Voices

“Always run towards the idea of being seen as a bit difficult”

Jess Phillips MP on why challenge is an important part of any system and the importance of not confusing challenge with negativity.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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“Women should never run away from the idea of wanting power. We should always try to seek power and sometimes that means you need to challenge yourself.”

Speaking at Bloomfest today Jess Phillips MP opened up on the power of challenging existing systems, speaking your mind and openly seeking power. In an ecosystem that encourages women to shrink themselves to fit in and be liked, Phillips urged the audience to remember that nothing changes without challenge.

Phillips encouraged the audience to get comfortable with challenging the status quo. She explained: “Challenge is an important part of any system, in reality, it will make us better. It's a patriarchal system that does this to women and makes you feel awkward for challenging.”

She noted that if your intention is always focused on the outcome and is clearly about making something better, be it a place, product or system, you need to challenge. 

Always run towards the idea of being seen as a bit difficult and towards the idea of power. I want power and that's OK. More women should say they want power because nothing will change from maternity discrimination to violence against women, unless women have power.

Jess Phillips MP

The power of friction

Phillips shared her view that it can be very hard for women to feel they have the space to speak their minds, She explains: “It's very hard to see that challenging won't make you be seen as difficult.”

But, this endeavour, she explained, is the grit in the Oyster, as it's challenging that forces other people to think differently and ultimately, opens the door to creating change. 

She added: “Always run towards the idea of being seen as a bit difficult and towards the idea of power. I want power and that's OK. More women should say they want power because nothing will change from maternity discrimination to violence against women, unless women have power.”

Phillips shared her view that power is the only way to improve things for women and there is nothing wrong with wanting it. Yet, she noted that this drive for power shouldn’t simply be for its own sake, but to drive a specific outcome or change. 

I cannot achieve anything without challenging the system and without some people not liking what I say and do.

Jess Phillips MP

The power of allyship

Sharing her own experience, Phillips said that people often find it easier to advocate for others, rather than for themselves. With this in mind, she reminded the audience not to always try to do things on their own, pointing to the power of allyship. 

On a practical level, this allyship can come to life in the workplace. Noting how politicians lobby and gain support before speaking in the Commons, she underlined the importance of speaking to others and taking confidence from their support. 

Building resilience on a personal level if things don’t go your way was also cited as key to success. As Phillips explained: “Don’t be deeply offended if people don't agree with you.”

Rather than being something to actively avoid, Phillips identified friction as key to progress. She explained: “The friction in a system makes it move and you can’t move without friction.”

Opening up on the challenges that come hand in hand with creating change, Philips shared that the idea that attempting to do any job with drive and purpose will make you liked is fundamentally flawed. As she explained: “I cannot achieve anything without challenging the system and without some people not liking what I say and do.” 

In a wide-ranging conversation with Nana Opoku, Phillips also touched on the way in which women’s labour is undervalued in public life and the workplace. She urged the audience not to be ‘grateful’ for providing a better service at a cheaper cost. 

Making change

The power of stepping up and being focused on outcomes was also a key theme of Phillips discussion. “If there is a gap and something isn’t being provided, no white knight is going to provide it,” she explained. Sharing her belief that if you want to change something or create something you have to be proactive about doing it, lobbying for it and creating it. 

Sharing her own career journey Phillips spoke of her experience of working for Women’s Aid and attending meetings with those in power and seeing first hand how they ‘did not know what they were doing’. 

The contrast between these leaders who ‘frequently said stupid things and regularly misunderstood the problems’ stood in stark contrast with the numerous barriers Phillips had to jump through when she entered Parliament, barriers that she shared were designed to show her that she was ‘somehow lesser’.

Through the lens of this experience, she urged the audience to own their power. Explaining:  “We often feel like we are not entitled to be in a space or to make statements or comments about things we are experts in.”

The reset moment

Phillips comments come in the midst of a challenging time for the industry. Opening the BloomFest event Lucy Cutter, President of Bloom, shared how women had been impacted by the Coronavirus crisis. According to Cutter, research shows that 42% of women feel burnt out and are disproportionately carrying the emotional load in the workplace. Cutter pointed to the fact that 2021 perhaps hasn’t delivered the reset moment many were hoping for. 

All profits from Bloomfest, which takes place today, are going to Women’s Aid. Speaking at BloomFest today Farah Nazeer, CEO of Women’s Aid, shared how Bloom support has made a huge difference to the organisation 

She explained: “The past 18 months has shown us why the work of Women’s Aid is so vital. The pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence. Our survivor survey showed the impact of the ‘perfect storm’ of Covid, with survivors and their children not being able to leave their households.”

To donate to Women’s Aid click here.

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