From education to employment

International Women’s Day – A Time For Everyday Heroes

Danielle Johnson, Senior Business Development Manager at The Skills Network.

On International Women’s Day, Danielle Johnson, Senior Business Development Manager at The Skills Network, explores whether balancing a career in FE with being a super mum can help set an inspiring example to the next generation of potential education thought leaders.

As a woman working hard in the FE sector, it can often feel like a real challenge to live up to the high standards that we set ourselves on a daily basis. We want to excel in all we do in the workplace, inspire the next generation to do even better and achieve higher than ever before, whilst at the same time making sure we have time for a fulfilling family life in-between – it can often feel like a juggling act where we are doomed not to meet our own expectations of what we feel should be possible.

But sometimes we are too close to see that actually following the footsteps of those women who went before – those innovators and glass ceiling breakers – doing our best to lead the way in a modern educational setting, whilst meeting our own at times impossible self-imposed targets, might be exactly the sort of everyday heroism that helps bring about the next level of change.

I’ll give you an example

The other day my daughter shared with me that at school they were going to dress as their female heroes for International Women’s Day – when I asked who she wanted to be, she said that she wanted to dress as me going to work!

Sometimes we miss the impact we have on those around us, whether it’s our daughters or others in the next generation taking their first steps in their careers, we are already playing an active role in their development – and more importantly, how they perceive the working world.

Of course, to say I was proud of my daughter’s choice for the school dressing up day is an understatement and it certainly took me by surprise, but this made me stop and reflect on the inspiring female role models that have influenced me on my own career journey, particularly in the FE sector, with little fanfare or acknowledgement from those around them. We should be celebrating those whose example inspires – and recognise that when we do have those moments of success, that we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before.

I asked my daughter what was it about me at work that inspired her and she said that I made everything look natural. She could see the difference I was making and liked that I was playing a part in the future of her education.

I don’t particularly feel like a trailblazer

As someone that has spent 16 years within the FE sector working for my local college, then subsequently for an awarding body, and now in Edtech, I don’t particularly feel like a trailblazer. I am just doing my job, making a small difference in an evolving sector where I am able to make a positive impact for both learners and educational providers.

During the home-schooling phase of the pandemic my daughter liked to listen in to my meetings and could see the professional relationships I had developed and how important these are for achieving goals together. 

This International Women’s Day…

This International Women’s Day, let us all take a couple of minutes to remember our own unsung heroes in FE – those who have worked alongside us or simply inspired us to go the extra mile and in doing so helped us achieve.

If we could understand and capture that unknown factor within that helps others inspire us – and somehow bottle that magic formula for success – we would probably be millionaires by tomorrow, but there are always clues and good practice that we can replicate.

For me, good coaching and mentoring is a central foundation. If you have a manager who recognises what your super strengths are and how they can nurture behaviour to overcome your weaknesses, you will feel empowered and emboldened to succeed. Too often in business we see people clipping the wings of those beneath them, but what we need is to allow people to grow, develop and spread their wings to soar on their own.

Take the time to listen, reflect, challenge and be stretched

Good leaders will enable you to shine, even in new and unfamiliar environments that feel scary. And try and find other like-minded people to share the journey, if you can – the power of a true partnership can help everyone get further and faster, if you do it right.

I guess what I am really saying is, regardless of hierarchy and title, we all can channel our inner leader and should look to inspire and uplift those around us, in whatever way we can. 

Finally, remember that whatever is thrown your way, never give up – you never know the impact your example is having for those that follow.

By Danielle Johnson, Senior Business Development Manager at The Skills Network

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