That huge elephant sitting in the middle of the room, getting
in everyone’s way, but no one dares to ask it to move.
Well on International Women’s Day we woke it up!
I will start my story from the beginning of that day.
We arrived just before 7am at The Holiday Inn North Norwich to set up the HER Business, Body and Life Conference 2019, and had to paddle into the venue due to someone leaving a tap on the night before!
But no dramas, as this is the kind of thing you have to face when being part of the crazy world that is events management, plus with a few of my speakers and masterclasses cancelling in the week leading up to the day, we were already way past plan B!
We set up as planned and we’re ready just after 8:30am to open the doors, while Claire Barker’s One Voice Glee Club choir sung uplifting songs to start the celebrations.
I opened this years’ HER Conference around 9:30am, with my speech all about trees, which started with showing the near 100 attendees a few wobbly lines and asking what they each were – and of course they represented the typical life of a woman; the peaks being when we are feeling high on life, motivated, empowered, with high energy in the belief that we can and will achieve anything in life; and the troughs being the low energy and negative emotional points when we feel that we are not good enough, where no matter what we do we just don’t get it right, and sometimes the whole world feels on our shoulders.
I went on to share that if we change each one of these peaks and troughs into trees, where the roots symbolise keeping us grounded, nurtured and real (our solid foundations), the trunks symbolise keeping us strong, upright and growing (our flowing journey), and the branches and leaves symbolise keeping us flourishing, blossoming and free (our passionate spirit). Thus, without the roots (the troughs), we don’t have the trunk (the journey), and thus we don’t have the branches and leaves (the peaks), therefore we need the low times as part of our journeys to appreciate and encourage the high times.
Trees also had an alternative meaning in my talk, and I demonstrated this by embarrassing some of my closest friends and supporters – the trees in my forest of life – who surround me, stand by me, are strong for me, support me, keep me grounded and are there whether I am low in one of those troughs, or high on one of those peaks.
Encouraging and developing these sorts of relationships between women (especially in business) is exactly what HER Business Revolution is all about and I explained that with substantial growth of both our online and offline activities, we will continue to connect, support, educate and empower women in business into the future (with the support of our lovely Franchises) to grow our network throughout the UK and beyond.
Next on stage, the wonderful Oa Hackett (founder of Littlelifts) dazzled the audience with her story of not only how she overcame breast cancer and treatment, but how she created the charity that supports and gives sparkles of hope to breast cancer sufferers going through their own cancer and treatment journey.
Littlelifts also brought 30 of their boxes to the event, and throughout the day the attendees personally packed each of them, which will be passed on to the cancer wards at the charity’s partner hospitals, to be given to their patients at their diagnosis appointments.
The morning was light and utterly uplifting up until that point in the morning, but then walked in the massive elephant, which sat right in the middle of the Lancaster Suite Ballroom at the Holiday Inn.
Marilyn Hawes, founder of Freedom from Abuse, walked onto the stage and delivered her raw and straight-to-the-point speech about the realities of child sex abuse. From her own experience of her children being sexually abused by an ex-friend and colleague of a school she worked in, Marilyn used this as fuel to set up her cause to raise awareness of child grooming and sex abuse, and shared the facts that this kind of abuse is usually conducted by someone the child or parent knows well, and is also closely connected to other crimes, such as knife crime and drug dealing.
She also went on to say that abusers grow up to become Teachers, Doctors, and in other positions of trust and power – not the other way around – with the agenda being to cause abuse in those positions.
Knowing Marilyn well, I know that the only thing she cares about is the children, and helping prevent such abuse, as well as ensuring that the abusers get justice for their crimes. However, the subject is extremely raw and truthful, and is unable to be delivered with rainbows, cupcakes, and wrapped in ribbons, so a realistic approach is the only way to air the subject matter.
Due to this very few women on the day found the content distressing, even though this had been clearly advertised on the HER Conference website on the run up to the event, alongside a video of when Marilyn was aired on Loose Women talking all about the issues.
On the day one attendee said that the swearing and inappropriate content was not appropriate for the young ears in the audience, however no explicit or in-depth content about sexual abuse was discussed, and if anything this talk gave everyone in the audience education to recognise the signs of abuse and ways to speak about it – therefore surely this is a good thing at providing this training, thus working towards preventing or stopping such abuse? Furthermore, surely the parents of the young girls who attended the event had been given all of the event details and consented for their children to attend, thus preventing no issues of safeguarding?
Following the event, I have received numerous pieces of feedback thanking me for providing a platform for this type of content to be aired, with a few parents saying that this helped them to start conversations about abuse with their children, and educate them on signs to look out for, and others saying that this opened their eyes to the fact that this issue goes on everywhere – even somewhere we feel is a safe place to live, like Norfolk.
Amongst the positive feedback I have however received one complaint and one other piece of negative (but at the same time constructive) feedback, with has led me to ask the question to whether this was the right platform for this content to be shared, so I put my hands up to say that a talk about childhood sexual abuse isn’t to everyone’s cup of tea!
That said, it was always openly advertised throughout the event promotion, and thus I find it hard to apologise for allowing someone to talk honestly and openly about a serious issue that affects (and/or could affect) our own children.
After the day, Marilyn responded to the small amount of negative feedback from her speechsaying…
“All the attendees had to do was look at the website and they would have seen what we do, and in my opinion denial of child abuse is a danger to children – We need to shoot the elephant in the room”
As an event organiser, it is very difficult to please everyone who attends each event with the content included. Equally it is impossible to individually vet every speaker down to each word they plan to say. Therefore, I do stand by my decision to use HER Business, Body and Life Conference as a platform for this type of truth to be heard, and people to be educated about what is going on in the world.
If this talk helps at least one parent talk to their child about abuse, or helps to uncover one single situation of abuse, then I am pleased that I was in some way part of that; and I am proud that Freedom from Abuse are HER Business Revolution’s charity of the year, so we can support them more with their worthwhile mission to prevent child abuse.
The afternoon at the HER Conference presented less controversy, with various empowering talks and stand demos, with the attendees enjoying free flowing networking and the young women connecting and learning from the stand holders and other attendees.
All in all, the #HERConfNorfolk2019 was a tremendous event, which many found both educational and inspiring, and despite the controversial subject matter and the flood at the start of the day, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with over 87% saying that they will attend again in March 2020!
I am honoured to have been involved in helping to wake up that huge elephant, and I will always remain unapologetically true to myself by exposing these elephants in the room, and supporting those who are trying relentlessly to shoot them.
All conference speeches, including the one given by Marilyn Hawes, can be found within the HER Business Revolution Superwomen Membership Club, accessed at www.herbusinessrevolution.biz/superwomen-membership-club
Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s HER Conference happen, including all the speakers, masterclass hosts, stand holder demoists, and stand holders; and especially to all of our sponsors…
Headline Sponsor – Trusted Law / Venue Sponsor – Sharon Banham at The Happiness Club / Food and Refreshment Sponsor – Norfolk Mums / Registration Table Sponsor – The Parent and Baby Show / Business Speaker – Glow Virtual Assistants / Body Speaker – Denise Bretton and Wendy Gunton at Forever Living / Life Speaker (Keynote) – Muddy Stilettos Norfolk / Business Zone – Lioness / Body Zone – Adrenalize / Life Zone – Thrive: Yoga Biz Academy