My Personal Story
As an only girl with brothers I learned early on to fight my corner! My education at school and college was in all-girl environments where showing leadership skills was encouraged and I didn’t have to compete with boys. It was also in these environments that I first saw the strength and inner resources that women possessed. In my first teaching post I was part of an all female English department. Working in subsequent posts in mixed gender departments highlighted for me the differences between all women groups and mixed groups. The dynamic is completely different. I love working with men but in mixed groups women have learned to hide themselves or turn into men to be heard. In female groups there is a foundation of authenticity and of connection which allows each woman to show her best self – her best amazing self.
The sense of injustice I experienced as a girl at home (having to help more with household tasks; getting a little tin train game while my brothers got a big ‘proper’ train set) developed my sense of justice and equality so I suppose that by my early twenties I was certainly a feminist. (My favourite answer to the question ‘are you a feminist then?’ is still ‘I don’t know what a feminist is but every time I say something that differentiates me from a doormat, I’m accused of being one’)
After I had my first daughter I spent two years working in a refuge for women suffering from domestic violence. I went in as a ‘fixer’ of broken women but with the patience of the women on the support group, I experienced at first hand what unconditional love looked like. We helped only if we were asked, we never judged if women wanted to return to an abusive relationship and we never blamed them when they came back beaten (again). But holding a loving space for women to step into when they were ready and seeing beyond their painful stories allowed me to witness the incredible courage and strength and inner resources that I came to see in all women.
When I began my consultancy business in 1986 I was working in the area of designing and writing self instructional materials. But as I went about my business I began to wonder where all the women were in the organisations I was working with – the glass ceiling was made of concrete actually and for many women it was more of a sticky floor – they weren’t getting near the ceiling. So I decided to concentrate on the niche area of Equality (the word ‘diversity’ wasn’t even used – and ‘inclusion’ not even invented!). With my co-director we piloted a series of half day workshops for women and offered them free to our local council. We couldn’t cope with the numbers of women who wanted them. So our mission became to get women-only training on the serious corporate agenda and we had some success in that. But this was never ‘remedial’ training – bringing women up to speed so they could be entered back in the main (or rather man) stream – or trying to teach them how to be macho. This training was far more about tapping into the amazing inner power and resource that I believe is inside all women.
Meanwhile, in my own life I had two small daughters, was working 24/7 building my business, playing for the local Squash team, doing some voluntary work, helping to care for my mother-in-law who had cancer and came to live and die with us and taking into our home a needy teenager for 3 years. Some days I would weep from sheer exhaustion. So what sustained me? Finding a new spiritual philosophy and establishing a new operating platform for how I was going to deal with what was happening in my life. AND the support of my women friends. I know at first hand the importance of reframing your thoughts and beliefs so that you feel in charge of your life. And I have always known and experienced the value of female support. These two things are central to the Reclaim Your Power: Reclaim Your Life programme.
And of course, regarding organisations, the truth is that unless organisations significantly change, women’s skills are never really going to be used. Unless there are effective work/life policies, women will always opt out of that next promotion which will increase their already high stress levels and make the work/life balance even harder to manage. Unless organisations change their macho cultures and stop rewarding aggressive, domineering managers, women will never feel that they fit in. It’s not development programmes women need – its renewal programmes – to remember who they are and tap into their innate personal power and strengths. If we wait for organisations to change, women will be dead with exhaustion. So I see my work now as reminding women who they are, helping them to ditch unhelpful messages they were given and have believed about themselves, and giving them ways of tapping into the huge personal power they possess so not only can they live fulfilled lives, but their organisations can flourish too.
Welcome to the Powerful Woman website!
Geraldine Bown is the Managing Director of Domino Perspectives established in 1986; a former President of the European Women’s Management Development Network and founding member and past Vice-President of the European Institute for Managing Diversity.
Geraldine is highly regarded for her expertise in the area of establishing a strategic approach to Diversity and Inclusion as well as specific initiatives relating to women’s development. In the past twenty five years Geraldine has spoken at many national and international conferences. She has presented in Europe, North and South America, South Africa and Asia in addition to all parts of the British Isles and Ireland. She has co-authored three books written for women managers, which are now translated into Chinese, Spanish, Indonesian, German, Bulgarian and Czech. She also co-authored one on managing home and work for BBC Publications which accompanied a BBC programme featuring her and her family. Her latest book – From Diversity to Unity: Creating the Energy of Connection – is co-authored with an American friend and colleague Mary Casey. She and Mary are joint founders of The Connemara Centre for Executive Renewal specialising in renewal programmes for women leaders, especially those working globally.
Geraldine’s personal reputation is built on her extensive diversity expertise, her inspirational presentations and her transformational approach to training.
Geraldine has developed a unique two-hour diversity and inclusion awareness training session interacting with groups of up to150. This dynamic presentation not only educates people about diversity and inclusion but motivates people to accept their personal responsibility in the interactions they have at work. The session manages to go beyond the surface and deal with sensitive issues while ensuring that people don’t feel judged and criticised. This session is typically commissioned by organisations who want to give all their employees a consistent message about diversity and a common language and framework so they can continue the conversation after the session. In 2007 Geraldine received an ASTD citation for Excellence in Practice for her diversity work with PepsiCo International in the area of Building a Globally Inclusive Organisation, having delivered diversity and inclusion awareness training to over 4000 managers in over 25 countries.
In 2011 she was recognised for a World of Difference 100 award given by the International Alliance of Women (TIAW). The awards recognise 100 achievers from 27 countries for their efforts in advancing the economic empowerment of women locally, regionally or worldwide.
Personally, Geraldine is a Reiki Master and in September 1998 was ordained as an Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Counsellor. She conducts wedding ceremonies, funerals and baby blessings for those who want to bring a sense of the sacred to special occasions outside the boundary of a religious dogma. She completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Spiritual Development and Facilitation at the University of Surrey, Management School in 2007.
See www.dominoperspectives.co.uk for more about Geraldine’s Diversity and Inclusion work, and her work as an Interfaith Minister.
Geraldine lives in the heart of Connemara, Galway in Ireland.