We sit up and take note of something or someone who surprises us by doing or saying something that we weren’t expecting. Michelle Mone was a perfect example of saying something the audience wasn’t expecting when she got up to speak to a group of business people in Edinburgh last month. She began her talk by explaining how she generally is sick prior to any public speaking and went on to describe personal experiences such as vomiting in front of previous Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Her audience was not expecting such intimate details of embarrassing situations and very quickly engaged with her, as well as frequently roaring with laughter. The audience may have not expected such an entertaining talk but when she got up to speak we were immediately aware that things would be different.
Followers of this column will know that I always encourage individuals to be true to themselves, to present an authentic version of themselves through the clothes that they wear and not kowtow to what convention dictates. While fitting in with the event by wearing a black jacket and trousers with a white blouse, the tailoring of these garments as well as the tousled blonde curls and perfectly manicured nails conveyed Mone’s confidence to challenge conventional expectations. She is a fantastic example of fitting in with conventional expectations but delivering the goods in diverse and unexpected ways.
Mone also stands out from the crowd simply because she is a powerful woman in the male dominated world of business. Similarly the Queen stands out as a woman in another powerful institution, the church of England. She may be called the Head of the Church but the management of the church lies within the Archbishop’s Council – a group of nineteen influential members where less than a quarter are women. And surely there can be no more powerful an institution in the UK than parliament where again less than a quarter of the “management team” in the cabinet office are female. Are we surprised by these facts or is it no more than we expect? Over a century ago, the first British women were allowed to vote and yet only a handful are in powerful positions within parliament today.
Before we give up completely let me remind you of another powerful institution that has been briefly mentioned already. The Queen heads up the monarchy that has been part of British society since 400AD. Recently proposals have been put forward at a meeting of British Commonwealth leaders that allows succession to the British throne to be based on order of birth. This allows female succession to the throne to occur according to who was born first, irrespective of whether a male sibling is born afterwards. If this proposal goes ahead could it revolutionise inheritance issues and the transference of wealth? And if such a transformation can happen in an age old institution then surely change is possible throughout society?
I’m confident that it will but only if we increase our expectations and truly believe that we will see increased diversity in the boardroom, the workplace, in public office and in our wider communities. Personally, I look forward to being part of that change and hope to be wearing an Ultimo bra when I do!