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Women+ Of Colour in Leadership - Part 2

Four women of diverse background and cultures holding their fists up in unity.
Four women of diverse background and cultures holding their fists up in unity.
Illustration by Nia Hefe Filiogianni, Illustration by Nia Hefe Filiogianni
Written by
Elly Merry
Published date
11 April 2021

University of the Arts London (UAL) launched the Women+ of Colour In Leadership programme in February, to inspire and empower women+ of colour to break through the glass ceiling and become the creative leaders of the future. Led by UAL Careers and Employability's Creative Shift team who champion diversity in the creative industries, the programme was launched in response to research showing that only 17% of creative directors are Women and only 3% of CEOs are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (Creative Equals, 2020).

This exciting 8-week programme gives students the opportunity to develop different aspects of leadership from leading teams, build connections and understand their own leadership qualities through interactive and participant-focused workshops.

UAL Graduate Ambassador, Elly Merry, guides us through a week by week break-down on what we've learnt about leadership so far...

Session 4: Building Leadership Connections – 26 February 2021

This week was all about building connections. Jannett Morgan kicked us off with a few useful techniques to use when reaching out to collaborate with others. The key takeaways here focused on what kind of language is most persuasive and compelling when looking to collaborate. We focused on how best to show your potential collaborator the value they can gain from partnering as well as the value they can add. This is particularly important for our cohort as the project at hand is operating on zero budget, meaning they’ll have to come up with other ways to add value for potential hosts and speakers.

With this in mind Jannett guided us through the Appreciative Inquiry approach to project challenges, which focuses on strengths in teams rather than weaknesses. This method of project evaluation is a group process that builds on the successful, effective and activating experiences of its members.

For this project, Appreciative Inquiry questions for the students to consider included: What was your strategy when you had little or no money for a project? How can you maximise value by reaching out to your networks? This was a great reminder for our teams that they’re all in this together and shared similar concerns about reaching out to influencers and potential hosts for their events that need not be dealt with alone.

Refreshed from the energising discussion of the importance of group cohesion and a newfound buzz of motivation, it was time for the marshmallow challenge! The task at hand: Build the tallest possible freestanding structure using only marshmallows, uncooked spaghetti, tape and string. As the challenge had to be undertaken virtually, each group had already nominated a team member to receive a care package including all the materials they needed for the task.

Hands holding some string

With 18 minutes on the clock, each team split into their breakout rooms and began building. Initially, all students could contribute advice on how to construct but intermittent broadcast instructions meant that the teams had to alternate leaders. Throughout their remaining time the students had to quickly shift gears, going from team leader to team player in quick succession and once time had been called, we returned to the main group with three very different structures.

People talking on a video call People talking on a video call

After evaluating each group’s creation, Jannett led a feedback session to get the students’ take on how they found the challenge. This task was really to see and think about leadership styles; how the students lead, how they work as a team player, how they delegate tasks and how they evaluate their performance.

The students enjoyed the challenge and felt it was a good ice-breaker to shake the teams up a bit given that they are unable to meet in person and chat as you would in a physical group situation. They felt it was another great reminder of the importance of teamwork and highlighted everyone’s different strengths, showing that individual expertise adds value when everyone is heard.

Alternating leaders and leadership styles put pressure on the builders and made teams very aware of the time limits in place. Another challenge faced by the students, they said, was that doing a task like this virtually made it more difficult than if it were done in “reality” followed by a quick reminder from Jannett that virtual is the new reality!

After hearing this, Jannett mentioned that most successful teams take an iterative approach and check in with team members to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Asking questions like: “Does that make sense?” or “what do you think?” help to encourage a cohesive team effort and adapting as things change is important to team success – practice makes perfect! This was a fun challenge and definitely helped the students loosen up, but more than that it was a good opportunity to learn about their individual leadership style and what roles they take on in a team situation.

On that note, Jannett introduced Belbin’s nine key team roles (1981) and asked the students to identify which of their team members filled each role. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between which roles the students thought of themselves as filling versus what the rest of their team think. Jannett highlighted the strengths of each role and how when they work together, they are able to radiate innovation and creativity.

Session 5: Pitching Your Self & Personal Branding – 5th March 2021

This session was all about personal pitches and self-promotion and led by our Graduate Ambassadors: Elly, Mayesha and Zahraa, who were part of last year’s Women+ in Leadership cohort. Beginning with a 20-minute breakout room session to catch up with each team’s progress we came together to discuss how the students were feeling at the mid-way point. Questions about final presentations were raised, which moved neatly onto a short presentation all about elevator pitches.

Presentation screen on a video call

The ambassadors took some time to explain that elevator pitches are a 60-second chance to tell someone all about yourself and are a useful tool for telling a succinct and to-the-point story of you and your creative journey. After a few examples, the students were tasked with coming up with their very own elevator pitch that they can use to introduce themselves when presenting to TreasureTress and The Elephant Room.

After 15 minutes of preparation, the students were split into pairs for a few rounds of speed-elevator-pitching and had two minutes to fit in both their own and their partner’s pitches! The first round was a good challenge, but students said that it was a bit difficult to express themselves and some felt a bit uncomfortable talking about themselves. The ambassadors gave some extra tips, encouraging students to own it! Tone of voice and body language are great tools to help us express ourselves, along with emphasising important words and pausing for effect.

Presentation screen on a video call

After a few more rounds of different pairings, the students grew in confidence but still felt a bit pressured by the time constraints. The ambassadors responded to this, explaining that in reality there are times were you only have a short amount of time to make a good impression, so having a good idea of three key points about yourself that you want to highlight can help make sure you’re ready to impress! This was a fantastic opportunity for the students to build each other up and provide positive support. The ambassadors closed off the exercise with the mantra: “Relax, be yourself” and gave some final tips on relaxation and breathing techniques that can be used before a presentation or networking event.

This session was the group's one and only chance to speak to the clients for feedback and advice on what they’ve been working on before the final pitch, so the bulk of the session focused on making sure the students had as much time with the client as possible. We welcomed TreasureTress Founder and CEO, Jamelia Donaldson, along with Brand Director, Siobhan Gowdie, as well as Co-Founder and Head of Talent at The Elephant Room, Shanice Mears, who came along to see how the students were getting on with the creative brief.

Splitting into breakout rooms, each group had 15 minutes with each visitor to share their vision for TreasureTress’ Teen Experience event that they’re planning and show visuals and work in progress.

Presentation screen on a video call

Presentation screen on a video call

After each group had a chance to speak with each visitor, we came back together to hear some more general advice from Jamelia, Siobhan and Shannie, who were all super impressed with how the projects are coming along. The students got some good reminders about the practicality of the event as well as some pointers on showing their creative processes when presenting their final idea. Overall, a really positive session with the client who left on the note that they were so excited to see the final presentations!

Session 6: Resilience for Leaders – 12th March 2021

We kicked off this week with a warm welcome back to Jannett Morgan and the students did a great job recapping last week’s session. Jannett built on the ambassadors’ elevator pitch activity, explaining how useful elevator pitches are when networking, reminding us of the classic statement: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and not only that, but also, “who knows you!”

Presentation screen on a video call

Jannett invited a few students to perform their elevator pitches, expanding beyond a simple pitch and creating an open dialogue conversation more akin to what would happen in reality. This was a great way to show how elevator pitches can be use in conversation and got students thinking on their feet to respond to a variety of questions they could be asked in a networking situation.

The students thought it was useful to be put on the spot and found that even though they had less time to think about their answer they were able to step up and sell themselves. This provided a great insight into how elevator pitches and networking work hand-in-hand and communicating what you can add effectively helps to create and bolster your creative and professional value. It was amazing to see the progress the students have made in just a few weeks, proving the point that practice does indeed make perfect.

The real-life crossover of elevator pitches and networking got the students thinking about the connections between the TreasureTress creative brief and Jannett’s leadership skills sessions and how their group is using management theory to underpin the work they’ve been doing on the brief. Throughout the programme, we’ve come to learn that leadership transcends just one individual and that everyone has leadership qualities within them. Although the creative brief is at the forefront of our minds, it’s important to think about the big picture and continue to develop the transferrable skills we’ve picked up along the way for future projects to come.

Jannett went on to discuss public personas and the importance of recognising that not everyone is an extrovert, but we must learn the art of confidence just the same and enact resilience in our lives. The students shared some amazing personal stories of times they’ve had to be resilient and spoke about how challenges in their lives made them more determined to succeed.

After an inspiring story-sharing session, we were joined by the Deputy Head of Careers and Employability, Tessa Read, who provided some valuable advice for women in leadership. Tessa spoke about the difficult balancing act many women face in the workplace when enacting leadership qualities; when women showcase strong leadership skills, they are sometimes considered competent but not likeable and vice versa. Tessa advised being clear from the outset if in a meeting and try to pinpoint it to three points as that’s usually the number of points people can remember well.

Presentation screen on a video call

Tessa also mentioned the importance of allies and advocates in the workplace who can help to include excluded groups in previously inaccessible spaces. It’s important to have your backers and bring along people who will support you in a competitive environment and acknowledge that you can’t always achieve everything on your own.

Tessa recommended reading ‘Taking Up Space’ by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi and opened up a discussion around looking at how some men confidently take up space while leaving no room for others. The students enacted some brilliant critical thinking skills in response to this point, noting that it may not be the best solution as it indirectly corroborates this behaviour and may serve to normalise a more aggressive approach. Right now, the reality for underrepresented groups is that you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t and there is a need for pragmatism when navigating these terrains – but this does not mean that there isn’t room for authenticity!

After a meaty discussion, we looked to the future and the transition from a thinking economy to a more feeling one. On average, women excel in emotional intelligence and so are well equipped to navigate this feeling-focused future. Emotional intelligence is vital in strong leaders and injecting our personal values into our leadership style helps us evolve over time in our technical management skills but keeps us grounded in our ethics.

Presentation screen on a video call

Jannett finished off by introducing the idea of feedforward as opposed to feedback. Feedforward is future orientated and takes a proactive approach in improvements that can be made moving forward. The students and Creative Shift team loved this concept and took it on as part of our programme vocabulary in future sessions to come.