Pollyanna is a coach, mentor, facilitator and speaker who works with leading organisations. Her purpose and passion is in helping individuals and teams to thrive, to create sustainable results aligned with their goals, and the goals and strategy of their organisation.
With a strong business background, Pollyanna understands results need to be realised and measured. At 24, she co-founded a specialist IT consultancy in London, which grew from humble beginnings to a permanent team of 18 with 100+ consultants and an annual turnover of £11 million. Today, Pollyanna’s focus is on building sustainable high performing teams, lifting employee engagement and developing people potential. Pollyanna’s structured approach delivers an uplift of 25% in team performance. She lives in Australia with her family.
School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?
Ella (15) and Niamh (13)
How do you describe what you do?
I believe that we all have the right to live a healthy and fulfilled life and we can’t do this if we load ourselves down in an endless cycle of doing everything ourselves. This drives the work I do.
How I do this is by working with individuals, groups and teams to build Self Leadership, develop the skills, capabilities and practices so that they are Leaders who Create Leaders, as opposed to Leaders who do everything themselves.
My three key areas of expertise are:
- Leadership Development
- Building Sustainable High Performing Teams
- Women and Success mentoring programs
While writing “Women & Success: Redefining what Matters Most at Home, at Work and at Play” you got up at 4.30am to write, what was your thinking behind this decision?
“Get it done”
Any task that is meaningful also comes with the routine of work to get done. This requires the setting of goals, backed up with clarity on what is needed to do. Then chunked down to specifics with locked in accountability was the only way to get it done. Working back from the ‘book printed in my hand’ date, we (my Editor and I) worked out the deliverables. Then it was simply delivering to this timeline.
I knew I had to get 7,000 words per week to my editor, 1,000 words a day. The editing times were locked in, as were all the other logistics of the book (cover, design, printing etc.) Whilst I’m a morning person, 4.30am is much earlier than I would usually choose. I had to be up before I had any chance of waking Niamh (our youngest), who would bounce out of bed with glee saying ‘yay homework club my mummy’. Which meant I would get nothing done, we would have some lovely early morning time together and then I’d have a grumpy and tired child and no words written.
What was the Women’s Success Survey, and what were your main findings?
When I sold my share of the company I had built I felt a deep void. To the outside world I looked successful, I had the usual external trappings of success and yet I felt adrift. My personal life had imploded, I made a values based decision to sell my shares, leave the job I loved and had been doing for 10 years, and sell my home with plans to return to Australia. It was a lot to manage, mixed in with the emotional load of a marriage ending.
I got intensely curious about how I felt; overwhelmed, and far from successful. I also got intensely curious about how other women felt about success. How did they define themselves through this lens?
The timing was great for this exploration, I had started my coach training with the Coaches Training Institute which enabled me to explore this deeper. I started having conversations with women in my life, and broader. My curiosity deepened with each conversation. The survey was a natural extension of this and the results were released in 2006.
Some survey highlights were:
- 91.3% of respondents said they felt successful
- Women considered multiple factors to be vital in achieving success for themselves and the organisation
- Women were overwhelmingly seeking rewarding work
- Work/life balance and job satisfaction were rated more highly as goals than financial reward
- 41% of women considered a flexible working environment to be one of the three key drivers of personal and organisational achievement
The key thing that stood out for me was that what women were wanting was inherently human needs, to give back, and to make a difference. It’s important to women to achieve this.
The difference is that as women we navigate a different terrain than men, we have to push through inequality and challenges that men do not have to. I look forward to a world where women don’t have to have specific strategies to manage and navigate these challenges. The energy and effort it takes to do so could be utilised so much more productively for women and the organisations that they work for. This contributes significantly to the amount of highly talented women who leave the corporate world to focus their careers in environments where they can add value and feel valued or by starting their own businesses. Organisations are missing out with this migration. Consumers are noticing and actively looking at the ratio of women in C-Suite positions as a factor of whether to invest or buy products.
In what ways are you on a crusade about gender equality?
By educating leaders and businesses of the biases that exist, the disadvantage they face by losing the talents of over half of the population. Organisations that embrace diversity in all forms perform better. Having a balanced workforce provides a stronger bottom line, creates more innovative solutions and enables both men and women to live a rich and fulfilled life.
How do you see women’s issues as distinct to human issues?
We have fallen into a spiral of belief around fundamentally human issues that are labelled as women’s issues. I’m frustrated with messages that are ingrained about women that flood our culture professionally and in the media. This often results in women and men behaving as if these beliefs are true. It’s time for fresh thinking on the topic of women work and leadership. It’s time we changed the landscape.
It’s time to move from Surviving to Thriving in our lives holistically. A shift in mind-set and checking in on the beliefs that we accept as true could be a valuable exercise to invest in.
When we allow human issues to be labelled as Women’s issues we devalue the contribution women make. Issues such as:
- Limiting Beliefs
- Self Sabotage
- Imposter Syndrome
- Invisible Syndrome
- Queen Bee – this is one of my personal favourites. This is a personality issue and a demonstration of poor leadership.
All of the above are human issues not women’s issues however research has typically focused on these very human issues as women’s deficits. And we have been buying into it! Think about the behaviours that result when we believe this to be true? Think about the behaviours towards women in Leadership roles when others believe this to be true?
What do you think about the ways women are positioned as problems to be fixed?
Fix solve and save is a trap that we can all fall into regardless of gender, again very human. In professional environments and in life we are trained to solve, therefore this is compounded. I have to breathe deeply when I observe the attitude or ‘fixing women’.
We need to Create Awareness from the three lens of:
Self: what’s my part in this?
Other: How do I educate others and share a new perspective?
Environment: How do we step into our Leadership and course correct when labelling and fixing occurs?
Seeing ourselves as ‘Creative, Resourceful and Whole’ a key coaching foundation is an important mantra to anchor to. If we are grounded here, the belief is that nothing is broken and nothing needs to be fixed. This is a healthier place to create from.
The language we use is also important. How to say it for Women written by Phyliss Mindell is an excellent resource for both women and men. In her book Mindell talks about the overuse of ‘I’ messages, and this is a simple strategy to use that has a significant impact.
How do we change the landscape of what is attributed to women’s issues and why?
It’s time to change the landscape is a phrase I use regularly in my work, and is the title of my keynote. The time is well overdue for us to disentangle what is attributed as ‘Women’s issues’. This will free up our thinking, focus our efforts with more clarity around the key issues that women face due to the inequality of our workplaces.
- Australia’s gender pay gap is rising not falling and currently sits at 18.8% according to the EOWA
- The British gender pay gap sits at 13.9%
- The projected dates around the globe of up to 170 years before the pay gap is closed. More needs to be done to bring this back to a more immediate timeframe.
- Information on global pay gaps can be found at The Global Gender Pay Gap Report
What’s your take on Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a very human issue, one that can be faced at different stages in life and career. It can be a mild intrusion on our lives and what we achieve can be the seeds of severe anxiety capping potential and negatively impacting both physical and mental health and wellbeing. Most of the research into imposter syndrome has been conducted with groups of women, typically in the age from 30+ that feeds the narrative that women are someone more disposed to this very human affliction.
Having coached both women and men across different sectors and life stages in the past 17 years, as many men as women encounter this as a barrier. Getting support, and having strategies to manage this and ourselves is important. It helps to distinguish imposter syndrome from fear, and the reality of the situation. It also normalises this resulting in the person feeling less isolated or feeling like there is something wrong with them.
You say “For every Queen Bee there’s a King Bruce” tell us about how this works.
Queen Bee is a narrative that has been embedded into our culture; the mean girl! It’s a set of behaviours attributed to women, which of course, is not exclusive to women. By feeding this narrative both unconsciously and consciously we create a bias, resulting in behaviours and outcomes that are not justified. It creates prejudice and limits potential.
What is the Invisible Syndrome?
Being seen and heard is a fundamental human need. Invisible syndrome is the definition that is attributed when people feel the impact of not feeling seen or heard. Research on invisible syndrome again can often be focused on women focusing on ageing women. The invisible women’s syndrome is often how it is phrased again feeding the narrative of value, youth and a limited view of beauty.
It is also focused on the elderly who can feel isolated and lonely. When people are feeling the impact of this it’s real for them, they are not contributing because they do not feel like their contributions are valued. Supporting people who are having this experience is incredibly important.
It’s a very human condition that we can also influence ourselves by how we conduct our lives. Borrowing from Stephen Covey’s circles of influence (a great tool), we can identify what’s out of our control, and what’s in our sphere of influence and in our control. This is a very valuable exercise to do and can create some momentum to moving forward.
What unity do you see between the genders?
I see both unity and a lack of unity between genders. Unity will come when we consciously design our lives so that together we have fulfilled and meaningful lives. This starts in our own relationships in how we model behaviours and educate our children or the young people we have influence with.
Alignment about how we want to live, how we want to be involved in our families lives whether this involves parenting our own children, or the children that are in our lives through relationship or extended family. Modelling this unity is a great place to start – “Be the change you want to see” by Ghandi is a powerful quote to live by.
How do we restore confidence in women and men?
By opening up authentic conversations and alignment through shared challenges and understanding the challenges we each face. It’s so easy to sit in the place of “no one gets my struggle” yet this puts blinkers on us and shuts down any effective dialogue.
Confidence is overrated, as is not feeling fear. Some of the best achievements,and biggest mountains conquered were done in a state of lack of confidence. It’s a bit like waiting for motivation before you exercise. No, just have your routine set, trainers and running gear ready to go, lock in accountability (run with a friend) and the motivation will come later.
I see confidence like this, if we wait to build confidence first we would never achieve anything. Create a structure, lock in accountability and invest in lifting your skills and capability. Then as the famous “philosopher” Kevin Costner said (in a Field of Dreams) ‘Build it and they will come’. Build the structure, get out there and do the thing you want to do or a part of it and confidence will come!
What are your thoughts on the need for women to use powerful language and gestures?
The wonder woman pose coined by Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy comes to mind and that’s a useful hack. Her TED talk is worth watching.
Michael a client I coached years ago was struggling to get a word in at senior leadership meetings he attended weekly. We worked with his posture, anchored some positive emotions to the gestures that began with him subtly adjusting his posture. It proved to be very effective. This was 15 years ago, and he still uses it when needed.
Powerful language that talks to the situation and removes the ‘I’ focus is very powerful. We can tend to overuse ‘I’ messages, I think, I feel, I believe are phrases that many communication experts recommend. The thing to be mindful of is that whilst this can serve well in personal relationships it can weaken language and impact in professional environments.
The most important foundation is to stay authentically to who you are because once we stray from who we are it all falls flat.
What’s your hunch about the percentage of high achieving women leaving corporate roles due to chronic fatigue?
This is an area where women are impacted more than men due to typically taking on more of the child rearing responsibilities and home duties than men. This creates a cycle of exhaustion, guilt and feeling of not doing anything ‘well enough’. A study from the university of Kansas (focusing on journalism) showed that women are burning out faster than men. This is something I witness in the work I do; unrealistic expectations, the additional stress of feeling that they need to work harder and prove themselves adds to this. Real work needs to be done shifting the cultures of organisations highlighting the bias that exists. Looking after ourselves, our wellbeing and setting firm boundaries is key. We can back ourselves and do a lot of self-care, however, we also need organisations that we work for to do the same.
What historic conditioning do you see mothers buying into still?
Historic conditioning is part of our DNA and the key is to catch it as it happens. Some conditioning includes:
- Be a good girl – the emphasis and identity centres on youth and beauty
- Nurturing roles as uniquely female trait; gentleness, quietness and disapproval that comes when this is not adhered to. There is a terrific video (watch it here) that shows how simple it is to break gender conditioning produced called Re Draw the balance that shows a teacher asking children to draw a fire fighter, a surgeon and other professional roles. Only 5 were drawn as women with 61 drawn as men. There is a beautiful moment when the camera focuses on one young girl with the look of wonder on her face.
How do you create space in your life?
- I focus on the basics of health and well-being, I prioritise sleep, eat well and exercise.
- I’m conscious of how to keep myself well and plan for this.
- I’m very clear about what I say Yes to and what I say No to. I use this as a simple formula, if I say Yes to X, what am I saying No to. If I say No to X what am I saying Yes to? This gives me room to breathe, and space to spend time with those I love. There are times when the balance tips, we all sprint at times, I sprinted to write my book. I had space planned at the end of this. It’s when there is no rest after the sprints that the alarm bells toll and if we don’t heed this we fall over.
You used to skydive, what are the links between this extreme sport and being an entrepreneur?
What a great question Danusia, I’ve never thought about this link before. For me skydiving was something I wanted to try, you know tick if off the list. I did my first jump and it scared the pants off me. I wanted to get beyond the sheer terror of it and get to a point where I could do a back flip out of the plane inspired by the Patrick Swayze film Point Break when he did just that. I wanted to be able to function when experiencing fear.
This theme spreads across significant milestones in my life – Moving out of home when I was 19, leaving for Asia/Europe when I was 21, launching myself into my first start-up when I was 24 and selling my share of this when I was 34.
As Susan Scott Jeffers eloquently expressed in her book title – Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, I felt the fear and did it anyway. The links on reflection are:
- I launched in without knowing the outcome
- Sought out mentors /teachers to help me
- Didn’t allow the opinions of others to stop me from chasing my goals
- Focus: when you skydive 100% focus is required. There was a saying in the sport, “if at first you don’t succeed skydiving is not for you”. When it comes to mistakes its an unforgiving sport. I had a laser like focus when I worked, some of this was due to the usual human conditions and reactions to not wanting to fail, with a bit of proving myself thrown in (I was often 10 years younger than my clients who were mostly male) and some of it was down to having clear goals that I was working towards.
- I was comfortable with uncertainty. Maybe a bit too comfortable! When I arrived in London after 9 months travelling around Europe via Asia, (I had cashed in my return ticket), I arrived in the UK with 40 pounds in my pocket. I didn’t know anyone and just got on with it. Within 24 hours I had a job, some new friends and created a life which ended up being 17 wonderful years in London, a fabulous city to grow in.
When I decided to sell my shares in the company I had helped to grow, I again had to jump into the abyss of the unknown. I dived into a change bomb removing all the security I had surrounded myself in, work and my Company which linked to my identity and the end of a marriage. It was a lot to move away from in one hit and again, none of it was easy. However I got through it. I have always held a belief that no matter what happens in my life I’d deal with it, this has been with me for as long as I can remember. I come from a long line of strong women.
How do you relate to the pressures on women to look younger than their age?
So many women feel under pressure to adhere to an image of youth, it’s a tough one to unpack in a short conversation. It feels like it’s getting worse and starting younger than I remember, or is this just because I’m older and I notice it more. The choices we make as a result of these pressures are up to us and us alone. Whether or not we buy into it is not always easy when the norm is a culture of look younger.
One of my female clients (works at senior C –Suite level) talked about the pressure she felt and the link to career success or not. She remarked ‘you don’t see many grey haired women here’ referring to the pressure she felt there was to look younger (colouring her hair, botox etc.). I make choices for my life based on what’s right for me from a holistic point of view. I think its important for all women to make choices based on what is best for them, and this won’t be the same for all women.
What would you like to see happen in the next five years in the diversity and inclusion space?
I would like to see more tolerance and understanding of how others choose to live and express their lives. I want to see the gender inequality addressed and the pay gap to be as extinct as dinosaurs. To see this a lot earlier than the projected and accepted timeframes of 2058 which will mean that most women working today will not experience equality in pay.
What’s next for you professionally?
I love the work I do and feel incredibly privileged to be in this industry where I feel I can make a difference. I will continue to invest in my learning and development, push the boundaries of what I feel is possible and leap into the unknown.
I am excited that I don’t really know what that means. I do know that it will stretch me, challenge me and have me grow. This is something I see myself doing for as long as possible. What that will be called, or look like, I’m not sure – which is the best part.
And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children).
We have the choice of growing into our lives (beyond and during child rearing years) or the choice of losing ourselves.
Women are having diverse experiences beyond children, some feel lost and without purpose, some feel free to pursue their lives in a way they may not have felt possible before, and others continue to live and grow throughout the journey and cycle of motherhood.
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