IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Jo Cullen

March 8, 2021

Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

What skills and attributes do female leaders bring to create diverse leadership at management level? 

Decisiveness. Warmth. Emotional intelligence. A different view. Perspective. Having said all that, so can men! My best and worst experiences have been with female managers, so we can also bring negative attributes to the table just as any leader of any gender can. We are all just people, imperfect, fabulous people. We should be raised up based on merit not on our gender. 

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you?  

Challenge is what keeps things fresh and what spurs progress. It’s the only way. It’s not really a thing I choose. It is easier not to challenge but nothing ever got better that way. When I don’t have the desire to challenge, I know I am not firing on all cylinders and something is seriously wrong. This is when it is time to go on holiday or get a new job! 

What is one lesson you learnt the hard way?

Loyalty is for people. An organisation is not a person so don’t expect it to behave like one. Always be loyal to the people you meet along the way, but also always remember an organisation won’t tuck you in at night. Prioritise the people that will. 

How can female leaders ensure they get a seat at the table? 

We can’t. We just need to focus on being ourselves, being brilliant and then one day we will kick down the door because there is no option but to let us fully in. I would never want to be let in because I am a woman, but because I am the best person for the gig. 

What impact could Kamala Harris’ appointment to Vice President have on the next generation of female leaders?

I will be excited when she is President. That will mean real progress. The glass ceiling will temporarily disappear, but I fear it will only be temporary on that side of the pond. It was something special when she was elected. Hopefully this will be progress, not one step forward, two steps back. What she has inspired is hope, and hope is really powerful. 

What is one thing women don’t talk about enough?

This is a hard one as I love to talk. If I had to choose a professional one, I would say self-doubt. Men have centuries more practice at self-promotion. It is something that we all need to work on. If we can’t acknowledge our own worth it is hard to convince anyone else.  I once heard a male colleague telling people about his experience. He was way less experienced than me and had achieved less professionally. But when he talked about himself, I was like ‘Wow, you are so impressive’. I love this man, he has been a lifelong friend and I don’t begrudge that, but I still aspire to that level of self-promotion and confidence. I am great at selling almost anything and messaging anything, except myself. Women often see their faults. We need to stop that. If we acknowledge this and talk about it more, perhaps we can stop doing it. 

What are you really, good at?

Calling out BS. I am amazed at how many people can ignore it. This often results in mediocre outcomes. This is a blessing and a curse, but it can help in business when you do it the right way. I hope I am also pretty good at being kind. And swearing. And hugging. I have been known to do all four at the same time. I really miss the hugging but the other three are still in regular use. 

What has held you back in your career to date and how did you overcome that barrier? 

Me. I am the only thing that has held me back. I am trying to overcome this by having a good hard word with myself and imagining the possibilities if I only saw myself like others do. This doesn’t change if you are 16 or 69 but I see this self-doubt in a lot of women. We need to see what we can do, not all the things we can do better. If I could go back and change one thing in my life it would be to have that knowledge earlier. The only person who limits me, is me. 

What is your next adventure or goal?  

To go out in non-elasticated clothing. To drink lightly blushed wine on a beach in the South of France and to hug strangers. Just to get some normal seems like the most exotic thing in the world and a goal worth working towards. To see some normal for my children in their formative years and for my parents in their last years. These are the things that really matter at the end of the day. 

Why is it important that we “choose to challenge” and call out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping?

Bias is a sad fact of life but doesn’t mean we can’t stop calling it out. Once you see it, and name it, it becomes impossible to ignore. Diversity brings better outcomes. That is a fact. And if we keep demonstrating the facts, only fools can ignore it. We need to show, not tell.

We also need to remember diversity and representation isn’t a fad or a league table. It means all of us having a voice. Full stop. We need to not forget that, or it will do equality a disservice. The carrot can get better results than the stick.

Personally though, I celebrate some female stereotypes. Yes, I like to talk a lot, yes, I cry more often than my husband. I am not ashamed of these things, for these things are what makes me, me. You can find strength in vulnerability and we should celebrate our differences. Like the wise Groove Armada said. ‘If everybody looks the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other’. 

Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.https://indd.adobe.com/embed/bb2678fd-fafb-4e5f-b57b-bbe97612e7cf?startpage=1&allowFullscreen=true