Last month I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in the WIE symposium (Women's Inspiration and Enterprise), an event dreamed up by June Sarpong and Dee Poko to bring together dynamic female leaders with a shared aim of improving the world for women. This sounded wonderful to me, as women are the fabric of my world and the stitches that hold it together.
That's not to say that men don't matter to me hugely, the producer, director and composer of my theatre show The Magical Playroom are all men and men whose talent and vision excite me. So it's not that men aren't of equal importance, it's more that that the voices I have heard the loudest, even if they were spoken with the softest tone, the voices that have struck a chord in exact harmony with my own, the voices that have made my jaw ache in gaping amazement, have been voices predominantly belonging to women. I knew at once WIE was an organisation I wanted to be part of as they were doing something I viewed as vital: creating a platform for influential women to empower others by talking honestly about their lives.
The panel event was entitled Beyond the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Have It All Yet? The issue at the core of my world and the worlds of the many mothers I speak to every day is the fragile balance between work and motherhood. How can I excel at work, whilst maintaining my focus and energy for the most important work of all - raising my daughter? And not just loving her, feeding her, clothing her, but instilling the confidence in her to live out her dreams.
In my experience there is no easy solution, being a working mum is a continual learning curve of perseverance and hope. A daily act of tightrope walking, sometimes in bright light to the applaud of a glorious audience, other times gingerly through the moonless dark.
On the day of the event I'm welcomed into a room that's full of sisterly warmth but has a serious edge to it. And there are some extraordinarily high shoes in the room. As I'm getting a coffee I catch sight of June Sarpong, dashing around in killer heels, looking organised and cool. But then later, towards the end of the day, I see her slip into the back of a talk and walk around happily in bare feet. It's such a simple gesture and yet it radiates great reassurance. Who hasn't been that woman at the end of the night, with cramped bones and scarred skin who kicks her heels off and says 'Hey I wore the fabulous shoes and now I shall be fabulous just as myself.'
I'm on the panel with Kelly Hoppen, designer and newly appointed dragon, Lady Lynn De Rothschild, philanthropist and public sector speaker Lynne Franks and Emma Barnett, women's editor of the daily telegraph who is chairing the event. We begin by unravelling the notion of 'All' and deem that for the majority 'All' encompasses a supportive relationship, a family and a career with financial or artistic reward (ideally both).
Yet reflecting on the situation globally, as so many women are still massively oppressed and impoverished, we need to redefine our discussion to make it work for the women in the room: Can Western women have it all yet? Opinions are varied, but the general consensus is that western woman who are driven and committed can have it all, but she must be prepared to accept the enormity of the compromises. These will be different for every one and I find it interesting that three of the four women on the panel have at one time or another been single parents. Perhaps this means nothing, perhaps it means that the balance (in the west) isn't quite right and ambition comes at a price or perhaps its merely representative of the time we live in and not only does it disprove David Cameron's ideal that a proper family has two heterosexual parents, but It shows great tenacity in working single mothers and proves you don't need a relationship to be magnificently successful.
Following my panel event I watched Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of Elle, give a talk on how her team are pioneering an online approach that's highly interactive with their consumer. The talk was detailed and fascinating, but what really interested me is that she's a mum of four and does appear to have it all. And though she holds a post of enormous respect and responsibility, her manner has an effortlessly natural and lovely quality to it.
Then during a debate about the importance of appearance I'm stunned into a silence of awe and wonder by Shingai Shoniwa, singer of the Noisettes who champions self esteem and confidence over appearance in a way that's so real and eloquent she's got the whole room falling at her feet. Its so exciting to listen to someone who is feisty and passionate and the living embodiment of their own message: Be true to yourself and rise above the rest. And this is the very essence of WIE: inspiration and enterprise. I could have listened to more and I could have spoken for longer and I did have many more conversations at the bar. 'Can Women Have It All Yet' is not a question you can answer in a single discussion, but it's a vital conversation that needs to continue and its only through giving an honest portrayal of our lives in the moment, that women can begin to equip the next generation with the skills they need to better themselves and better their world.
What I do know is for one day, inside the walls of the Hospital Club, I felt listened to, valued and welcomed for who I am. The power of that unity between women is what we need to build upon for a future where everyone can aspire to have their all.