Courageous Conversations need generous leadership

In this guest blog, Jan Garrill, Chief Executive of Two Ridings explains her determination to have more courageous conversations.

As Chief Executive of Two Ridings Community Foundation I get to see and hear many things especially when visiting the great leaders of local charities across North & East Yorkshire, but last Thursday I was proud to witness one of the most generous and brave displays of leadership I had ever seen. All from a role I wouldn’t ordinarily consider to be a ‘brave’ one.

Jacky Bowes is this year’s High Sheriff of East Riding and she wants to use her year to raise the profile of the issue of abuse of women and girls in East Riding.

She asked Two Ridings to help her bring people together to build on a commitment to make a difference in our county and raise awareness of this, often hidden, issue.

So last Thursday we gathered – nearly 40 leaders from across the public, private and third sector – at Sewell’s Studio in Hull for a breakfast meeting.

Jacky started the session off giving one of the most incredible speeches I have ever heard.

In her speech she described her shock and eventual acceptance of the honour at being asked to be High Sheriff.  Her reluctance was feeling that she was not from the right background and certainly didn’t mix in the right circles.

But she decided to do it, with the support & encouragement of her husband, hoping through her own lived experience, she would have an opportunity to have a long-lasting impact.

Jacky went on to describe the words she used in her investiture

‘No matter what a start you have in life, I believe that every individual should have the chance to feel wanted and supported   and have an opportunity to seek a bright future, should they so wish.

I really hope that this year that I can play a part in a journey towards a brighter future, even if, for just one or two individuals.’

She then explained why she used those words.

Jacky experienced emotional and physical abuse as a child and was often left to cope alone, not knowing when her parents might come back from the pub and how they might treat her on their return. Violence was the norm, blame the every-day language thrown at her and regular reminders that ‘she was not part of their plan’.

She was belittled and ridiculed for her attempts to study and learn but despite this, Jacky kept her head down, studied hard. She learnt a skill she loved through a combination of her Saturday and holiday job in a bakery and at college where she won a scholarship to the most famous Bakery School in Switzerland, something which her mother tried to prevent her attending. After this she went onto study Food Science & Technology.

She achieved a stellar career in the food industry working at Northern Foods, Tryton Foods, holding senior roles at Sara Lee and with 26 years at Aunt Bessie’s / William Jackson Food Group, with 15 of these as Technical Director.

So Jacky is using her appointment as High Sheriff to raise awareness of the abuse of girls and women and to pledge for us all to do what we can to call it out and prevent it.

Jacky showed her vulnerability by standing in front of us and sharing her story, and we were all deeply honoured and moved by her.

Her generous leadership in doing that meant that the subsequent discussion about what we can do both personally AND organisationally was heightened by the sense of responsibility we all shared to do the right thing, as exemplified by Jacky.

It isn’t right that some women across the UK are unable to live the lives they want to lead because of fear of harassment and violence.

From the fear of walking alone in public places to going to work knowing there is a culture of sexism and misogyny. There are even women who are afraid of the person they live with.

All these situations can have devastating consequences, women have even lost their lives to men’s violence.

This is not just an issue for women.

We all need to be more aware to drive changes in conduct in homes, schools and workplaces.

We need to call out inappropriate behaviour and have those difficult conversations.

I am now more determined than ever to have those courageous conversations thanks to Jacky and her courage.

Contact Jan to connect about your Courageous Communication