By Ursula Errington
Every year on International Women’s Day I love reading the many genuine posts people share explaining who has inspired them, who encourages them and who is a mentor, a role model or a true thought leader in their area of business and usually in their personal lives too (inspiring people rarely just impact your professional life, they help you recalibrate many aspects of yourself so that is often deeply personal, as well as professional). This year, I want to share mine.
I lead a life of immense privilege. I am surrounded by incredible women who have shaped my world and taught me to speak up, have confidence, be heard and never compromise my values. In fact, I would have a hard time choosing just one to profile for you. Instinctively, I would pick Emma FitzGerald, Rachel Errington, Rebecca Renshaw, Advita Patel, Emma Smith, Deborah Binks-Moore or Eghosa Oriaikhi Mabhena. Two of those I am lucky enough to be related too, I was born into a situation where smart, wise, kind, powerful women were my kin and mentors – it doesn’t get much better than that.
#ChooseToChallenge – my male influencer
But this blog is about a man. I know, I know, I’m honestly not missing the point of International Women’s Day but as the theme this year is #ChoosetoChallenge I wanted to highlight the man who profoundly shaped, not only my sense of consistently performing to a certain standard as a professional, but how I do business and how I should expect to be treated in my career. He taught me to challenge inequality by understanding my worth and how to challenge in a measured, intelligent but explicit way.
What is most interesting to me is that this man almost never influenced me by giving me advice. In fact, the women in my life are much better ‘advisors’ – offering a viewpoint and working through scenarios with me to see the pros and cons. This man taught me purely by example. When he was President of a division of a large multi-national company, I would listen to his stories of office politics, new product development, customer relationship building and leadership. His experiences were full of moments of insightful counsel, tough conversations that had to be voiced and Big Decisions that changed companies and careers. These conversations were so frequent that I find I use the same sort of professional language as he did, I am able to harness his capability to anticipate how a situation will play out and I have a gut instinct for when someone will come good, let you down or require close management.
Most of all I learnt about the unequivocal and absolute importance of integrity and honesty – both because you should always do the right thing and because no good will come to you if you don’t (“Play everything with a straight bat – don’t try and be a smarta**e, it will never end well”). When he left corporate life and started his own company he worked all hours to get the outcome he wanted. He taught me that there is no mystery to it – it just takes graft. And funnily enough, the more you graft at it…the luckier you get! When I used to complain my business wasn’t growing fast enough he simply used to say, “Head down, keep going and it’ll come – don’t worry – it’ll come”. He took pleasure in the small wins, until the small wins became big wins and he took immense pride in building a hand-picked team.
So, for me #ChoosetoChallenge means a lot of things – it means speaking up on one’s own behalf and on behalf of others, it means creating an environment where men and women can be themselves entirely – the summation of all their constituent parts and bring their idiosyncratic approach to work every day and it means raising my boys so that feminism is a reflex. I choose to challenge myself, the corporate and business systems in which I operate and society as a whole. I’m not arrogant enough to think I can fix everything – or even anything, but I do think I have a responsibility to be part of a healthier, more open, honest, egalitarian and equal working world.
So, this International Women’s Day, I will be thinking about that one man, my father, Mel Errington. It should have been his 81stst Birthday today and we would have had a ball. Instead, I’m left simply grateful for the love and grateful for the lessons. Not everyone gets a lifetime of mentorship, leadership classes and business skills as standard issue. I lucked out. So, if you need someone to help you challenge yourself, the business world or wider society and want someone at your shoulder as a sounding board, a confidant or a critical friend – I’m here for you for a virtual coffee and a chat to brainstorm and chew over ideas. I consider it paying it forward.