I can be very black and white.
Values, ethics, principles. Whatever you want to call it.
I just have this ‘thing’ that drives how I react to the world and the decisions and behaviours that I see around me. If I look a little deeper under the surface of how what influences my own behaviours, it comes from a need to see fairness, equality and well people just being honest with each other. Genuine care and thoughtfulness.
Don’t get me wrong, I make mistakes. I can and do forgive and I can even change my mind. But the things I choose to do in life are driven by these core beliefs.
However, that does mean that I find myself making difficult choices. Choosing to stick out from the norm and occasionally that means ruffling some feathers.
My latest decision to not attend the Women Ahead Awards and therefore have my finalist status taken away from me has been one of those harder decisions.
The Initial Excitement
Some of you will remember that I recently revealed that I’d been shortlisted in the 2017 Women Ahead Awards as a “Most Promising New Business”. I found out around a week later that I was a confirmed Finalist.
If you read my blog announcing it at the time, you’d be right in thinking that I was a little excited.
You see, it was only a few months after making the move back to Scotland to set up in business for myself full time. As well as expanding our beach hut hire management across England, I have plans to bring Millie’s Beach Huts to Scotland and currently jumping through the many hoops that are associated with doing so. I’m also very close to a formal launch of our second business Millie’s Pet Services.
I know many of you reached out to me when I made that decision to move home as you could relate to wanting to benefit your hometown. I want to bring value to my hometown and local community by bringing new business ideas. In basic terms – tourism and money into my hometown.
And well, they had even sent a little email with a ‘badge’ that could be used on my own marketing material. Who doesn’t love a badge!!
Women Ahead Awards: Do they really celebrate women in business?
But in reality, it’s been disaster after disaster with the Women Ahead Awards.
Over the last two months, I’ve tried to put each issue aside and find a way to laugh it off. But deep down that ‘gut feeling’ that I’ve come to know and trust has been growing and growing.
I won’t put you through the tiresome ins and outs of the experience I’ve had as an applicant but there have been some big cringe moments:
#1 The Entry Process
I can’t remember how often the deadline was moved back. Partly because the website was never updated to say so and we’d only be informed after asking.
Through that time, I had emails requesting that I confirm where my business was and another nominee was told she couldn’t entry as she didn’t live or work in the Dundee and Angus area. Both of us were more than frustrated. My information is clearly on my website and also the other nominee didn’t get the same opportunity as I did to confirm her details before being told her application wouldn’t be accepted.
It was early days. People make mistakes (don’t get me started on my own typos. I’m sure you’ll find some in this blog alone!).
So, I laughed. Even when I received emails in another nominee’s name.
#2 Yay I’m a Finalist. Oh wait, Am I?
The first week that the interviews were due to be held, came and went. It wasn’t until the day before the interviews were due to be finished that I had a call saying that I was a finalist.
I asked how many were being interviewed for my category and informed there was four. I was also told that I was a finalist and that I should think about securing a ticket for the dinner.
YAY – I had a dress already and love getting dressed up – whoop!
Over the next few days, others also had phone calls but we were quickly starting doubting what we’d been told. Some had been told they were a finalist, some said that they had been told they’d been shortlisted.
Was there a diff? What did it mean? Should I bother getting the dress dry cleaned?
Between those of us that knew each other we asked for clarification and waited for a call back to confirm the interviews.
When it finally came, I was informed that I wasn’t a finalist, I was shortlisted. After the interview, there would be a final cut pre-the Awards dinner to name the finalists.
Confused – yes, I was too. But I assumed that I now had clarity.
Oh, and then there was the small matter of the local paper announcing one of the category winners. More miscommunication and I can understand how it happened.
Again, I laughed and tried to shake the ‘niggling’ feeling off.
#3 The Interview: Am I Bovvered?
I’m one of those strange people that love a good interview!
I’d been lucky to have interviewing training very early on in my career and am fascinated by people and what makes them tick. The training I had really pushed the importance of preparation in advance, asking lots of questions and really establishing someone’s ‘why’. You know, ‘why’ they did something a certain way and what others things they considered instead of the decision they end up taking. For those of you who are geeky like me check out the SOARA interview technique which I tend to follow.
That technique was reinforced through a course I’ve attended with Marcus Sheridan re World Class Communication. You can’t walk out of the course without understanding just how important questions are.
I’d been informed one of the judges owned a recruitment agency – the excitement levels increased (yeah …. as I said, I’m a geek!).
5 minutes into the interview and I was deflated. I had standard questions asked but when one interviewer asked me what dog boarding was, the alarm bells rang loud.
Hadn’t they taken any time to look at my website or the links I’d included in my application?
One of the interviewers came across rude and generally seemed to be on a mission to make me feel unwelcome.
I tried to make a joke that it’s not usual for someone to be running two diff businesses that are linked by one very energetic springer spaniel. I know I’m not known for being super funny and cool but to be told that they see all sorts in here and that I “wasn’t different” felt harsh. I’d confidently answered all their questions but I walked out with my tail between my legs for no real reason.
Maybe there were other things going on. Maybe it had been a long day for them or maybe they genuinely just thought I was rubbish 😉
Either way 1) I didn’t expect to then be named a finalist after the negativity I’d experienced and 2) I had to find a way to brush off the negative experience.
#4 Awards = Press and Exposure. Doesn’t it??
Given the previous confusing communication, I held off on pushing on social media in any big way. But as you know I love a bit of marketing and wanted to share the news with our guests who have supported me since starting.
I’ve been learning from the best through the Content Marketing Academy and if I’m honest, I knew that being a finalist would help with future plans for crowdfunding and launching the new business within the local area.
The email arrived confirming I was a finalist and I put my social media scheduling into practice and it got a great response. I couldn’t wait to see how the exposure and publicity from Women Ahead would also impact the business.
The awards page on the website remained unchanged. In fact, it was still asking for applications right up until yesterday.
There was the odd retweet on Twitter, particularly when Business Angus congratulated me on being a finalist but still no announcement or showcasing the finalists.
I was starting to struggle to find that humorous laugh that had gotten me through all the other mishaps.
#5 The Tipping Point
I assumed the drama was over and I could now enjoy being a finalist and celebrating with friends and family on the night.
But then I received another email. This time it listed all the finalists.
Argh. Those alarm bells again.
Firstly, there were mistakes in the email. There were small but if you’ve made it to this point in the blog then you’d understand why it just added fuel to the fire.
AND there were bigger issues with the content of the email:
- One of the individuals who interviewed me, a judge for my own category was listed not only as a sponsor but also a finalist in another category. Most awards run by other organisations specifically exclude any sponsor or judge from entering the awards for good reason. That same individual had quoted ‘ethics’ when not accepting LinkedIn requests from finalists until after the awards ceremony. Inconsistency or naivety? Was there something more underneath this re caring more about sponsorships?
- I also seemed to now be in a category with five finalists. Wasn’t there only four at the interview? Weren’t we due to be further reduced to fewer finalists? How did we become five when I had been explicitly told four?
- And wait…. one of those in my category seems to have been trading for more than three years. It seemed to be another instance in which there hadn’t been a quick check or any depth of questions during the interview stage. I and others had spotted it in less than a few minutes on their ‘about us’ page. Our category ruled out anyone who had been trading for more than three years at the time of the Awards ceremony. I immediately felt sorry for that business.
I couldn’t bite my tongue any longer and fired off an email to the Chair of Women Ahead.
A few days later it turned out that they were on holiday and I had a response from a previous chair and current Committee member:
I felt that I was between a rock and hard place.
It was clear that while the current situation was explained there wasn’t any recognition of the impact that it had and only served to confirm my concerns.
While I chose to sit on my response for a few days and avoid making a rash decision, I decided to not attend the Awards night.
As you can see from the email above, while it wasn’t stated anywhere on the website or in the application forms, Women Ahead stated that this means I’m no longer a finalist.
Yes I know, I was one, I wasn’t’, I was, I wasn’t!
As soon as I’d made the decision, I felt so much relief. No matter how much being an Awards Finalist is said to help generate PR and ultimately business for me. I couldn’t’ sit through an Awards dinner and pretend that it represented something of value.
There’s that black and white I talked about earlier.
I’ve spent so long working in a corporate world full of Awards and promotions and I realised that for once I was in control of this. I didn’t have to pretend or play politics. I could make a decision for me and my business and stand up for something that I believe in.
The Importance of Being a Role Model
You see I wasn’t just an accountant in my old job. As much as I like to say, “oh, yeah I’m an accountant”, I had been working at Chief Finance Officer and Deputy Finance Director levels at the point I chose to walk away from my career and pursue the magical world of entrepreneurship.
That previous corporate world was one filled with males, politics and inequality.
While the junior teams were up to 80% filled with females, the board meetings switched to being male dominated and I couldn’t help but get actively involved in diversity programmes and initiatives. Trying to find ways to mentor, support and encourage those who faced some of the same barriers as I had throughout my career was not just important to me, but something I felt I had to do.
I’m familiar with the research around women in business because of my previous work. While I understand some females don’t want to be positively discriminated, I believe they should and I believe in the research that shows we should positively discriminate.
We are not good at shouting about our ‘wins’, we do let others take credit for our work and ideas and we have a tendency to not think we are ready for the next step up.
Whether that be a job promotion in the corporate world, or having that confidence to apply for that much-needed funding or even applying for an Award.
You only need to take the unconscious bias test to show that no matter how little we think we discriminate, it’s built into us.
It had felt like a sign that my first award relating to me in my business rather than my previous success as Beach Hut of the Year finalists came from a membership organisation that celebrated women. So much so, that I reached out to the Chair to offer my support ongoing.
With all that in mind, how could I have made any other decision? With my own values centred around empowering women, it would have been two-faced to sit through an Awards ceremony, when I do not currently believe that the organisation is putting its Award nominees and finalists at the heart of what they do.
Why Speak Up now?
So, with less than a week to go before the Women Ahead Awards Dinner this Saturday, I find myself writing this both annoyed and upset for those who may feel they can’t speak up. I’m even more frustrated that their Facebook Page is still full of thanks to their sponsors, and it took another nominee to email them to ask when there would be publicity for them to start to share who are finalists.
But it looks sad. It’s literally a link to each finalist’s website.
No insight from the interviews that they’ve had. No mention of why they are a finalist or have been chosen. No real reason for anyone to click on that link.
No use of information gleaned from the application forms. Just how hard would it have been to really show they care about each finalist?
And still no targeted press coverage to support those individuals they say they are promoting.
How does of all that make those who are attending the awards feel?
Or do they feel that Women Ahead are more interested in sponsorship publicity for their members and selling tickets than they are in their Finalists?
Those who entered and those who are finalists deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and have the Awards live up to what the Women Ahead organisation states that they are. Those individuals tirelessly work their rear ends off and have taken the time out to endure a chaotic and unorganised process.
No matter how shambolic the process has come across. I know those women deserve to be recognised.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I can help do that. And it feels apt to both share my reasons behind stepping out of the Women Ahead Awards and launching a new weekly blog today on International Women’s Day.
For the next twelve weeks, I will be sharing a new weekly blog featuring 12 inspirational women. Call it my way of restoring a little balance in my black and white world.
I can’t wait to share them with you and celebrate what they do. As they say, strong women lift each other up and I hope to achieve a tiny bit of that over the next few weeks.
What Does it Matter to You?
Well if you are part of an organisation or a membership that runs Awards. Top tip. Don’t do the above.
Focus on your nominees, the finalists and then the winners from the start of the process right to the end. They are all valuable. If you celebrate them, they will repay you time and time again.
While I’ve seen other Awards make some of the mistakes above, I can guarantee if you nail it and get a reputation for caring, you’ll never worry about selling an Awards dinner ticket ever again.
Hey, I suspect you may have a few more entries and members too. I’ll personally be lining up to apply!
But if you are someone who has regular awards or recognition within your workplace or a small business who is entering awards, do your research and speak to past entrants pre-applying.
Don’t’ ever be afraid to say what you think or we’ll always be in this circular wheel of:
Awards are so badly run and don’t seem to care about the winners.
I can’t give them real feedback because I’ll never then win or be shortlisted
but they are so bad and I don’t actually value them
but I can’t say that or I won’t win.
For me, I had to step off that big wheel and boy do I feel good about it with my focus back on my business.
Yes, it’s one less accolade to quote to potential investors but I know with my hard work that I can offset that.
And well. As you know I have the most amazing customers, friends and family who will support me too. If you are reading this, that’s you!