Episode 342 – Don’t Fix Women with Joy Burnford

Joy Burnford‘How do I… move from being a curator to a creator? That was a big shift for me, and I think I got there in the end.’

People often talk about the value of the finished book – for the author and for the reader. Less talked-about is the value of the process of writing: the connections you make as you research and discuss the ideas, the deepening of your thinking, the shift that you make as an author from consuming and curating other people’s opinions to setting out your own. 

Joy Burnford has been a ‘curator of confidence’ for many years, researching how women in particular build and sustain confidence at work, and developing her own in the process. But she realised that this is only one part of the equation: no matter how confident the woman, if the system at work is stacked against her, she cannot make the contribution of which she is capable. And when that happens, everyone loses out. 

A fascinating conversation on gender equality in the workplace, but also on how writing a book doesn’t just change those who read it, but its author too. 



Joy’s site: https://www.encompassequality.com/

Joy on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joy-burnford-b81b69/

Don’t Fix Women website: https://www.encompassequality.com/book

The Confidence Conversation podcast: https://www.encompassequality.com/podcast

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

Harpers Bazaar At Work Summit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bazaar-at-work-summit-2022-tickets-429266085417?aff=ALISONJONES

Join the Exploratory Writing Street Team: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/exploratory-writing-street-team/

Join me in London on 6 December for the launch of Exploratory Writing: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/448701898457

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge January 2023: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=proposal-challenge-jan-23

WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Joy Burnford who is the founder and CEO of Encompass Equality and is a recognized trailblazer in gender equality. She has interviewed hundreds of the world’s business leaders, published more than 70 articles on Forbes.com, is an influential speaker and host of the Confident Conversation Podcast, and she’s the author of Don’t Fix Women: The practical path to gender equality at work.

So first of all, welcome Joy. It’s lovely to have you.

Joy Burnford: Hello, Alison, it’s amazing to be here. Thank you.

Alison Jones: It’s a very special day, isn’t it?

Because I think literally about half an hour before we started talking, tell us what happened Joy.

Joy Burnford: My book arrived.

My first copies of my book, so it’s very, very exciting to actually be physically holding this amazing book. It’s such a special moment. It really is. And yes, my wedding anniversary as well. So it all happened on the same day, which is lovely. Yes, feeling really, really proud.

Alison Jones: It’s a really special moment, isn’t it? If you’re watching this on YouTube, by the way, you’ll have seen Joy just waving her book around there.

It is absolutely beautiful, and I think we’re both really pleased with that cover, aren’t we?

Joy Burnford: Oh, and that cover was, at the time, it was a while to get there, and I think because I changed the whole premise of the book halfway through writing. So we changed from one metaphor to another, and so we had to redo the cover and I was a bit frustrated by that. But we got there and they’d done a fantastic, fantastic job with that.

Alison Jones: Really striking. Can you see it behind, I mean, you saw the big one in Joy’s hand there, but I’m pointing up to the one on my shelf as well. Yes, it does, it stands out well in a sort of small format.

Joy Burnford: Yes.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. So well, I mean, we talked a little bit about the cover, a little bit about the book arriving, which is, you know, hugely exciting. But tell us a little bit about the title, Don’t Fix Women. Where did that come from?

Joy Burnford: So I think it’s a massive, massive challenge for organizations to have equal men and women and just keeping hold of women, retaining women in particular, in organizations is really, really tough and challenging, and it’s not easy for anybody to fix. I think the biggest challenge we’ve got is that organizations were built by men for men, and a lot of the time these are, you know, business leaders are male and I guess what’s happened in the past is they’ve been sort of grappling with, you know, what can we do? And we’ve tried lots of different things and nothing seems to be working. Various attempts.

I mean, I actually started my business looking at confidence and women’s confidence in particular. And over the years I’ve really realized that actually you can have the most confident woman, but if you don’t have a system and a structure and an organization in place to support that confidence, you might as well just be banging your head against a brick wall. And the women still leave.

And books like Lean In and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and those sorts of things, which there is an element of that which is really important. But actually what’s stopping women is all these other things, I call it sort of perfect storm of challenges that women can face in organizations that are not necessarily well understood by those who are in senior roles, who are either male or they are women who’ve perhaps been though a tough journey themselves and don’t necessarily understand the challenges that women have.

And it’s often easier for women just to leave because they can’t cope with this perfect storm of challenges. So it’s really, you know, the book is actually understanding and going into the fundamentals of what those obstacles are and then how organizations can change to support those women.

Alison Jones: And you are right, aren’t you? That there is a role obviously for confidence building for women, for interventions that support women and so on, but it is quite easy for that to tip over almost into victim blaming and not to sort of see the more systematic…

Joy Burnford: …yes…

Alison Jones: …issue and it’s no, go on.

Joy Burnford: No, no, no. You carry on.

Alison Jones: Well, I was going to say, when you say women here, it’s not an unproblematic word these days. So what exactly do you mean?

Joy Burnford: And I think, thank you for asking the question, Alison, because there are over 50 different genders identified and the book can’t possibly go into every single different gender. So the book really talks about men and women and those that identify as a woman but it really is, if you do what I’m recommending in the book, it will create a better workplace for everyone especially those in a minority.

But it’s really about, some of the key things in the book are talking about personalization and really understanding your individuals that you have working for you. So there are various things like that which helps to, if you embrace that, it will create a better place, not for women, not for men, for everybody.

So it will be creating better workplaces where everybody can be happy and thrive and be more productive at the end of the day.

Alison Jones: Well, I was just about to say to you before we start to talk about the how, let’s talk about the why. Let’s start with why, but you kind of do, you know, why does this matter so much?

Because I know a lot of businesses are so doubled down on just surviving, just getting through at the moment.

So why is it so important that they dedicate time and resource to this?

Joy Burnford: Yes, and it’s really important, I think firstly, to have diverse thinking at the top of organizations. You know, most organizations have customers and clients that are a mixed gender, and you need to actually understand those challenges of your clients. And I know a number of organizations now, big organizations, are saying they’re not going to employ a supplier if they don’t have a good balanced leadership team.

And, I mean, I think it was either Amazon or Facebook or something like that I heard of recently who was saying, some quite strong things about not having, or if the organization wasn’t owned or had some representation by women.

And clients, so for example, lawyers, consulting firms and that sort of thing, I’m hearing more and more that clients are wanting people on their delivery team that are women. And if they’re not, this is going to be the thing that’s going to get people really sitting up and changing.

But there’s also the great resignation, people are leaving organizations at the moment a lot and there’s a massive war for talent still. So, you can increase your talent pool no end, if you can be an attractive place for women to work as well, if you can get those numbers up.

And my book focuses particularly on retention of women. So it’s obviously important to attract women into organizations, but it’s about how you keep those women, because there’s a bit of a cliff women go through. And that’s kind of the cover of the book is, you go up this cliff and women tend to fall halfway through and that’s because they get and actually Denise Wilson who wrote the foreword for my book, who’s the chair of the FTSE Business Women’s Leaders Review.

She talks about women having rocks in their rucksack and carrying this rucksack up the mountain. And you know, women can take the rocks out themselves, but actually it’s much better if organizations can help look at how you can, you know, take those rocks out for them, leave sort of resting places on the side of the mountain that they can sit and pause, look at the view for a bit, and then get back on the mountain and carry on the path upwards. Because otherwise they’re just falling off and you’ve lost them. And actually the cost to recruit somebody else is enormous, so it’s really, really important.

Alison Jones: It is such a great metaphor, isn’t it? If you’re looking at the cover, it makes all kinds of sense as well.

And so that’s why I’m convinced, how, and I know that you can’t do justice to the entire book in the next few minutes, but just give us maybe one key strategy that you identify from your research that men, particularly male leaders of organizations, can perhaps think about.

Joy Burnford: Yes, well, I think it really is about starting from the top and inclusive leadership, and through all my interviews with CEOs and business leaders, I came up with a framework called PACE, which stands for passion, accountability, curiosity and empathy. And the main thing is about, I call it pick up the pace, because this came from an interview with David Schwimmer, who’s the CEO of the London Stock Exchange, and he was telling me a story about he was giving a presentation to a group of individuals and one woman put her hand up and said you know, what are you doing around gender equality? And he said, Oh, we’re doing this, that, and the other, but it’s going to take time. And the look on this woman’s face was like, What do you mean it’s going to take time? You know, why is it going to take time? And from that point onwards, he said, We’ve just got to start.

And that’s the main message of my book, which is actually you’ve got to start today and the book has many, many, many practical actions in it that you can pick up today and get started because there’s no point starting tomorrow.

And there’s that lovely Chinese proverb, which the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. Second best time is now. So it’s really, really important to just get on with it.

There’s no reason to delay and just start small. You don’t have to change massive things. I mean, the second part of the book does go onto cultural frameworks and the importance of having a culture, an organization that has three cultural frameworks, I believe, for a good gender balanced business. Before you even get onto looking at the obstacles that women face, because if you have things like flexibility, allyship, and a coaching culture, if you have those three things in place, dealing with those obstacles makes it so much easier.

You don’t have to go down to the granular level of how do I fix menopause in the workplace? Or how do I support a woman with miscarriage? Because you’ve got those coaching conversations already happening and you’ve got the flexible working and you have the allyships, you understand how to be a great ally to those in a minority.

Alison Jones: It’s really exciting to think, you know, in a sense these are not trivial things, but they’re also, they’re not rocket science. You can make a massive difference in your organization tomorrow with some of these techniques, can’t you?

Joy Burnford: Yes, and I think Covid has actually been a real blessing on that first one, flexibility. And I think one thing on this we need to be careful of is not going into a two tier workforce so that we go back to the ways that we used to do things. Because you know, you might end up having women who might choose to work at home flexibly and for example you know, arguments like the men go back into the office and that’s where decisions are made. So you’ve got to be, if you’re a leader, you’ve got to be really careful that if you’re having hybrid meetings, you have perhaps everybody sitting with a screen on their table so you don’t feel like you’re it’s them and us and keeping that sense of, you know, remembering how it was like during Covid lockdowns and making sure that flexibility works and continues to work.

Alison Jones: Yes, if it did nothing else, it showed us that the things we thought had to be in place don’t necessarily, that we can adapt much more quickly than we thought.

Joy Burnford: And we had this mandate to go and work from home, whereas people have been asking it for years and they were like, Oh, it’s too difficult, can’t do it. So now I’m like, Well, you don’t need to wait for another Covid crisis to make some of these other things change. You know, just do it and lead from the top. It’s got to be led from the top, it really has.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. And I want to talk to you as well about writing Joy, because I know that this…

..Well just tell us how did you feel about the whole kind of, Oh, I’m writing a book idea.

Joy Burnford: Oh, I really wanted to write a book, but I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do it. I was petrified and I really didn’t think I could do it, and I just kept thinking, Well, you know, why would anybody, you know, what would I write? How could I write it? And all these things. So I had all these imposter syndrome gremlins going on in my head.

But I’ve been totally surprised by the process and how it’s made me feel, how it’s developed me as a person, you know, the growth. I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone a lot and I feel like a… I feel like I’ve grown professionally just so much in the last two years. It’s been incredible. So, you know, it’s been things like just having the time for deep thinking because I’m a bit of a flitterer and I kind of manage lots of different projects and I’m always moving, juggling lots of balls and I never have time to sit down and think. I think with the age of technology and always got my phone on and everything else, and for me to actually force myself to sit down and do some deep thinking was immense.

And I now know I can do it, without having to force myself to do it I would never have done that. And I’ve developed things like some new frameworks, models, learned through you about visual representation of thought, which has been phenomenal actually. And that’s now, you know, forming the basis of a lot of what I do in the business.

Exploratory writing has been a really fascinating tool that you’ve taught me and things like just metaphors and use of metaphors and things I haven’t thought about since I was at school, donkeys years ago. So actually it was just, you know, bringing back all these things it’s like, Oh yes, and actually I can write and I can do this.

So it’s been really, really enjoyable. Really enjoyable process.

Alison Jones: Well there is about twenty things I want to pick up on there and explore. I’m trying to work out which order to do it. First of all, let’s just talk about the irony of somebody who is an expert in women’s confidence, feeling like an imposter, writing a book.

Joy Burnford: I feel like that all the time, which is… but that’s why I set my business up originally because I’ve lacked confidence myself, so I can seem quite confident, like when I’m talking now, I’ve done a lot of preparation for this and any other talks I do and other things, I’ve now learned the skills and techniques that you can employ to get over that.

I didn’t think I could before and that’s one of the reasons that I set this business up in the first place because I thought actually you can learn it and I didn’t know you could learn confidence and actually you can.

So, and it’s working out the process and the tools.

Alison Jones: Yes, for anybody listening who’s going, Well, of course, you know, Joy is an expert in confidence and she’s a very confident person, so…

Joy Burnford: Yes, I’m not…

Alison Jones: No. And, and here she is having written her book and yes…

Joy Burnford: And you know, from all those early conversations we had, I was like, Oh, I can’t do this. And I had to have regular calls with you to say, Can I really do this ? Is this okay?

Alison Jones: It is so interesting because from the outside it’s like you’re not only can you do it, you are doing it, look, you know, So it’s, yes…

But you are right as well about, and let’s come on to exploratory writing just for a second. I’m really glad you mentioned that because I think that if you aren’t confident in your writing this is a great way of getting started, isn’t it? Because it takes all the pressure off. You’re not performing, you’re just exploring and you’re just going, Well, you know, what do I think about this and if I were to write a book about this, what might I talk about?

Joy Burnford: And I use it, I mean I used it this morning. I kind of have my thing now if I need to do deep thinking, I get up at five o’clock in the morning. As you know, this is about the only time of day I have any time without kids and dogs and everything else, you know, fighting for my attention. So five o’clock in the morning is my kind of writing time if I need to do deep thinking.

Doesn’t happen every week. But if I do that, and this morning I got up at five and I did some exploratory writing, preparing for this podcast. I thought, well, you know, it just seemed right to do that. And it’s just, if you don’t quite know where to start. You just set the timer for six minutes and just scribble, and it just gets things flowing.

It’s really, really clever.

Alison Jones: And it’s just so ridiculously simple. But it is so powerful, isn’t it? And I think, once you know you’ve got that in your back pocket, it gives you an enormous amount of confidence because you can always kind of write yourself out of any hole that you are in.

Joy Burnford: And not just writing a book. I mean, I think that’s the thing. It’s not just for writing a book, it’s for preparing a presentation. It’s for going to an interview. It’s doing anything.

Alison Jones: So having a difficult conversation with your partner.

Joy Burnford: Yes, absolutely.

Alison Jones: All these things. Brilliant.

And then the other thing that you mentioned was the metaphor, and this I thought was really crucial for you, because we had that kind of almost mechanical metaphor for the fixing initially and then you said, it’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s about climbing a mountain and it’s about making the way, fixing the way because they’re unequal tracks at the moment.

So yes, let’s just explore a little bit why that mattered so much to get the metaphor and how that drove the writing.

Joy Burnford: And it is really interesting because I mean we, as you say, we started with the kind of the ladder analogy and climbing up the ladder and then using tools and hammers and chisels and things to fix it. And I very quickly realized that when you think about work nowadays, it’s not about the upwards trajectory, you know, actually it’s being used quite a lot as well, that, the ladder analogy.

But I think it’s really helped me actually, more than anything to picture that mountain as I was writing and just thinking about how the different elements I was talking about could be applied to that sort of mountain analogy. And I think it helped, you know, Denise Wilson’s point about the rucksack and all these little things just kind of added to it.

And I actually remember I was sitting in the garden with a friend of mine who’s a career woman, and I was telling her about this ladder and she said, Oh, it’s not really like a ladder, is it? It’s more like a mountain. I was like, Oh yes.

So getting input and inspiration from lots of people has also been really important and has deepened relationships for me with my clients.

I didn’t mention it but that was another enjoyable thing that’s come out of this process was, is having reasons to talk to people and hearing what their challenges are as well.

Alison Jones: So let’s talk about that a bit, because I always think that the relationships that come out of the book writing journey are so important and people don’t tend to talk about them or even think about them front.

 So tell us a bit about that. Because there’s a few different periods here, aren’t there?

There’s a period when you are researching and writing and thinking about your book and then there’s the, you know, full on writing and then into production and then there’s kind of, after the book is out. I guess you can’t speak with too much authority to the last stage yet, having just received your advanced copies, but just tell us how that journey kind of unfolded in terms of your connections with people.

Joy Burnford: Absolutely. I’d already done a lot of interviews for Forbes, over 70 articles, so I had a lot of interviews sort of in the bank as it were, but I didn’t really sort of just take those, I wanted to do new interviews. I think I’ve done over a hundred interviews for this book in particular.

And it was really lovely to be able to have conversations with clients, not in a sales capacity and also to get to speak to the really senior people, you know, CEOs of major blue-chip organizations who were interested in this. And I think it’s really about being able to be that authority and have a point of view and be an expert in an area and just help me develop.

And I love connections. I’m a bit, you know, I always call myself queen of connections or collaborate, you know, collaboration, connection. I love it. And it was a real, an aspect of my background’s been in research as well. So, I do love research and building my business based on data and research because it’s really powerful. And then it’s not about me. And that’s in terms of confidence. That’s where I get my confidence. It’s not me it’s actually… and that was something we talked about, wasn’t it? About the point of view and how do I write… yes, curator view, you said move from being a curator to a creator.

And that was a big shift for me, actually. And I think I got there in the end with the book, being more of a creator.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I think a lot of people do get stuck there because as you say it’s easy to hide behind it. It feels like a less scary thing to do because you don’t have to listen to me, you listen to these people who are really amazing.

And I think that part of that journey of writing the book particularly, and you demonstrated it beautifully, but I think it happens in perhaps in a less obvious way for other people too, is that they start to realize that what they’re bringing to the conversation is really important. And I would say to anybody who’s writing that book based on interviews and research and so on, don’t hide behind them. You know, you use those to weave into your argument, but actually it’s your book, you know?

So own that conversation.

Joy Burnford: I think you’re right because you said to me at the beginning, I was going to do sort of case studies of sort interviews and that sort of thing. And actually what I did was I took all of those interviews and I created things like the PACE framework and then looked back at all the interviews and said, so who was talking about the passion, who was talking about accountability and then sort of, as you said, weaving that into the messages.

Alison Jones: Yes, so I guess the question is, if you were going to do it again, what would you do differently?

Joy Burnford: Never, never. I’m joking. I was quite…

Alison Jones: But if were…

Joy Burnford: I was quite surprised actually writing down what I enjoyed, because I was thinking, gosh, I did enjoy it actually and I think Sorry, what was the question? If I were to write a book again…

Alison Jones: …what would you do? What would you do differently?

Joy Burnford: What would I do differently? I’d probably look at the cover design a bit later on in the process. What would I do differently? I think it was really good to get into the rhythm of writing actually, and actually understanding, to begin with I was sort of doing my day job, running the business and then fitting the book in around it.

And I think there was one point where I kind of changed and I, do you remember, and I kind of switched and I was like, No, I’m now actually an author. I’m writing this book. This is my job. And the other bits fit around it. And so my mindset was completely on the book. I wasn’t trying to think about the business and everything else.

Because I think when you’re writing, you need to have your space up there to do that cogitating and kind of mulling over things. And if you’re thinking about all the day to day stuff, you just don’t have space. So I think for me that was a real moment. And I would basically say, I’m writing the book for this period of time and my day job comes second.

So I think that would be the biggest learning really.

Alison Jones: Would that be your tip if I was to ask you about a tip for a first time author?

Joy Burnford: No, actually I think my tip would be to agree a publication date, because I know a lot of people sort of say, I’m going to write a book, and then they go off and try and sell it into publishers and everything else. And for me, I knew if I didn’t have a publication date to work to, I would never get it done because other things crowd it out and it doesn’t happen.

So I’d firstly say get a publication date to work to, if you can, and then work out what your strengths are because I’ve kept thinking, Oh, maybe I need a ghost writer to help me write it. And actually it wasn’t that, I didn’t need that, I needed a different team of people around me. So I’ve got Claire, who’s been absolutely phenomenal. She’s been by my side the whole way from research, writing bits, editing, detail around checking the quotes, everything. She’s been a superstar and I literally could not have done it without her.

 And then your input as a mentor and coach as well during that process and really finding out what did I really need to help me on that journey so that I could be the author that I wanted to be.

Alison Jones: That’s a lovely way of phrasing it and you know Joy, because I know you’ve listened to the podcast before. I always ask my guests to recommend a book…

Not allowed to recommend your book, sorry, but apart from Don’t Fix Women, is there a book that you think everybody listening should read?

Joy Burnford: There is, and it’s a really tricky one because I think I was saying to you the other day I’d be just reading lots of women’s books and gender equality books and I didn’t want to talk about gender quality books. So it’s actually another Practical Inspiration title called The Long Win by Cath Bishop, who I’ve actually met, again thanks to you, because you put us in touch and we met and got on very well.

And I’ve read her book because I’m somebody who likes to win. I’m very competitive. I’ve always have been. And it’s amazing how it’s completely reframed my thinking about winning and the importance of the journey as well as the outcome. And I think in particular for me, it’s helped me as a mother because I’m so ambitious and that’s kind of the way I’ve been brought up. It was really interesting the bit about school in the book, which talked about how the schooling system is geared towards this kind of winners and losers and my son is neurodiverse, he has adhd, so I’m struggling at the moment a bit with how to help him in school and I was like, God, this is just amazing.

This is so interesting about how I hadn’t thought about it. How it’s all about winning and losing and it’s not necessarily creating the right behaviors and things you need for a future career because it’s not about collaboration. It’s not about necessarily about communication. It’s just, I think the whole thing needs shaking up actually.

So I thought it was fab.

Alison Jones: Yes, well, I think it’s fab too.

Joy Burnford: You would say so…

Alison Jones: …and, well, yes, of course I do, but it is, and that point about the school thing is really interesting actually. And just, you know, on some sort of personal perspective, having one child who’s neurotypical and one who is neurodiverse and has been through the special school system.

The special school system is just fabulous, you know, in terms of being child centered rather than league table centered and it was a real revelation. So there it’s not, you know, the way we do things is not the only way to do it.

Joy Burnford: No.

Alison Jones: Great recommendation, thank you.

And Joy, if people want to find out more about you, more about the work that you do, more about the book, where should they go?

Joy Burnford: So the company’s called Encompass Equality, so you can find us on encompassequality.com. Do connect with me on LinkedIn. I love hearing from people and connections on LinkedIn. So that’s a really good way to get in touch. And then the book website’s called dontfixwomen.com. So you can go on there and find out more.

And then also I have the Confidence Conversation Podcast, so if you want to listen and you are lacking in confidence, then hop on that and have a listen to that too.

Alison Jones: That’s the place to go. Brilliant.

I could talk to you all day, Joy. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Thank you so much and we’ve covered so much stuff and congratulations on book

Joy Burnford: Thank you. And I’m so excited.

I’ve listened to your podcast, so many episodes of your podcast and I thought one day that might be me.

Alison Jones: I think you just need to wave the book one last time.

Joy Burnford: Okay, where is it? Yay.

Alison Jones: Yay. Brilliant.

Joy Burnford: Fantastic.

Alison Jones: Thank you so much for your time today,

Joy Burnford: Thank you Alison.

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