Yesterday I was at Accenture’s First Among Equals seminar as part of International Women’s Day celebration in London.
About 500 people (men and women) battled the the horrendous weather to sit in a hotel in Tower Hill and have inspiration showered on them by a diverse cross-section of female leaders. Their stories underline not just their determination and ability, but also the qualities they share. 
Their successes have come from being outside their comfort areas; they’ve found resources in themselves that no one has taught them. As effective leaders, they use those resources to serve others.

First Among Equals speakers:

Katy Bourne: Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex (elected position)
Lisa Burger, Executive Director, National Theatre
Ayesha Hazarika, Political Commentator and Comedian
Hon. Mary Jo Jacobi, Corporate Reputation and Crisis Management Advisor
Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE, Founder, Orchid Project
Ritula Shah, Journalist and Broadcaster
Payal Vasudeva, Executive Sponsor Human Capital and Diversity, Accenture
Col. Lucy Giles, the first female College Commander at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and an officer of the British Army’s Royal Logistics Corps.

Courtesy @PayalVasudeva


They all started out with very humble beginnings. They took something they were passionate and good at, and perfected their craft

Ayesha Hazarika grew up in a good Asian background and was “supposed to become a doctor”, but she “wanted to make people laugh and had a political heart”. She pivoted from being a stand-up comedian to eight years as Special Adviser for the Labour party, finally combining both with her sell-out show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Tales from the Pink Bus” about the campaign trail. She was driven by passion and hard work only.

They all appreciated the value of an inclusive, diverse set of opinions to get major decisions over the line

Mary Jo Jacobi: “Diversity of thought solved the Gulf Oil Disaster. We had to have cultural opinions, local and federal government opinions, consider ethnic sensitivities and economic sensitivities. They hired me because I was a Yank who spoke British, married to an Irishman!”

They didn’t know if they could do the job – until they did it

Katy Bourne “I knew I could do about 30% – 40% of it – but I could work the rest out!
Mary Jo Jacobi: “When I was asked to manage out the Gulf crisis, I had a PR background and was a New Yorker. Oh and I had holidayed on the Gulf coast. They were my qualifications”.
Julia Lalla – Maharajh (on setting up her charity) “15 years of the corporate world just evaporated and what I lacked was meaning. What could I do that was congruent [with my values]? I wanted a life of service. I went to a VSO and said “you won’t want me, I’m a businesswoman and you need doctors”. Within six months, I was in Somalia holding the hands of five year old girls whose culture would see them through the ritual of genital cutting”.

Julia Lalla – Maharajh in Ethiopia


They worked hard and ignored the barriers – or didn’t see them!

“Churchill said “winners never quit and quitters never win” says Katy Bourne. As a newly elected police commissioner, she sat in a meeting full of male colleagues. They thought she was a PA and did not acknowledge her in the introductions. No wallflower, she stood up, thrust her hand out for shaking, introduced herself and said “You will never forget me again”. 
Lisa Burger: “I didn’t realise the barriers! We had no career advice at school. In my mind talent, imagination and hard work equalled success. I was fed on a diet of other pupil’s achievements”.

They all wish they had taken it less seriously

Mary Jo Jacobi “We all make huge mistakes. Sitting here today, I am living breathing proof that you move on from them. And don’t think if it was called Lehman Sisters there would have been a different outcome!”
Lucy Giles “When I was a more relaxed leader this was better for my teams and I became more effective. I could then influence culture”.
Mary Jo Jacobi: “I did all the hours but looking back I am not sure if they were asked of me”.
Katy Bourne “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep moving forward and expect to make mistakes”.
The cry of every person’s heart is to be included and to be seen, to be valued for what they bring. My call to action today is: take what you have in your hand; that thing you love; don’t fear humble beginnings, and let the ceiling of these women’s achievements be your floor. Watch this video from Accenture. Get yourself included today, with your tiny offering.
Someone needs it.