IoD women’s leadership conference 2023 piece: You can’t be what you can’t see

From left to right; Dr Lynsey Quinn, Senior Manager – Skills and Partnerships (Ireland), The Open University, Lisa McLaughlin, Partner, UK & EMEA, Alternative Legal Services, Herbert Smith Freehills, Ashleen Feeney, Partner – Markets, KPMG in Northern Ireland, Rachel Steenson, Business Development Manager, Civica, Kirsty McManus, National Director, IoD Northern Ireland, Annette McManus, Group Marketing & Communications Manager, The Irish News and Q Radio, Cara Woods, CPsychol, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Advisor, Translink, Aine Condron, Marketing Executive, Charles Hurst Group, Edel Creery, Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement, NIE Networks

The challenge we face today at work and across our lives is the modern pace of change. There are many reasons why the world has changed. Our ageing workforce; technology advancements; COVID and the increased awareness of mental health impacts following the pandemic resulting in a mind shift change in how we live and work. In the face of business uncertainty; one thing that is certain – we’ve entered new territory.

Seismic change requires a new approach to people and skills development increasingly where sense of purpose and flexible ways of working are top of the agenda to drive a shared focus among policymakers, employers and learning providers about the importance of investing in lifelong learning for both companies and employees.

At the recent Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland Women’s Leadership Conference in March, over 500 accomplished women (and men!!) celebrated International Women’s Day including a number of Open University colleagues who work with industry. The one-day event, featuring world class speakers, was a welcome reminder of the importance of “keeping our minds OPEN to learning”. My mind was drawn to three key takeaway messages.

First, an open mindset. What got you to the position you are in isn’t necessarily what you will need to be successful in the role. Investment in self is key.  The benefits of investing in self / investing for the future through upskilling have been well documented.  There is a strong economic case for reskilling current employees or promising new hires including return on investment and retention management. Building key workforce skills now, for the future,  as well as confidence building for adult returners, developing skills to adapt to different jobs, across sectors for the new distance economy is paramount to cope with future challenges and aspiring to increasing levels of performance, ability and thirst to keep learning.

COVID has re-emphasised the importance of key life and work skills. For instance, resilience, critical thinking, adaptability and doing different with less in these leaner times, are all fundamental leadership skills, irrespective of an employee’s role, and can be considered a “no-regret” investment by employers; encouraging people to think different, act different, do different in the workplace, helping to develop high level work practices and competitive advantage. As educational leaders, we must take note of this trend in line with our values of being innovative, responsive and inclusive.

Second, role modelling the way.Colleagues role modelling the way for behaviours to be created – participating in learning and development and, critically, sharing the wins, as well as the challenges, along the way: essential yet engaging conversations, storytelling, mentoring, the power of case studies which very much speaks to the theme of the conference this year “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

I strongly encourage colleagues to undertake learning and allocate some time in their diaries for this regularly. Lifelong learning gives people the currency to support their own professional and personal development and autonomy to manage their development with increased confidence in what they’re doing and in what they can achieve.

Third, and, for me, my favourite quote of the day was “Education is your passport for life”. This speaks so well to our work at The Open University where accessibility is core to our mission, empowering as many people as possible, from a diversity of backgrounds to undertake learning with our no formal entry requirement criteria and early-stage confidence building through access modules study.

Last November we hosted a policy roundtable with the IoD Northern Ireland featuring senior female leaders from Deloitte, Manufacturing Northern Ireland, Young Enterprise Northern Ireland,  a former Further Education CEO / Principal and current non-executive director. At this session my call to action was to apply a genuine “learn and live” ethos across the age spectrum, eliminating the idea that learning is a youthful activity, making lifelong learning the norm beyond leaving school.

Undoubtedly  “You can’t be what you can’t see” boils down to the belief we have in ourselves. We need to see other people who succeed and the gentle reminder that “I can too”. Through the power of learning lives can be transformed. At The Open University through our rich suite of Openlearn content, a comprehensive range of under and post graduate modules in key subject areas, short accredited and non-accredited courses, isn’t that what we are all about?

Dr Lynsey Quinn, Lead Manager for Skills and Partnerships

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