’14 things I learned: family, 97ers, crowd funding and hiring people… p.s.Democracy

As we kiss goodbye to 2014, here are my top 14 things I learned this year that may be handy for me to remember and for you too, maybe! (In no order):

1. Understanding kids born in 1997 or after is hugely important

97ers (kids born in ’97 or later) left school this year with GCSEs and headed for college or apprenticeships or work. They are a significant year and I have written and spoken about them here https://mulqueeny.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/all-about-the-97ers/ I know they are significant because every time I speak about them publicly, parents of much younger children thank me for giving them some reassurance that these 97ers exist, and parents of 97ers, like myself, are relieved that their children are doing *good* things – that we will never understand.

2. Reconsider the parenting role in a digital world

My two daughters, dort 1 and dort 2 (not their real names), are now 12 and 17 – “in-between” ages where they are not babies, or toddlers, or doing GCSEs or A Levels – but they are doing great things. This year I learned to trust that they know a lot more about social digital things than I did, and I am a born and bred geek. Now I know to ask my eldest to regularly check my youngest’s activity on social sites. Also, that there is a balance of trust and knowledge that I have developed with age, and how I can use discrimination and empathy to know when I need to learn from them and when I need to guide and teach.

3. Blue-balling emotions is rubbish

The future, with children grown and gone, hovers relentlessly on the horizon and I am looking at the next stage of my life. I can literally do anything, as well as actively choose whether I want to continue this journey alone (as I ended up parenting alone, but not in a sad way), or with someone. I choose with someone – and I must value that and respect the work that takes, and give it equal value (even though it feels egotistical and unnatural for me to do this, ultimately I am allowing my children freedom and I am not blue-balling my emotions).

4. Isms

Isms in all forms have featured this year, much racism as ever with too many young people slaughtered because of race and lots of people because of belief. I find that Buddhism and a Buddhist attitude proves ever more important in its logic (for a geek girl) provides some peace. I wrote about ‘isms here – but more recently I have been struck (and educated) by these three very real conversations: (this article is a very great resource for those who need to explain to children why their music contains words they can never use) and these videos are important to watch:

and also this (but not for the swearing sensitive)

finally these words

5. Ithms

… (as in algorithms) are important – mega important. And Facebook used theirs to give everyone a snapshot of their year this Christmas, which created challenges for those who did not want to remember their year, and for the rest of us it reminded us that algorithms are powerful. I have worked hard all year for free on the digital democracy commission – and I know how we all need to take notice of the power of algorithms, and we need to own them, and understand their power and take them back from those who we have inadvertently bestowed the ultimate influence over our every day decisions. Algorithms help people make better decisions – through knowledge not PR. Democracy worldwide will be affected by this <— that is a prediction

6. Crowdfunding is hard.

Last year (’13) I raised money through crowdfunding, it absorbed my every waking hour during the process of raising the funds, mainly because if I did not reach my target I would not get any of the money people had pledged. This year I have raised again, but also encouraged others to try it, for smaller increments, but equally as hard to raise, as their fundraiser may not be as socially compelling, but still as viable. I can give you three fundraising tips:

  • save the best for last – play hard to get, give out increments but KNOW that the final push is going to be the greatest, pretend you are dating the love of your life and apply all dating theory
  • don’t just shout louder and louder into the same echo chamber of social media – they heard you, they were not interested when it was interesting, they are definitely not interested now you are desperate
  • social media strategy has to include target markets and timing (time of day, work/play/weekend/weekday/US/UK) to ignore this is foolish

Also, make sure the crowdfunding vehicle you choose has a good reach, and ideally gives you the money you raised regardless of you reaching target or not in the time limit you set. Only fair.

7. Hiring people – unless you are good at hiring people, do not hire people. Ever. Ever ever.

Even when you think you grew up. Do not hire people. It is a talent, you either have it or you don’t. If you don’t, get very brilliant at writing the job description of the person you need, and pay someone to hire people for you. (You can pay a friend in beer or chocolate, that’s fine, just don’t do it yourself). Ever. Like an alcoholic. You can never hire. You never could. You never will be able to.

8. Founder CEOs that are successful can be numbered on one hand.

If you are a CEO then you are awesome and probably hugely well paid and if you are reading this, looking to start a business (or my mate). I say – find a founder and start a business and read the Beermat entrepreneur (never irrelevant over God knows how many years). If you are a Founder, find a CEO and bow out early (also read Beermat entrepreneur). I wrote about this throughout the year, but have not yet concluded my story, but I am very happy with people whom I trust; it has taken a while to find those I trust totally to run the businesses I founded and poured my soul and mortgage into. Now I need to walk away for a few years and get a job.

9. BOARDS! Get one

Oh my goodness, I always shied away from boards before when I set up businesses because I was/am a control freak and thought they would take away my very clear vision of what I wanted or needed to do (in spite of the odds). In fact, a well-selected small board frees and empowers you. This is so important.

10. Balance.

This year I have been to Buckingham Palace so many times it is actually becoming a bit of a chore. I know that sounds vain but it is not. It is a huge privilege, but so is getting my 12 year old from school on time. I worried more about being at the agreed place for my youngest daughter on an Autumnully dark evening than I did screeching in to BP to shake hands and chat with people I know and love hugely, but can see anywhere any time, but felt compelled to do so more vigorously because it was BP. I would rather be with my own family, but I also see the amazing opportunity here for everyone to be able to experience this now that geeks are cool.

If only I could have gifted any one of my invitations to people who would have loved to have been at BP. This year we got some Young Rewired Staters and their families in for a tea and chat with Prince Andrew – I am sure they will remember it forever, I will too – mainly because I could get this photo for everyone (here is what it looks like from the other side – and the Palace is very lovely, but super hot, wear layers)

P.S. I did manage to meet the Queen and forget to curtsey (is spite of my life spent curtseying to people who did not actually require curtseying to, physically or otherwise) but being reassured that I was not alone (by Prince William) basically made up for it – that and flirting with Will.I.AM in BP has to be a highlight of this ridiculous year.

11. The Arts

Music is so important! I have been very focused for many years, on work and children, but I valued silence when alone. This is a massive mistake I now realise. Whilst yes peace is good – music is revolutionary for the mood. And actually, as much as you put time into your family and work, unless you are an artist or work in a museum – music is available to everyone and is an art form that affects us all. Music is important.

12. Being stony broke on a weekend…

Having no money at all is OK, so long as you can plan your way out of it.  A few times this year, because of being a business owner and founder, and wholly reliant on it AND moving on, there has inevitably been times in the handover where I am not in control of pipeline (necessarily) and it has all gone a bit awry in the handover. And I have been actually penniless. Yes I have a mortgage and was not in fear of losing that at the time, but actually I had no access to any cash at all just when a wasp decided that the eaves under dort 1 and 2’s room was PERFECT for a nest. That weekend I could not even rustle up twenty quid for the local dude to come clear it for me, I had to wait for a large corp to pay an invoice, and then I could be paid and could bring in a wasp person to clear the 2000 wasps who ended up rooming with the girls. But it was fine. We had tins and pasta to live on and my room is at the back of the house… and middle class problems.. seriously – it was fine. But also it was a lesson! You can appaz have it all, but have nothing, and having nothing in this instance was OK. So I am less fearful.

13. If you can do nothing about the thing you are worrying about, fret not. If you can. Fret not. (paraphrasing the Dalai Lama)

Living in the moment is a challenge to myself from me for 2015. My sig oth is amazing at this, as is my Mum and my Dad. I would like to experience what it is like to live in the moment and accept it and move on *more* than I did in 2014. Every time I did manage to live in the moment, practising extreme Buddhism in time of extreme stress – was hugely powerful, I would like to practise this extreme Buddhism in times of peace and sod all going on, just to see if I can and to see what happens.

14. Finally: Climb a mountain.

We spend all of our lives climbing never-ending imaginary mountains. Climb a real one. I recommend Sugar Loaf in South Wales as a great starter. Take the hard road up, drink pure mountain water in the stream running through the damn valley between you and the top, meander up it with tea and cake breaks, follow the streams or the sheep paths, but take the hard road up. Then enjoy the peak. And take the easy road down. I cannot tell you how powerful it is to actually climb a real mountain, even a little one. I would love to leave you with a powerful mountain image taken from the top, but the problem is they never do justice to the climb, and you have to do it yourself.

Wishing you all a very wonderful 2015, from my family to yours xoxo

PS Democracy

PPS Here are my two projects for 2015, based on the above lessons – pretty much!

*isms: racism, sexism, feminism… &c

{note: I wrote this the night before the Ferguson result. I shall leave it as it is. As for Ferguson these images say it all http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/11/ferguson_protest_photos_grand_jury_decides_not_to_indict_darren_wilson_in.html}

I tend to retreat from all gender based discussions, only ever tempted out occasionally in discussions on how to encourage more girls into technology. But my words are usually not heartfelt enough – because I am unsure how I feel about it all.

Ultimately the issue is this. Here is what I believe:

That we should all respect everyone we meet, regardless of race, gender, size, age, hair colour etc (I cannot believe that this is news)

It makes no sense to base any decision any person can reasonably make, based on whether you are a man or woman; it is not a sensible delineator. Whether that be who is good enough to apply for a job, or who should be paid what, or who should drive/cook/clean/cry/laugh/play/work/sleep/fly/invent/code/speak/manage/define/write/lead…

So news headlines that read like this in 2014 are vapid, not incendary Turkey president Erdogan: Women are not equal to men

On the topic of men vs women, and men or women being better than the other – well, what are we talking about? Breast feeding? Women will be better. Weeing standing up? Men will be better. There is not general *thing* that makes one or other gender better than the other. It is ridiculous and we *all* know it!

However

The decades of this ridiculous delineation, and all other *isms (including racism which really does get my wick up more than anything), means that our poor children/the next generations+ are victims of unthinking and historic educational/parental rhetoric.

We were all subjected to this, and it is annoying to me that little has changed with boy/girl toys, books, games, career advice – just pure laziness really on behalf of the people who should be doing this as a part of their job or life.

It means that people like me, who have a very little influence in this space, can only really add a lobbying voice in our spare time and in our actions as parents and entrepreneurs.

But we have to in the absence of proper activism in all those flogging stuff to kids, whether it be schools, apps, games or whatever – they reinforce the gaps, because it is an easy dollar/pound if you get the parent market. And let’s face it, the affluent parents are more likely to be looking for conformism and the *in* club, not the challengers.

It is so annoying!!! (Although Mattel got a bit of a bite in the bum with the recent Barbie book – so it is starting to bleed over, thank goodness).

I have to say that just as damaging is the rhetoric of charity songsters, pleading for everyone to pity and pay for “Africa”. This article puts it much better than I could.

The world is flat. No, the world is round.

We just must stop making these assumptions based on such a massive slicing judgment: gender, race, politics, religion.

I know it is geeky, and not everyone’s bag, but really everyone knows that we are all made up of a complex mixture of stuff, and our “data” that makes up who we are is rarely finally defined by gender/race/politics etc (religion aside, I accept that it will define all things in life for the devout).

We are too complex for sexism and racism and any flipping *ism you can throw at me.

Humanity realised a while ago, through learning and science and wondering, that the earth was not flat. We know it is round now. We also know a hell of a lot more than this and the earth being round, not flat, does not define the way we consider our multi-complex relationship with it.

Let’s just please do everything we can to minimise these divides, and at every opportunity look for the other data points that really are relevant.

No Willy No Woman’s Hour

As you can probably guess from the title of this blog post I am a bit cross and made a hashtag #NoWillyNoWH which is just ridiculous… but true

I love Radio 4, I have always loved radio 4, I also like Capital sometimes, but mainly R4 when I have no kids with me. Woman’s Hour has occasionally stuck in my craw as a title, but I think that – like the rest of the country – I adopt it with an indulgent smile, a nod to our ability to see humour in everything and satire is our bag, right? I love Woman’s Hour with the same bit of me that loves Boris being the Mayor of London.

I also thought long and hard about writing this blog post. It is not always helpful to be stabby and cross about things, but when my retired step-mother, who was a GP and fought the battle she had to fight for so many years as a female GP, was so totally gutted that this was *still* going on, and so cross she even surprised my father with her depth of feeling about this, I felt that I was not stupid to feel this cross.

Being a chick and doing what I do, I do get asked to go and talk on radio and telly, albeit badly as I have had no media training, just conviction and experience, so getting an email from Woman’s Hour was not completely weird, but it was EXCITING!

Now because of the caveat at the bottom of all BBC emails, I can’t share word for word what that email said, but I can tell you what my reaction was and what happened – I think. Well they can sue me if I got their email rules of secrecy wrong.

They asked me if they could talk to me the next day with a view to maybe going on to WH on Friday, tomorrow, to talk about the lack of women speakers at tech conferences and as a side issue girls and coding. Both of these things are passions of mine, and I run the Year 8 is too Late campaign and fight to get equality in attendees at Young Rewired State (last year’s der moment written here, with a reference to Woman’s Hour! #irony <- please read it, it is far more important than this rant). But I came back from that and by bringing Lily Cole onto the judging panel, upped the YRS girl attendees from 3% to 18% girls – still not awesome, but better.

I was also contacted by another lady geek type person who had been approached but they had replaced her with me, she and I had a digital thumb war, but basically all very happy about the fact that this was being discussed, even though really I should learn my own lesson from last year and NOT shine a big light on this!

Within half an hour they contacted me again to say that actually they wanted to have a man speaking on the programme, as they wanted to focus the programme on men standing up for women in tech and they would replace me with someone, whom they named, who – much though I love him and respect his work, is not known for campaigning or acting on either subject.

At this point I was just gutted, I had been so excited but I was gutted.

I suggested Aral Balkan, who is the accepted person who fights hard for this and writes about it, acts on it and it the male voice in this space.

It turns out they already had him booked, they wanted another man. “So…” I clarified, ” you want TWO men talking about this? Oh the irony”

Look, I have no problem, dear Woman’s Hour, with finding the right people for the discussion regardless of gender. I would have had no problem with you actually speaking to me and deciding that what I said was not appropriate, or that my lack of media training made me an unsuitable candidate. But to pass me over, simply because I do not have a willy, in the very thing I give up my spare time, and earn sod all in my organisation, actively working for, trying to solve and sharing and writing what I learn along the way on the very subject that actually cries out for a woman’s voice amongst the men who do indeed fight for us, is infuriating. Patronising. Misogynistic.

I know I will never be invited on Woman’s Hour now, and I am over that.

Tomorrow’s discussion is what it is. I am not sure that it is the right thing to do, shining a big light on this can have a detrimental effect, but there are ways to address and overcome it. I certainly do not have all of the answers, but I do have quite some decent experience – as do many other lady geeky and non-geeky people.

But it seems: No Willy, No Woman’s Hour #NoWillyNoWH

PS Dear YRS kids, do not let this happen in your generation

PPS I have nothing but respect for Aral Balkan and Dr Tom Crick, those two men who are speaking on WH tomorrow, Aral was always going to be there and so he should as this has long been a fight he has naturally, if uncomfortably, felt driven to fight for and write about. Dr TC is doing wonderful things and is an academic who also spends his spare time fighting for digital literacy – not known focus (unless I have missed something) on female speakers or girls and coding, more about just generally shifting the nation up a gear – a noble and respectful thing. My issue is just with Woman’s Hour and how they have interpreted this problem and actively chosen to address it

Update to this post now that the programme has aired

Firstly, both the boys were brilliant, of course. However, I saw absolutely no reason why it was so necessary to have two men debating the subject, as Tom was asked questions about girls in programming and Aral – rightly so – was asked about his campaign to get more female speakers into tech. So the above blog post remains true. I understand that the BBC’s response to a National paper was that this was always going to be about men standing up for women and they only ever wanted male speakers, which begs the question: why contact me, and *all* the other really fabulous and far more eminent than I, ladies.

To the points made in the comments about researchers using contact to get background for the show, this is often the case, but I just want to clarify this contact was made in email form to set up a discussion the following day with a view to me talking about it on the show today. The follow-up email stating they wanted two men to discuss it instead came 1/2 an hour later, not after they actually spoken to me.

Finally, and most importantly, Amy Mather was an absolute superstar. She was the young female programmer they had pre-recorded a session with, during which she spoke eloquently and brilliantly about what she does, why and the problems facing young girl geeks. I know Amy well through Young Rewired State and think she is great. The points she made are what we should be focusing on. However, her inclusion in the show does not take anything away from the fact that the live debate on this subject was actively selected based on gender and was intentionally all male.

I think this is quite enough on this subject, I am glad it has aired, I just think that one own goal could have been foreseen and avoided very easily.

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