Helping Others Up Along With You

Stepping out of my comfort zone, is definitely NOT one of my favourite past times, but like most, I know it’s inevitable for progress, change, or just getting on in life.

This year, my International Women’s Day projects spanned a few months, and saw me do a few new things that scared me!

The actual week of International Womens Day I spent in London at a National conference for Trade Unions – a very supportive community with diversity and support at it’s heart. With these times of austerity, political wars and “fake news” it’s vital to find a group of people you can connect with, seek support and help from, and more importantly, when you can give back! I’ve always been one to support others where I can, so give back is something we even do as part of DigiEnable. For IWD2017 I joined a group of fellow trade union women and activists and talked, discussed, and debated (in polite and respectful ways) about a wide range of topics, spanning the globe, and reach of workers. Our group was made up of broadcasters, scientists and meteorologist – all women, in respectable, strong, interesting and important roles. They were a pleasure to be with, learn from and talk about life with over the few days, I felt inspired and hopefully they did too.

I stood up and talked in support of a motion for something to be done to stop online bullying and hate crimes towards journalists, this was proposed by the National Union of Journalists. Sadly, but to no real surprise, there are lots of personalities removing themselves from online platforms because of the negative abuse they receive. With very little being done by the big global social media giants, what can we do?

I talk to other people for a living, I stand up most days of the week and share knowledge, train people and support them to understand concepts that will work for them. I know what I’m talking about, I have the qualifications, and I have the confidence I am the best I can be. However, talking about out of my comfort zone, I decided to stand up and speak about my personal experiences with online attacks. (I very rarely do this, as I’ve learnt, the minute I talk about *me*, I definitely don’t feel that confident!)

But I thought, sod it, I would stand and support all those other women out there who are suffering much worse than me. I have been slated, name called, sworn at and many more derogatory terms – learning my trade as a technician I was used to the “you can’t do that you’re a woman!” but sadly that still goes on, along with I’ve found, a constant questioning of my background, qualifications, skill level and morals. Here’s an example from last year where I find myself having to explain why I’m actually a) good at my job, b) “qualified” to share my advice to others and c) share a LOT of my time for free to give-back.

I used to care a LOT about what these people said and thought, it hurt, it was personal, and it took a long time to realise –with help from some AMAZING people – that those people just aren’t worth it, and most, are just after an argument. Normally I’m good to go for an argument, but there needs to be a decent reason for it. These nasty people, gearing up for an argument about anything with anyone, are called Trolls and should be dealt with in a controlled way. We can suggest ways you can deal with that. But we shouldn’t have to.

That conference gave me lots of food for thought, and made me wonder how can we help others out there from getting hurt by this online sh*t. I’m still plotting on that one.

So people think I “sit on a lot of boards”? Well, I have and I do. "Why" you ask? Because it’s give back!

Give back can come in many forms, it may be funding, financial support, making other people brews when it’s not your job, or helping shape organisations and structures in industry for the better of all. I’ve sat on boards in the past where I feel my impact and give back has been limited, and that’s sad. I feel like if I haven’t made some small different (not just “adding my own mark”) I haven’t done my job (paid or not). As you know, my passion is for supporting Women In(to) Tech, and with that comes supporting women in work in general too. So much goes on behind closed doors of companies we never know about, we need to be ready to stick together and fight for what is simply sometimes, our human rights!

I know I talk about unions a lot, I’m very pro-union and proud of it – I think it’s a community of supportive people regardless of what your political beliefs are. 5 years ago I joined a union, 1 year ago I was voted on as Chair for the National Womens Committee, and this month I sat on stage with the rest of the National Executive Committee for the Sector of the union, having joined late last year.

Sat on stage, out of my comfort zone again... 

If I hadn’t have had a few key people nudging me forwards to apply, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, felt I didn’t have the right skills, or based on the existing members not half as much experience as I needed. All I really needed is someone else to believe in me, and I had that, from at least a handful of people, and that meant the world. It wasn’t money I needed it was a “you can do it Liz, go for it”. A simple positive statement or two and a confidence in me, I didn’t really have at the time.

So when I stood up at the National Conference in Brighton, I name dropped a few of those who had helped me get where I was today, I was truely thankful. I spent a few minutes sharing with the 300+ delegates what the Womens Committee had been upto and what our objectives were for the next year. I also urged people to talk to others about diversity in their workplaces, and to support us in any way they can. Off the back of that 3 ladies came upto me at the end and asked how they could get involved. And I told them I’d help them. I want to be their "you can do it" buzz in their ear if they want it. 

For me, that’s what it’s all about, wherever you are, there are people who want to be in your shoes, admire you, and want to share in your victories. Once you get to your next level-up, don’t pull up that ladder, help those behind you follow on. Don't let those trolls get you down, they're jealous and they can't communicate how they feel, feel sorry for them. 

This gif, made for International Womens Day 2016 by Libby Vanderploeg, says it all to me.

Without those awesome people supporting me on the way up, I wouldn’t be having all these amazing adventures. So, in the only way I know, I’ll be repaying the favour helping others to fulfil their potential too! How can you help others today?