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Turn lemons into lemonade: lessons in leadership and resilience from the Defence Women’s Network Conference

By 3rd May 2023October 9th, 2023No Comments
Two illustrated lemon halves and a glass of lemonade garnished with mint and lemon.

The 2023 Defence Women’s Network Conference brought together an amazing line-up of speakers and panellists from across the armed forces, civil service and the tech sector.

This year’s theme was leadership and self-empowerment. Throughout each session, common threads around leadership and resilience, developing self-awareness and silencing self-doubt bound the discussion together.

In this blog, we’ll share the lessons in leadership and resilience that struck a chord with us on the day.

1. Resilience isn’t about being the strongest person

According to Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justic and Civil Service Gender Champion, mindset really matters.

“Resilience isn’t about being the strongest person, but the ability to bounce back,” she said in her welcome address.

And it’s true. We don’t have to be invincible. The best leaders are those who can face adversity with grace, bounce back from setbacks and remain committed to their goals by approaching the problem in a different way.

A woman in workout clothing about to deadlift a very large weight. She looks determined.
A woman bouncing on a large trampoline in the garden. She is wearing a jacket but no shoes. Her hands are in the air and she looks triumphant.

2. There’s more than one way to show leadership and resilience

When life gives you lemons, we’re told that the way to respond is to make lemonade. Turn the sourness into sweetness and move on with a positive outlook.

While talking about wellbeing, mental fitness and resilience is vital, this conversation can often take on a toxic positivity online.

This idea was touched upon by Warrant Officer Sara Catterall MBE when she said, “social media is all about what you should do, and how you should be.”

She explained that there’s a lot more to resilience than what we see on social media, including self-awareness and self-leadership. It’s about understanding yourself and acknowledging when you’re feeling stressed or grumpy about a situation – and then knowing how to respond.

The best leaders know themselves, and role model helpful coping mechanisms and self-care, such as going for a run or treating yourself to a slice of cake.

This was echoed by Lora Lacey, General Manager for UK Defence at Palantir, who encouraged people to lean into playfulness in response to adversity, and “look at the ridiculousness of what’s happening.”

A slice of lemon cake with three tiers, buttercream icing and a slide of lemon to decorate.

According to Lora, the lesson here is that turning lemons into lemonade isn’t your only option. Sometimes, in times of adversity, you should forget the lemonade, add your lemons to a batch of G&T, and find some humour in the situation with a friend.

3. Share your goals to achieve more

Whether you’re already in a leadership position, or aspiring to become one, one of the key takeaways from the conference was the importance of sharing goals and clearly articulating your objectives.

One of the ‘Power of No’ panellists, Manmeet Cheema of the Ministry of Defence Strategic Hub, shared some very striking advice she once received from her own mentor:

“Sending clear demands is helpful for those around you. It stops people from guessing.” She explained that if people know your goals – both immediate tasks and future aspirations, they are then in a position to help you achieve them.

By sharing your vision, you can help others create opportunities that will take you where you want to go.

This communicative approach also works when you’re trying to set boundaries and protect your time.

On the same panel, Detective Chief Inspector Gemma Vinton from Wiltshire Police expanded on this idea:

“Sometimes we lose track of our objectives and what we’re trying to do. You’re not at work for the comfort of other people, you are there to achieve your organizational objectives and your personal objectives, and sometimes that means saying no.”

Saying no, she argues, should be a decision around whether you have the time and capacity to take on a task, or whether you can empower someone else.

If you need to say no, she says, “it’s about the communication,” explaining your rationale, articulating your objectives, and saying no nicely.

Illustration of a woman working from a laptop. She is sitting in a meadow behind a white fence representing healthy boundaries.

4. Find a mentor for yourself and be a role model for others

At events like the DWN Conference, there’s no shortage of inspiration. From the leaders on the stage to those sitting next to us.

The real question is how do we sustain such inspiration every day? Learning about other people is invigorating, but it’s all too easy not to prioritise our networks.

Throughout each panel, the message was clear: get support wherever you can.

Developing genuine trusted relationships can be the single most important thing for your career – whether you’re looking for advice, guidance, or someone you can share the aforementioned G&Ts with.

Those on stage encouraged us all to make the most of formal networks and mentoring opportunities, seek out role models and learn from their career stories. And, if you can’t find your community, you can always create one.

Becoming a mentor and role model yourself can be equally rewarding.

During a panel discussion around ‘Queenagers’, or valuing senior women in the workforce, Liz Stokes of Ultra Cyber UK, explained:

“A Queenager has freedom and opportunity to share their thoughts, they’re not frightened any more […] I’ve only got a defined period left in my career, and I want to leave a great legacy. I want things to be different for others who come next.”

Actively supporting people early in their career can unlock new perspectives and helps ensure that the next generation doesn’t have to face the same barriers that you have already experienced and overcome.

Data apprentice Daisy shares an idea with Samantha, one of Inform's directors, demonstrating our open collaborative culture.

Learn more:

If you’re working in and around the defence sector and looking for a network to join, the DWN is a great place to start.

This incredible network encourages discussion and exploration of gender and equality issues in defence. It’s open to women and men alike and aims to break down barriers to end discrimination in the workplace.

The Inform Team are proud supporters of the Defence Women’s Network and were delighted to be an event sponsor for the second time.

To find out more, and to get involved, check out DWN on X.

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