Along with an internal Learning and Skills programme, IOSH also encourages peer-to-peer learning. A month of inspiring sessions delivered by female colleagues across IOSH showed how women are challenging stereotypes in the world of leadership.


In June 2018, female members of staff from across IOSH were invited to the prestigious Young Women in Business conference in London organised by Management Today.

While the event was for ambitious young women, it focused on issues that can affect everyone at work: how to conquer our inner demons; how to build confidence; how to sharpen our business skills; and how to make the significant leap from manager to leader. This planted a seed of inspiration that quickly took root among the attendees, who returned to IOSH with an exciting range of ideas to feed back into the business and a list of valuable skills to share with colleagues.

Pictured: (left to right) Suzie Dawes, Laura Miles, Kirsty Dickens, Bev Messinger, Gisela Derrick, Emma Carter, Lorna Skinner. Not pictured: Victoria Cook, Hayley King, Tina Lee, who helped develop and facilitate the event. 

The group worked together to develop relatable and inclusive career-enhancing sessions to be delivered throughout March 2019. Fittingly branded as ‘Preparing for Leadership Month’, the sessions drew inspiration from those delivered at the Young Women in Business conference but took on a life of their own when combined with the individual experiences of the members of staff who delivered them.

Laura Miles, Governance Team Leader at IOSH and one of the session hosts, says,

“It is important businesses empower their employees to speak about their experiences and provide a platform to do so.

“This not only helps the individual build on their self-confidence and develop their skills, but also allows other employees to connect their own experiences and feelings on a personal level – and hopefully in turn helps them recognise areas of development.”

Creating a shared experience to ensure colleagues across the whole business were informed of the learning outcomes of the conference was among the top priorities.

The sessions were created to give a platform to the direct experiences of IOSH colleagues, taking attendees through their own personal career journeys.

“It’s important to realise not every career has a linear path.

“The vital thing is to draw out your strengths and feel empowered to recognise the things holding you back. By identifying these limitations, you can work to overcome them,”

says Emma Carter, Manager – TPMO, who spoke on the topic of non-linear careers.

Attended by male and female colleagues alike, the sessions struck a mutual chord among IOSH staff, who found the themes useful and thought-provoking. Equally provoking were some of the titles for the talks, which covered a range of topics, from navigating ‘squiggly careers’ – where an employee’s career journey may cover multiple disciplines and directions rather than moving in a clear upward trajectory – to ‘This is a Man’s World (not)’, which explored how to challenge stereotypes around women, age and maternity.

“The session was interactive and empowered women to speak about their workplace experiences,”

says facilitator Gisela Derrick, Global Engagement Advisor.

“The talk touched on issues, such as finding positive role models and having a healthy work-life balance. It was great to hear stories of our shared their experiences and viewpoints on being a woman in the workplace.”

Another session that drew a significant crowd covered the topic of ‘imposter syndrome’, articulating how to confront your inner gremlins and overcome self-doubt. Kirsty Dickens, Professional Development Manager, who delivered the session says,

“Inner gremlins sit on your shoulder shouting unpleasant and discouraging opinions into your ear. This can leave you feeling like a fraud, a failure and simply not good enough to do your job. It’s important to understand that everyone experiences imposter syndrome at some point in their career, and there are a number of positive ways you can boost your self-esteem and flick that negative gremlin off your shoulder.

“Sessions like these break down the barriers for the next generation of leaders and help us to self-reflect and put personal action plans in place.”

Victoria Cook, Category Manager, followed with a workshop covering the ‘ten commandments’ of climbing the career ladder. These valuable tips for reaching new career heights engaged a packed room of staff, who found the advice useful and practical.

“The sessions offered insights into the individual experiences of colleagues around the Institution, each of whom has had a very different career trajectory and has overcome their own unique challenges,”

says Alex Phillimore, Communications Officer.

“It’s really enlightening when staff within an organisation have the opportunity to speak to one another and share their thoughts, their strengths and, at times, their weaknesses. I found the sessions to be useful, not only for reflecting on my own professional development and personal gremlins, but also understanding how my peers have achieved highly through hard work and dedication and how I can learn from their example.”

Bev Messinger, IOSH’s Chief Executive, rounded off Preparing for Leadership Month with an open and honest session around her own career journey. Interviewed by Suzie Dawes, People Business Partner, Bev revealed her own experiences in relation to the different sessions. Audiences were captivated hearing that Bev had experienced imposter syndrome and her motivations to succeed as a woman in business. Undeterred, Bev rose through the ranks to achieve her current role, and now gives back to others by offering mentoring and coaching outside of work to young professionals with big aspirations.

The speakers hope to use the momentum from the month to encourage others to share their experiences and exchange knowledge and expertise. There are already talks about running a similar event in 2020.

“When an organisation takes the time to give its staff a platform to share in productive discussions, it helps everyone feel valued and shows their voice is being heard,”

says Bev.

“I believe everyone has potential inside them and nothing gives me greater satisfaction than supporting people to achieve it. If you are ambitious and set your sights high, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.”


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