I have been relatively quiet on this blog lately. Work has been taken over by a huge flurry of activity. It’s a busy time for ICVA and for detention as a whole. So, my apologies for the silence, Team ICVA has been working hard in the absence of blogs. Our ICVs, too, have been making huge efforts, notably conducting visits to detainees arrested under terrorism legislation and we are grateful for your work. Thank you to these ICVs reading the blog.

Whenever work gets to be this busy, I am reminded of the quite cheesy, but solid advice from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I paraphrase and am limited by my memory, so forgive me. However it contains a story that goes like this:

I was out walking in the woods and bumped into a woodcutter. The woodcutter was cutting down trees, working hard and doing well. However, as time went by, their saw became dull. I asked them why they weren’t taking a break to sharpen their saw. The woodcutter replied that they were far too busy cutting down trees to do so.

The point, here, is that we can often get some consumed in our work that we forget to look after and develop ourselves.  We would be more productive and would find work easier if we did.  This is particularly pertinent at the moment as we see police officer rest days cancelled and services working incredibly hard to respond to tragic recent events. I am privileged to be able to take a step back for a personal development day tomorrow. I am also rather daft as I need to drive to Dorset, and did not realise that I would be passing Stonehenge on the solstice. So, I wanted to blog as I pass some time waiting for the traffic to calm down and to share some recent thoughts and work.

I have been thinking about issues of equality a great deal of late. This has instigated by a number of things that will require their own blogs and cover a range of topics. Today’s blog has been inspired by an invitation to speak at a Springboard Women’s Development Programme tomorrow. I will talk through my life, experience and tips, which has got me thinking a lot about gender equality in the workplace and what I can do to help progress it. This is what I will discuss now.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am a proud feminist. I was out with a friend on Sunday who used a bit of a slur that suggested that, of everyone he knew, I was the most focused on gender equality. He obviously has a very different crowd to me. However, he is right, promoting equal rights and a level playing field in regard to gender is a big passion and value of mine.

I have been fortunate that, over my career, I have had some brilliant cheerleaders. Within the past few months, I have attended confidence building training run by two amazing women – Stella Creasy and Deborah Frances-White. In additional to corporate training, Deborah Frances-White is a stand up comedian and creator and host of ‘The Guilty Feminist’ podcast. Stella Creasy is an MP. Both took to their stages to remind us that we need to give support and help to others. I completely agree and am lucky to use this blog and Springboard to do so.

I considered the various pieces of advice that I have picked up over the years and how they applied to my own life experience as well as how they may be able to help others. One clear theme stuck out to me, which is ‘listen to your friends’. My friends have delivered the perfect advice or encouragement more times than I can count. So, I decided to be very millennial and crowd source some advice. I approached some of the best women I know and asked them for their career and life advice. What I received back was something quite beautiful with some clear themes that will benefit everyone:

  1. Be proactive and brave, don’t wait to be asked, give things a try.

How true is this? I had a wonderful boss once who completely dropped me in the deep end at work by agreeing to take on a high profile and important project before going off on holiday and leaving me to get on with it. This experience taught me that I could achieve so much more than I had realised. I have been proactive and shown brassneck a lot since then. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but to me, that’s the point of life. People don’t blossom until they take risks, put themselves out on a limb or raise their voice. Give it a try, you may well surprise yourself.

  1. Be yourself, do the things that you love and believe in yourself.

This is essential advice if you want to be proactive. Life will also bring challenges; there will always be days where you’d rather not get out of bed. If you spend your life doing things that you believe in and want to achieve then they will be worth getting out of bed for. We all have different styles and ways of working – embrace your own, trust yourself, make your life worthwhile.

  1. Have a mentor

My goodness, this is great advice. A mentor that you trust, value and aspire to be like is more than worth its weight in gold. Mentors give you a sounding board to talk through problems, a sense of perspective; they are a source of confidence and teach you to aim higher. At this point, I will give a shout out to my mentors, past and present: Abeeda Khan, Jane Harwood, Liz Terry and Polly Neate. You have all been amazing and shaped both my life and career.

  1. Be kind

There are many different models of leadership. The one that my respondents obviously value the most are the kind leaders. Deborah Frances-White describes these leaders as ones who include you, who share their status with you, who talk about the ‘we’ not the ‘I’ and encourage you to develop and grow. I echo this – we must all know a manager who has listened to our opinions, supported us in times of trouble, enabled us to grow. These are the leaders that we, in turn, will be there for in times of their own crises. This is what I aspire to be and this is also what I am lucky enough to have experienced through most of my career.

  1. Work hard

An obvious and unavoidable one. Ultimately, development necessarily requires new work. One morning I sat with my children watching a film after a long week of work combined with the (admittedly wonderful) juggling act of being a parent. A line in Kung Fu Panda said: “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be better than what you are.” Sitting there, thinking about how much I had learned through the early years of parenting with a full-on job, I thought ‘yes’ – through hard work, I now do things on a daily basis that would have completely overwhelmed me a few years ago. Work hard, keep going, you’ll get better and better.

  1. Surround yourself with supportive friends, listen to your friends, support them in return.

Finally, this is my favourite one. In the context of Springboard, this means surrounding yourself with supportive female friends, but it can apply way beyond that. I benefit from the best network of amazing, ambitious, creative, caring women. They are one of the most valuable things about my life and my career. We cheer each other on, build on each other’s ideas, provide a shoulder to cry on when needed. There is nothing quite like the joy of cheering on a dear friend and watching them succeed. There is nothing quite like accomplishing a goal and seeing your squad beam with pride.

It is a hugely busy time for those working in policing. It’s important that we all take time to take a breath, think about what is important before getting back to work. I’m very much looking forward to spending time with Dorset Police and Springboard tomorrow and talking about this in more depth.