Inspiration and Action, All in the Same Boat

4 September 2019

The best type of change comes from within. To affect your environment, you have to first make changes to how you interact with it. Last night we went on a journey of inspiration and practical action, and everything (else) in between. 

HBA Zurich-Zug was proud to partner with Alexion Pharmaceuticals to hold an amazing motivational event last night. Both parties were honored to have Debra Searle MVO, MBE deliver an extremely emotionally charged and stimulating talk about her personal experience. She led the room of nearly 100 people through the power of tenacity, inner strength and real-life application on overcoming gender bias.

The evening started on an inspirational note. The vice president of the HBA Zurich-Zug, Nicole Formica-Schiller walked the audience through the chapter’s mission of creating future gender parity leaders through a board that is international, experienced and diverse. The chapter, she explained, is currently organizing different events such as this, as well as other programs to help members in their professional progression. One key event that she highlighted was the European Leadership Summit that will take place in Paris on 7 and 8 October, focusing on the topic of gender parity in action.

This spirit of inspiration was further enhanced by Camilla Hartvig, head of international, Alexion. The company story that Camilla told should be a benchmark for corporate gender inclusiveness. They have broken the convention with a top-down approach -  with five women in a nine-member leadership team, a female as head of international, 62% of key countries in international are led by women and the numbers kept rolling in on gender positivity. There is no doubt that Alexion is one of the leaders in furthering the advancement and impact of women in the business of healthcare. 

The evening peaked with the introduction of Debra. Immediately, she gripped the audience with her story of rowing across the Atlantic on her own. Wave after wave of adversity washed over her attempt, starting with her then-husband, who was the more experienced rower among the two, falling ill at the very early stages of the passage. She was left with no partner but found true grit within herself. She battled hurricanes that both propelled her forwards and also dragged her further from her destination. She faced her own thoughts that sought to sabotage her from within. At the same time, she found beauty and inspiration through the amazing marine life that accompanied her below and beside her craft.

One key theme that surfaced from Debra’s story was how shifting one’s reaction to an adverse environment can be a propellant. She explained that by defining a ‘future truth’, one will be able to really focus on how to get to the finish line. While battling through fear of container ships unknowingly ramming her and whales overturning her boat, she played out in her head the emotions, feelings, sounds and even smells of the finishing line. This helped drive her determination to finish the course.

Debra then applied this to unconscious gender bias. She faced pre-race remarks from other team members’ WAGS (wives and girlfriends) assuming that she was going to perform the cooking while her husband rowed. At her first drinks as board member of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, her outstretched arm searched for a handshake but received an empty glass instead - someone assuming she was a member of the waitstaff. 

Her point was that we all can be numb to unconscious bias. By being silent is simply accepting the convention. She called for the need to bring this to the forefront. Just like her rowing story, choosing our attitude is key to changing our situation within the environment, because it is the one thing that we have a choice about. To this end, she provided some strategies to speak up and speak out, factually, and not through emotion.

Debra’s great flair in storytelling and sharing real-life mechanisms of change steered the room through peaks of laughter and troughs of sadness. There were wet eyes and there were thumping hearts. There were nodding heads and there were smiling faces. Sometimes all at the same time.

The overwhelming feeling of the audience post-event was one of elation. Everyone felt great that a story well told was not only that. The lessons were relevant to their daily lives. Some felt that this was the best event that they have been to. Whatever the feeling may be, the combination of Alexion, Debra and the HBA, leaves all of us with great optimism that we are all rowing the right direction towards realizing the full potential of the female talent. 
 

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