Simone Roche and the power of bringing people together to spark change
What’s so disruptive about the idea of holding an awards ceremony?
Posh frocks, a guest list of the great and good, the painted-on smiles of a disappointed majority. Where the Oscars led, everyone else followed. And the rules of engagement were set, as if in stone. Except that wasn’t how it felt at the Northern Power Women Awards earlier this month in Manchester. Simone Roche, all-round firecracker, ultimate powerhouse and founder of the Northern Power Women movement created something very different.
I walked in feeling sceptical, waiting for the catch. I came out feeling inspired and humble in the face of an assembled mass of talent, drive and can-do attitude thick enough to grab at.
Liverpool's youngest retailer isn't called John
To my left Angel Thomas, owner of www.pawabella.com clothier to dogs of the rich and famous. Paris Hilton and Kelly Hoppen follow her on Twitter. The Guardian is planning an interview. At 13, Angel already has 3 years experience as a fashion retailer. She wants to become a vet and an architect. This wasn’t your standard ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ conversation.
To my right Marlou Hermsen. General Manager of www.worldmerit.org - a genius scheme that incentivises people to volunteer. Marlou is an old hand at running a global organisation at 28. See what I mean?
Grace Dyke at Yellow Jigsaw CIC didn’t like the fact there were so few female faces in top jobs. So she created the #Imnotjohn campaign to inspire women, after Guardian research showed there are more FTSE100 chief executives and chairmen called John than there are women in those posts. www.yellowjigsaw.co.uk/imnotjohn As of last Thursday, that campaign won her the recognition it deserved. But more importantly, inspired a room full of people to learn from her idea and do something to change what isn’t right.
Max Spielmann didn’t win the Large Business Award category, despite its long-standing programme of training and recruitment in women’s prisons.
Northern Rail beat them to it, because they could demonstrate a cultural norm where treating people equally, is expected.
#NPW Awards celebrated the efforts of people from start-ups and school kids to CEOs, across every possible age group. The focus was ‘our’ agenda, not ‘my’ agenda. The inherent ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality that has us scrabbling over each other to get to the top was put aside for a while. ‘We’ can. Not I can. Men celebrated as well as women, for championing a common cause. Because a rising tide lifts all boats.
But it wasn’t just about who was at the awards. It was about how the event was designed, with people at the centre, not business agendas. Details were carried out in a certain way, because it was the right thing to do. Not because that’s how it has always been done.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. And what Simone managed to do was deceptively simple. In re-imagining the entire awards process – from nomination through to goodbyes and goodie bags, she created an event around the principle of doing right by people. On the face of it, there was an awards dinner. But actually what Simone achieved was to get the right people in the room. Then she got them talking, and let the magic happen.
The rest is up to us.
The Northern Powerhouse won’t be built if we wait around for someone to help. The business culture we create in the North will be similarly of our own making. So head over to www.northernpowerwomen.com and check out the videos that tell each story of success. Sign up as a volunteer mentor, or mentee. Don’t just watch this space. ‘Make’ this space.
As Simone so rightly says, it’s time to change the question from ‘who will let me’ to ‘who’s going to stop me?’