s the outcome of this level of thought and care? You feel included, valued and important. You feel like you have everything you need to put your best foot forward in what could be a fairly challenging situation.

The genuinely people centric approach to the operation of Onfido was one of my main drivers for joining, and that people centricity starts at the very top of the organisation; within our team of Founders and Executives.

This doesn’t mean our work as a People team is done however, we are continuously looking for ways we can improve and keep iterating on the brilliant business we have built so far.

On that very note; I’d love to hear from you all about what you have found worked well in your own onboarding experiences; whether you were building it out as a People team, or whether you have experienced something awesome first hand.

That time when I learnt the art of good housekeeping

I was recently invited to speak on a panel called “Secrets of the Side Hustle” at the Marie Claire Future Shapers event in London, and sitting in that room full of insanely inspiring women I realised one thing:

Many of us had spent a large portion of our lives focusing building homes for the people around us (12 years in my case), when in actual fact, we needed to first focus our energies on a different kind of ‘home’ making; the home that we build inside ourselves.

We can achieve whatever we want to achieve when we get our house in order. Our internal environment has to come first because our sense of belonging and true sense of self has to start there. 

It took me a very long time to realise this, and, like many people, that realisation only came once I was almost entirely broken. I’d like us all to get to a place where that kind of breakdown isn’t necessary.

So to real home making; what does it take to really create the time, space and energy to maximise your hours in the day and live your best life? And I don’t mean to find new and intense ways to flog yourself and live on the brink of exhaustion, I mean; to create a life that’s fulfilling and truly joyFULL. One full of energy, light, love and laughter.

For me, I had to look at how I was living before I could get to what I was doing. Here is my recipe for successful home making:

1. Clear the way so you can hear the messages from your inner most; spiritually and physically.

We live in a world of distraction and disconnection. Before we can move forward in any kind of positive direction, we need to give ourselves the chance to truly listen to what is at play in any given situation. My emotions used to jump up and down and all over the place, with all kinds of different situations triggering my fight or flight defensives.

The thing that’s allowed me the space to really stabilise and walk in line with myself, is the work I have done (and continue to do) on stillness. That is, the art of just being. The art of connecting to yourself in such a way that you can determine what is for you, and what you need to let pass you by.

For me that has meant learning to meditate as the backbone, but that isn’t something that’s static and disconnecting me from the rest of the world. True meditation can happen every moment of your waking life if you let it, by simply living in a connected way. Start small, just a few minutes here and there, and see if you start to feel inspired to do a little more.

2. Honour your body and give it the space to rest.

Once you have cleared some space within yourself, you should start to tap into how you are feeling underneath everything. Life is amazing, and there is no end of what you might be able to fit in; but at what cost?

Learn to make choices that support you being at your best, and support that by choosing to say yes to the things that are truly enriching, but no to the things that aren’t.

I used to beast myself marching all over London, largely driven my overwhelming FOMO. Needing to be at the best gigs, the coolest art shows, the most awesome graffiti jams… when in truth, yes those things are great, but a good night’s sleep, one where I’ve managed to disconnect from the day and truly rest, is more enriching than anything else.

3. You aren’t just what you eat, you are how you eat it too.

The focus on health today is a beautiful thing, but much of that is tied up with an overwhelming drive to achieve something that isn’t what we truly are. The truth is; much of our actual life-enriching health comes from the inside out.

Our mental wellbeing is huge, but also what we are consuming in terms of produce. How much, when and in what energy. Many of the things that we feel are ‘healthy choices’ are still being made in the wrong energy. That energy is one of disconnection.

So by choosing to connect first, we are in a much better place to make the right choices for ourselves at the right time. I constantly evaluate and look at what I am consuming and why, and I continue making the changes I need to support my inner glow.

4. Finding a structure that works for you is everything.

People are at their best at different times of day. I truly believe that. For me; that time is at the beginning of the day. I wake early, and have a morning routine that supports my connection, my health and my growth.

That means a mixture of meditation, movement and learning. To support that, that means I need early bedtimes. Normal for me is 9-9.30pm.

It doesn’t matter how you are built or what works for you; the key is to find a way of being that works for you. Just you. Not me or anyone else. Craft a way of being that supports both your evolution and the brilliant human being that you are right now.

My evenings are all about rest. Sometimes there might be something that keeps me out a little later, but typically I use that time for relaxation (disconnecting from the internet in good time before bed) and to set myself up for the next day.

5. Flip the script; changing your inner dialogue. 

Flipping back to mental wellbeing here; in most cases we are the master of our own internal destruction. That is to say; we are our own worst critics and therefore usually the most negative person we have in our world.

If this sounds familiar, I’m afraid I don’t have a quick fix here, but what I can say is that with time, patience and love, you can at least become aware of how you address yourself internally, and catch yourself in time to change the conversation.

I literally say ‘no!’ to myself when I catch myself doing it, and force myself to change my attitude. Zero tolerance. We can choose better thoughts.

In time, I have become better overall and show myself much more forgiveness than I might have done before. I also tell myself ‘I love you’. Sounds crazy but it honestly works.

6. Embrace your inner child.

With true joy comes playfulness, you can’t even help it. Allowing yourself some time to play is key. Create a couple of hours in your week where you do something you really love. Doesn’t matter what it is. Take yourself on a date. Whatever takes your fancy.

Once you allow your natural curiosity to unfurl, its very easy to start to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to figure out what truly lights you up (if this is something you are still working on).

Another good compass is to observe where you can feel yourself feeling jealous of something. Jealousy; whilst not our favourite emotion, is a sign of frustration with ourselves. So what is your jealousy telling you that deep down you feel like you might like to do?

Ultimately what I am trying to say here, is that it’s wonderful to have desires to live your best life and to work towards that, but that I promise you, it will all start to fall into line once you keep a firm check on the house you live within day to day.

I am now the proud owner of a glorious home. She’s still a bit of a fixer-upper, but that’s half the fun. I can’t tell you it’s easy, but I can tell you it’s worth it.

That time when I learnt to harness the power of advocacy

A basic rule that all businesses should apply liberally is that their people are their biggest asset. They only exist because of those people, and will only grow as long as they harness the energy of those humans in the right way.

I’m happy to say that the business world seems to be realising this fact in growing numbers. People are everything.

At Shazam, this is absolutely how we view things. Our people are at the epicentre of everything that makes us good and great. My job coming in was simply to find a way to keep hiring more of those great people.

Easy right?

To share the essence of what makes your organisation truly brilliant with the rest of the world, you really have to take the time to work out what that is first. My first task therefore, was to really crystallise what it meant to be a Shazamer, and do some work to figure out what our value proposition truly was.

We did that with the help of an agency called Pink Squid around four years ago, whom we invited in as external partners to conduct discovery sessions with our teams around the world. From that data they were able to tell us what we did really well, but also what we didn’t do so well.

That’s the thing with self discovery, sometimes you might discover things about yourselves that you don’t like, and that can smart a little. We decided to use this whole project as a learning exercise, and saw it as an opportunity to try to improve the things that we weren’t so great at.

Employee experience has to be at the heart of the way an organisation runs. Without crafting a great experience for the humans that help to make you the amazing company that you are, your war for talent will be lost.

Create a business of happy thriving humans and your war for talent will be almost won.

Now to the business of actual attraction. There is little to be gained from pretending to be something that you are not; in life and in business. You need to let your ‘vibe attract your tribe’ across the whole gambit.

So once you have your vibe, and you’ve figured out who you really are as a business, it’s important that you take that honest messaging out into the world. Your people are far and away the best messengers for this.

My mission at Shazam therefore, was to not just to hire the very best people, but to hire the very best people who also resonated with our mission and values. Similar brief; waaaaay better end result.

Given that our people are our biggest asset, and by far the most honest and effective talent attraction tool we have, I learnt quickly that what we needed to do to was to start to build a culture of advocacy.

In some of the teams we had people who were already comfortable speaking on their respective conference circuit, but we had a gap in terms of what we were telling the world from a technical standpoint, which is arguably one of the key areas.

I started out by running a workshop on personal branding around 18 months ago. Working at a business like Shazam we are in incredibly fortunate as our business garners a huge degree of interest. What that means for our people, is that they each have a real opportunity to build their own brands based on that interest, give there is no shortage of invitations for speaking engagements or requests to work with us or feature us.

I asked the team to consider doing an audit of their online presence, and really framed the opportunity that they were presented with. I encouraged them to look at things like:

  • Their online profiles, how evolved and detailed they were.
  • What they share online, and to consider being more mindful over what that is.
  • To consider growing their online presence, whether in the form of a blog or just general usefulness.
  • To think about whether they are curious about public speaking, and whether they might like some support to help them get there.

We then looked at a few top tips around blogging and starting to get involved in public speaking. I happily was able to draw upon my own experiences to do this.

This session wasn’t an immediate success, but what it did was plant some very important seeds.

Within the following months we’d seen one person start to blog and a number starting to say yes to speaking engagements.

Last year we decided to step this up a gear by finally developing our ‘Inside Shazam’ blog. The key to success here came in the form of influential internal sponsors; finding people who could help corral a team of blog founders, led by me. The Blog Squad was born.

I ran weekly meet ups with the team, where we encouraged one another to write blogs, whilst also plotting for who could write the next ones and how that might happen.

By getting the right kind of investment from the team, we managed to get our blog off the ground.

When it comes to getting people invested in speaking at events, we’re learning we are most successful when my team acts as the conduit between the events organisers and the business, therefore we are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to pitch to the wider team.

We’ve already seen some real results in terms of the feedback we get from the candidates we are meeting with. Many cite either our blog, or an event they attended that we took part in as things that made them feel compelled to speak with us.

So whilst I’m all for bigger branding campaigns when you have the opportunity and budget to do them, it’s super important not to overlook the brilliant marketing team you already have within your business: YOUR PEOPLE.

That time when I made peace with my weapon of mass distraction

I love technology, and I love many of the ways our world is evolving because of it’s presence.

I’ve taken pride in flying the flag for new technologies and often been in the ‘early adopter’ group when it came to the latest app, tool or fad. I’m all about optimisation, so am up for anything that makes things a little more efficient.

Shazam therefore was always a natural fit for me; at the forefront of emerging technology, but also providing an incredibly useful service to its users, one of discovery.

There has, however, been a darker side to my smart phone use; and that’s the use of apps as a means to disconnect, to switch off from the world around me. Apps as a tool are wonderful, but apps as a weapon of mass distraction? Not so much.

Rather than blame tech companies, I believe that the responsibility of how much time we spend on our smart phones lies in our own hands. Quite literally.

Over the past 12 months I have been looking at the ways in which I use the technology around me, and what the energy is behind that use. Am I actually making use of the amazing tools available to me, or am I simply using my phone as a means to check out? Am I taking every opportunity to be present, and therefore give my best to each interaction?

Am I using technology as a tool, or simply as a weapon of mass distraction?

First, I looked at how to optimise the way I operate at work.

It’s incredibly common to see people on smart phones and tapping away on laptops in meetings. Now if that’s just for note taking purposes and you’ve switched off the other functionality; all good. If not, you are bound to become distracted by something and are likely to just not be paying attention. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; multi-tasking really isn’t a thing.

Meetings should be a productive and efficient exchange of information, but can often end up being the opposite due to how engaged (or distracted) the attendees are.

As often as possible when I go to meetings at work, I leave my phone behind. I either have my Mac for taking notes, or a note pad with me (OMG yes, actual pen and paper). That way the person I am interacting with has a better chance (no one is perfect) of having my full attention.

I’ve heard of some companies implementing ‘phone baskets’ – where people hand their phone in at the beginning of a meeting – and seeing a upsurge in efficiency because of it. I’d love to hear from any of you who have seen this stuff in practice.

Then I took a look, with brutal honesty, at the way I was using my phone more generally.

I did this at first by doing an experiment where I was only allowed to check social media five times a day. I wrote about it at the time here. In doing so, I became aware that I was using my phone to ‘check out’ rather than ‘check in’ a whopping 75% of the time. Horrifying. That kind of data was enough to make me self regulate and remove a ton of mindless scrolling from my day.

I removed some apps from my phone and generally became more mindful about the time I was spending on my phone and what the purpose was.

Figuring out what kind of phone user you are is also important. For me notifications are the worst, and I have a ridiculous compulsion to get rid of them all. Simple things like turning off notifications therefore made a huge difference; I now actively check rather than re-actively check.

I also started switching to flight mode mid way through my evenings in the build up to going to bed and of course whilst I’m asleep. It’s made a big difference to give myself a screen break prior to sleeping, and I also delay turning it off again for the first hour of being awake.

I still use my phone as an alarm clock, but using flight mode means I’m not disturbed by activity on my screen if I wake in the night. Those changes have been really beneficial for me.

I’ve since taken that a bit further by installing an app called Moment. You can use it as a phone bootcamp, to train yourself to stop you using your phone so much, but it’s also great for parents to check in our how your family is utilising their smart phones.

I simply use it to record how much screen time I have on a daily basis. Normally it’s around one to two hours, but on the days when I am out a lot and using things like maps, it can go up above three. I average 42 pick ups a day.

That equates to an average of 14% of my waking life being spent on my phone (which is actually low in terms of the average Moment user – so they tell me). When I was at my peak of smart phone addiction, I hate to think what that percentage would have been.

When you think about it those terms (14% of my waking life looking at my phone!) it makes you a little more motivated to make every moment count.

I’m okay with my screen time going up when I know I am using my phone for a tangible benefit, but what I am not okay with is wasting my life away watching other peoples lives. Merely having the app and keeping an eye on the amount of time I spend on my phone has really made a difference to me.

As much as I love technology, I love humans a whole lot more. I value real interactions, real opportunities for connection and my ever evolving (and hopefully deepening) ability to stay truly present in the moment I am in.

For those of you that are reading this and thinking uh huh, yep, that’s me; let’s make a pact to commit to giving our full attention in our meetings and interactions. I’d like to think that the more of us that are choosing to exert discipline over this stuff, the more we can inspire others to do the same.

Leading by example in this case could really be as simple as leaving your phone behind.

That time when I learnt to embrace fear

Fear is a big word. It’s big, because most of our negative decisions stem from this very place. By negative I don’t mean the big stuff, I mean the tiny decisions we make day after day. The ones that prevent us from growing into the person we are capable of becoming.

I am constantly inspired by my work in the startup space in that sense. Our Engineering teams embrace ‘failings’ as learning opportunities. They aren’t expected to know everything, they are allowed to learn, but are trusted to test things out and experiment along the way. They feel the fear and do it anyway.

Fear of failure simply does not drive our best performance; in work life and in personal life. If we don’t try new things, we are stifled as people and as businesses. The mindsight of our teams is the thing that keeps us propelling our business forward.

I allowed my life to be dictated by fear, and that fear was enough to keep me plodding on in a failing situation for 12 years. I wasn’t able to identify fear as a feeling at the time, but I allowed it to keep me in suspended animation.

The tipping point for me was when the pain of staying in the situation became bigger than leaving it. Honestly, that’s the truth. For me to leave, the pain of staying had to become unbearable. The body is a clever piece of machinery, and it turned my pain from emotional to physical, so that suddenly the message was loud and clear.

Big decisions to change things (even when they hurt us) are SUPER hard. The only way that I was able to make them successfully was by turning them into little ones. Little. Happy. Choices.

If you are faced with making a decision about something huge, focus on the here and now; ask yourself if you are making small choices that support your growth or hinder your development, be it the food you eat, the quality of your sleep or the people you spend time with. Be as honest as you can be.

Looking back on the situation (much as I wouldn’t change it, for each tiny detail makes me who I am today) it has given me cause to reflect on why I let myself become stuck, largely so that I can learn to not to let my choices be dictated by fear in the future.

Mo Gawdat writes beautifully about this in his book, Solve for Happy and has some ideas that are worth applying. Once we identify what our fears are, he encourages us to ask the following questions:

What’s the worst that can happen? It’s normally no where near as bad as we first catastrophised.

So what? The worst case scenario that we are imagining, normally isn’t that bad.

How likely is it? Probably very unlikely. How many times has the worst case scenario actually happened?

Is there anything I can do now to prevent this scenario? Is it even within your power? If it is, then do what it takes.

Can I recover? Absolutely yes, I am sure of it.

What will happen if I do nothing? What is the price of the current status quo?

What is the best case scenario? Visualise it and make that your focus instead.

He also suggests that at the heart of most fears is a fear of rejection. I would agree. We want to be accepted and we want to belong, so we often clip ourselves to mitigate that risk.

The bigger risk, as far as I’m concerned, would be to let fear rule over everything and dictate your choices.

The fear I held was of the unknown, of what life might be if I completely changed everything within it, of what it would feel like to lose everything. But guess what? I DID lose everything that I had before, but I gained SO much more. Suddenly I was free, free to figure out what my life could look like with me in charge, free to embrace the love and support of others.

It took time to rebuild and I’m still figuring so many things out, but that in itself is wonderful. My choice to move positively away from pain and to allow myself to evolve into a different kind of life was the best choice I ever made.

What I am trying to harness the energy of now is the ability to live fearlessly. To take risks, to try things and to realise that if things don’t happen to unfold the way we hoped, sometimes that allows us to tap into something even greater, just like our Engineers.

That time when I stopped to consider gender bias

By very definition of my role, I spend a lot of time pondering diversity. Working in tech, our focus levels heavily on encouraging more females to consider a career within engineering, as well as working hard to seek out those that are already working in this arena.

It’s a hard fight as the odds are stacked against us. But we remain determined.

As a woman, I’m aware that I have natural strengths in understanding the limitations placed on women through our socialisation in society. I get it because I live it.

I can see how the conversation that society has with us from a young age gives us clear messages about what we are able to achieve, what we should aspire to and how we should hope to get there. As we all know, those pressures can be fairly intense.

But let us now widen that lens to the whole of society.

In considering this stuff in the way that I have, it’s led to me becoming tangibly aware of the way that men are limited through their own socialisation in society, and that to really overcome the prescriptive biases we all encounter, we have to look at the holistic picture.

I watched an interesting film recently called The Work. It’s a documentary set inside a men’s prison, where a group of guys from the outside get to come and spend a few days with the guys on the inside, for a group therapy session. Some of it made for pretty powerful viewing, but what struck me the most, was the similarity between the two different groups.

Both sets of men had been severely limited by their inability to express emotion, formed largely by the expectation to be brave, be manly, and the things that they learnt about themselves as children. Their experiences and reactions to those experiences were relatively similar, the only real variation was the end result – namely if they had done something to end up in prison.

Men, like women, are clipped and trimmed by their experiences and the reactions of the people in the world around them. They are assigned a clear emotional role from an early age and are expected to operate within it. As they grow up, many men are then judged on their inability to express emotion, even though this is the very thing they have often been forced repress. Whereas many women are likely judged on their over-expression of it.

I’m sure this isn’t news for most people, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about more and more.

Which begs the next question: how do we change it? How do we support our children to extend and expand beyond the confines of their gender biased roles, professionally and spiritually?

Gender neutral parenting is on the rise but is certainly not the norm. In my own world, my forward thinking parents took it upon themselves to raise me and my three siblings in a fairly gender neutral way back in the 80’s. They weren’t trying to neutralise gender, they simply wanted to give us the best chance of being who or what we really wanted to be, without being defined by gender.

We didn’t wear any gender specific colours and were encouraged to play with non gender specific educational toys. As girls, we were able to cut our hair short if we chose to, or grow it longer in the case of my brother.

Eventually though, societal pressures took a hold, and suddenly all we wanted was what the other children had; for me that was dolls and pink dresses (until I gave the doll a mohawk and died it green, but that’s another story haha). We wanted to fit in. My parents allowed some flexibility, and we were therefore allowed some compromises, but I appreciate the balanced view I had (and have) been given of the world.

I can’t say whether my career aspirations or my ability to thrive was impacted by my parenting, but I can say that my assigned gender role certainly informed many of my more personal decisions.

I recently listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain about a couple who managed to uphold gender neutral parenting. They were determined to raise children who believed they could do anything, and who could grow into the truest versions of who they really are.

To do so, it meant leaving many of their family and friends behind however, and carving out a very different experience for their children. Their families in particular found their decisions challenging.

They spoke of a particular incident in hospital once their first daughter was born where, having gone home to sleep for a couple of hours, the mother returned to find the nurses had changed her child from the gender neutral outfit she had been left in to head to toe hot pink. Immediately the way that people spoke about her child shifted, the vocabulary changed to words like; delicate, dainty and precious. She was horrified. Strong, powerful and healthy were the words she wanted her daughter to identify with.

It really illustrated to me just how quickly our gender assignment happens. Literally as soon as we are born we are socialised into our respective roles. By everyone. How much are you and I inadvertently reinforcing gender roles therefore in our own lives?

Listening to one of their children on the podcast, it seemed as though this particular couple might well have indeed succeeded in managing to give their children the mindset (and therefore the chances) they had hoped for. Their 16 year old daughter spoke with a clarity, wisdom and confidence that we seldom witness from adults, let alone teenagers.

Find the full episode “Be The Change” here and enjoy their daughter Isis in all her teenage glory.

I’d love to hear your views on this stuff. This isn’t something I have specific answers to, I’m just interested in evolving my own role in the world from one of reinforcing gender stereotypes to breaking them down. For all of us.

That time when I thought I’d met an imposter

An Imposter is; ‘a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others, especially for fraudulent gain’.

Imposter is a powerful word and one that gives a flavour of something distasteful in your mouth. Say it out loud with me now. The way the P explodes mid way through the word always gives the word an unsavoury punch.

The idea of someone pretending to be something that they are not is something that we are fundamentally not okay with. So it’s a even more powerful when we use it in the context of imposter syndrome.

The idea of being unearthed as someone who is not worthy of the thing that we’ve been asked to do (or chosen to do), can be one of our biggest fears. The flavour of the word just about sums up the feeling.

It’s an interesting subject, self belief, and one that’s discussed when it comes to women as we are so dangerously afflicted with a severe lack of it. The truth though, is that most people will experience a lack of self belief at some time in their life. The moment that you are asked to do something, and then have a freak out about whether you are smart enough, capable enough, interesting enough, experienced enough and so on.

The whole thing is actually self sabotage. It’s convenient for us to see ourselves as ‘less than’ others, and like they have some kind of magical gift for brilliance that we don’t have. The truth is; we are all brilliant and can be great, but being great takes a lot of effort, and a lot of the time we choose a comfortable cocoon of doom over the chance to truly realise our brilliance.

Being really worried or feeling insecure about something and doing it anyway is a big deal, and one that should be celebrated. That’s a power move right there.

But an even bigger deal is when we are so worried that we don’t pursue something for fear of failure, and deprive the world of ourselves and the uniqueness we all bring. I don’t even need to begin to tell you just how many levels of wrong that is.

I don’t have a magic cure for this stuff either, but I can tell you what has worked for me. The first thing is saying yes to the things that scare or challenge me regardless of the feeling of vulnerability, and breathing through it. The second thing, is to rely on the belief that other people have in me, when I don’t really believe in myself.

The most significant real life example of this, would be when I started my role with Shazam. I had been tapped up for the role by someone I had been getting to know over time within my network, lets call him my Guardian Angel Slash Mentor (GASM for short).

The role was a no brainer, the business sounded incredible and the challenge sounded awesome. My passion was immediate for the role, but those flames were met with an immediate dampening from the awkward, uncertain, non believing depths of my core.

I managed to keep the fires burning long enough to attend the interview and I was completely bowled over to learn I had got the job.

When I arrived I was convinced that I would be found out, that people would unmask me as the charlatan that I knew myself to be, Scooby-Doo-baddy-like, in a team meeting.

Happily the moment my view shifted came quite early on, thanks to my GASM, when, after a brainstorming meeting with a bunch of different people, he said the following;

‘Do you realise just how good you were in that meeting? Can you see how much you owned it? You are a true leader. In fact; you are probably already a better leader than I am, because you truly possess those strengths. You should be doing my job.’

When he left a few weeks later for another interim role, it was the power in those words and his belief that gave me the confidence to throw my hat in the ring and secure my full time role.

Whilst I was very lucky to meet my GASM when I did, these amazing humans are all around us, the people who tell you – you can do it. Not just the people who will tell you what you want to hear. The real ones, the truth talkers – because you have to actually believe them and trust their judgement for this stuff to work.

It’s crucial to move through life with your eyes, your ears and your heart open, because you truly never know who you might be about to meet and what the significance will be for you and your journey.

It’s also important that you allow yourself to be one of them, and share your belief with the people around you in return, that you are the person who keeps saying to the people you come across; I believe in you.

The dreaded imposter syndrome is something that still challenges me from time to time, so I still rely heavily on my network of humans, and cherish their counsel. I’ve also got better at being my own cheerleader, largely through providing myself proof of my amazingness, by taking risks and staying yes to the things that scare me, and shockingly (for me) doing rather well at them.

Perhaps it’s time for you to start building your own case file full of evidence of your amazingness.

Indulge me for a moment. Let me be yours. That thing, that the person over there just asked you to do, or the job you keep looking at and then closing down your browser…?

I believe in you.