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TGt Meets...Caroline Esterson, Director & Chief Creative Officer of Genius Learning - IWD Special

By Caroline Esterson who is director and chief creative officer of Genius Learning based in Liverpool and working with clients across the globe. Caroline and her team provide learning solutions that help people better understand themselves and others – after all results revolve around relationships!

What do you #choosetochallenge? 

I see inequality everywhere, sadly still. Whether it is ageism (young and older), race, gender, sexuality and frankly just plain old bullying. Where this is in front of me I will always stand up and challenge it. 

However instead of focusing on what we want to stop I’d rather refocus people on what we want things to be like. I believe that life and business is richer and more exciting when it is shared with people who are different to you. 

I believe that great things happen when different people are shaping ideas together. That is why I’m focusing on helping people value difference and reframe friction so they find a way to handle it with respect and compassion. In doing so, they allow the spark for brilliant new ideas to ignite.

Thinking of your own experience in the world of business – which inequalities, if any, have you experienced personally or witnessed around gender? 

I was once told by my manager: “I’ve had stiletto heels between the shoulders blades before. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now”. 

I was 24 and horrified that from my perspective I was trying to improve things by sharing ideas and he saw it as a personal affront on his masculinity. 

I work with someone who is British Asian and throughout her career regularly experiences racism - so subtle that these people would be horrified to think they’ve been racist but their actions have an impact. This subtle bias is significant and needs to be challenged.

Have you during your career ever challenged a situation where you felt a woman (even it’s yourself) has been disadvantaged by gender? 

Yes and I received no support from the HR department at all. I was told I was being silly. So I spoke to my director who I had previously worked for and knew me well. 

The following day he gave me a tiny dictaphone to have in my pocket so I could record the conversations and urged me to save any emails that showed the discrimination. That small act of kindness gave me the confidence I needed to continue to perform – just knowing he was on my side was invaluable.

What do you think women offer in particular to the world of business? 

I think women have a more natural ability to think through consequences of action more from a people perspective which can strengthen a chosen course of action. 

I also think that many women I have met in work are less siloed in their mentality which means they can more easily put themselves in other’s shoes.  

Also I don’t think any one person has all the answers. In today’s chaotic world of work it takes many different angles to provide a robust solution. We need people with all sorts of backgrounds and experiences to work together to shape the world positively for the next generation.

What do you think men offer in particular to the world of business?

Many men I’ve met compartmentalise brilliantly. They don’t allow feelings to get in the way which often means they can commit more easily to a chosen course of action and see it through.

Is gender important when it comes to success in business? 

It shouldn’t be and the more quickly we realise we need diversity the more quickly we will recover from the pandemic.

Can you name any women you admire? 

Margaret Beckett. I know she’s a politician but as an elder stateswoman who built her career in a very male dominated world she has wonderful lessons to teach about how to exercise judgement and her intuition to get great results.

Sarah Hunter. She started her career in the Royal Air Force and has gone on to be a incredible mum whilst navigating a career as a consultant. She exudes confidence and brings with her a elegant mix of creativity and rigour.

Sonia Allen. Sonia left home at a young age and put herself through college to eventually get a Masters. She rose through the ranks of the education professional before sadly getting a serious cancer diagnosis. During treatment she was made redundant but this didn’t stop her. She has trained teachers in the UK, South Africa and Sri Lanka and her insatiable zest for life lead her to become a personal trainer who deals with the whole body whilst still consulting on education projects.

Can you name any men you admire? 

David Hood who was my first store manager early in my career. He challenged and stretched me. He allowed me to express myself and when he turned me down for promotion he didn’t shy away from delivering a difficult message to me about why and helped me overcome my shortcomings. This was pivotal in helping me become the person that I have become.

Andy Dennis who was the IT Director for a financial services organisation (he has sadly died) but I often find myself asking “What would Andy do?” We didn’t get off to an easy relationship – he was very analytical and I was the complete opposite but he was patient with me and encouraging. He was always fair and always explained his rationale behind decisions (a rare commodity even today).

Mike Innes who before becoming a business consultant helping SMEs build sustainability was the MD of a large SME in the North West. I met Mike at a business group whilst he was MD and we have remained friends for many years. Mike and I are yin and yang but in him I see a man who has infinite attention to detail whilst being able to elevate his thinking strategically. He is a big supporter for collaboration and inclusivity whilst not shying away from difficult challenge. 

Do you think women who start their own business experience more challenges than men? 

I don’t think we’ve overtly received any more challenges than a man. We just don’t think that way. We have not won contracts and who knows why that is but you dust yourself down and get on with the next thing.

What do you think about the gender pay gap? 

I think it’s appalling and I think it encourages women to take extreme measures – those that are very career driven think they need to act like men and those who lack confidence give up which is very sad for them but also for the organisation who lose the will and talent of these women.

I think it's arisen through history due to women encouraged to leave education early, were not as strong etc but in today’s world it is completely unacceptable – if both sexes can do the job pay should be equal.

What do you think about the International Women’s Day movement? 

I think that around the world the inequalities are immense and until there is equity it is essential to have movements such as these to promote the cause.

For more information visit https://www.inspireyourgenius.com

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