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Life Lessons Part 3: Nicola Mendelsohn, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez & Charlie Webster on what every woman should know

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"Don’t take your voice for granted. Speak up"…and other killer Life Lessons from the inspirational Miriam González Durántez, Nicola Mendelsohn and Charlie Webster

Words: Alexandra Jones, Lizzie Pook. Photography: Adrian Lourie/Evening Standard/Eyevine

Who do you go to for advice? We’ve all been there floored by indecision at a momentous metaphorical crossroads. At those times, good advice – the kind that makes you re-evaluate the job offer you thought you’d spill blood for, or realise that worrying about things you can’t control is a waste of mental energy – is more valuable than you’d ever imagine. And the person offering that advice, infinitely more valuable still.

According to a recent LinkedIn survey, 83% of 1,000 female respondents agreed that having a mentor to offer the conversational equivalent of a guiding hand, was crucial to their lives and careers, but nearly a fifth admitted to never having had one. And that’s where Stylist’s Life Lessons comes in, our event series where three inspiring women offer up the single most important lesson they’ve learned in their lives.

The theme of the evening was mentors – who had them, who didn’t and how to get one. Charlie, who resigned as a patron of Sheffield United FC after they allowed convicted rapist Ched Evans to return to training, began with a call to action: if you don’t have someone who inspires you, then it is your job to inspire others. Then Facebook VP Nicola offered the best piece of advice we’ve ever heard about the power of whistling. And finally, Miriam talked about finding inspiration in Kung Fu Panda. If only we could get each of them on speed dial…

At our third (and biggest) Life Lessons event, held on Tuesday 31 March in Soho’s Ham Yard Hotel, sports journalist and women’s rights campaigner Charlie Webster, Facebook vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Nicola Mendelsohn, and international trade lawyer and founder of mentoring charity Inspiring Women, Miriam González Durántez (who also happens to be married to deputy PM Nick Clegg) took to the stage to speak. And judging by the sold-out crowd, Stylist readers were as eager to hear what they had to say as we were.

Miriam González Durántez

Miriam González Durántez: “I am not behind my husband. I am beside him”

Miriam González Durántez, 46, is a partner at European law firm Dechert LLP, and a campaigner for girls and education. In 2013, she launched Inspiring Women (inspiringthefuture.org) a charity that provides professional mentors for teenage girls

It’s ok not to call yourself a feminist

“I am a self-confessed feminist – I believe that men and women should not only have the same rights, but they should feel as free as each other to take whatever decisions they want to take. But I am also friends with a lot of women who think exactly as I do, yet refuse to call themselves feminists. In my book, that’s absolutely fine. It’s just a label.”

Don’t stand ‘behind’ men

“I’m what they call a ‘political wife’, although I don’t really like that name. I don’t really live up to the definition that Prime Minister David Cameron recently used, of a great woman who stands behind the politician. While I completely agree I am a great woman, I am definitely not behind my husband. I am beside him.”

Be a role model

“My Inspiring Women campaign is based on the very simple premise that it is easier to dream of being something if you have actually seen it. A girl is more likely to dream of being a squadron leader in the air force, for example, if she has seen someone else doing it. Sexism in our society is there as an insidious ‘drip, drip’ thing playing behind the scenes that makes girls think they are just a tiny bit worse than boys. It is the duty of women of our generation to change this. I am 46 years old, I know how to deal with sexism. I get called ‘the scary wife’ or ‘the bad wife’ but it doesn’t last two seconds in my mind, because to me, that’s background noise. But it is the background noise against which young girls are being brought up. So I’m going to speak up about it.”

Know that you can compete

“When I got a scholarship to go to Bruges to study European Union Affairs, which was a very important thing for me because I met my husband there, I was this little rural Spanish girl. The kids there from glamorous places like Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard all had this gloss to them. I worried that, no matter how much I studied, I would never have that gloss, or the self-confidence they had. I’d phone my mother every night, and she’d say, ‘Just stay there one more month, and then you can come home.’ I had to do a presentation one day, and I must have rehearsed it about 500 times. In the end, it wasn’t great, but I delivered it and answered questions in my terrible English, and it was fine. I realised at that moment that I could compete. That it was going to take me more effort but that I could be on the same level as these other students. One of the girls from Harvard came up to me and told me, ‘You make me really proud to be a woman.’ That, to this day, is the nicest and most beautiful thing anyone, including my husband, has ever said to me.”

Count your lucky stars

“Life is a little bit like Kung Fu Panda – there is no magic ingredient. I have done a lot of work with women in developing countries, such as the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these women not only lack basic gender rights but they lack basic human rights too. There are lots of people there who have made just as much of an effort as I have but haven’t managed to get to where I have and that is just down to luck, to me being in the right place at the right time.”

Your voice is powerful

“I am going to leave you with a plea: that you speak up. You have a voice and that voice is what makes you powerful. If you took an aeroplane even just three or four hours away from the UK, you would find lots of women who do not have the luxury of that voice. You were not given it to take it for granted. Use it. Speak up.”


Nicola Mendelsohn

Nicola Mendelsohn: “If you think that you’re about to cry, just start whistling”

Nicola Mendelsohn, 42, is Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She is a mother of four and a passionate advocate for women in the workplace

Build your Board

“I’m not talking about the corporate boardroom here, I’m talking about building a group of people close to you, that you can trust and count on. They will look out for you and help you make the right decisions. Make sure you have people with different ideas to your own and to each other, to ensure you’re getting a rounded perspective. Have people on your board who are going to disagree with you, don’t only seek advice from people who tell you how lovely and amazing you are. You need honesty and tough feedback.”

Fnd yourself mentors

“Mentors come in all shapes and guises. I was once very unfortunate to have a horrible female boss. She made me cry on a regular basis. One day, a colleague stood up to her and said, ‘No, you’re just a bully. You’re not being nice, you’re not being kind. I think she’s good and I’m placing a bet on her.’ If he hadn’t said that I’d definitely not be standing here today.” 

Ask for feedback

“When I was working for an advertising agency I had one boss who would give me instant feedback. He would come up to me regularly and say, ‘Nicola, come here; few points to tell you.’ We do this at Facebook, too. Some might think it harsh but we have created a culture of instantly telling people how they’ve performed. We don’t let things wait and boil up for months and months.”

Whistle

“Stevie Spring, who is currently the chairman of Children in Need, gave me some advice that has stayed with me: ‘There’s always a moment when it all becomes too much, when you can feel that you’re about to cry. If this happens, whistle, because it is impossible to cry and whistle.’ Next time you feel like you’re going to cry, try it. If you’ve got kids and they are mean to you, or if you’re watching a sad film, just whistle and you’ll stop crying – it’s magical. You look ridiculous but it’s much better than puffy eyes and all that mascara running down your cheeks.”


Charlie Webster

Charlie Webster: “I couldn’t watch another innocent victim have no voice”

Charlie Webster, 32, is a TV presenter and sports journalist, and a sexual and domestic abuse campaigner. In 2014, she resigned from her post as a patron of Sheffield United when convicted rapist Ched Evans was allowed to train with the club after his release from prison

Don’t Be afraid to speak out

“Last year, a woman was abused online and in person. She had to change her identity six times. She couldn’t see her family and had to live in isolation, under police protection. This woman hadn’t killed anybody and wasn’t a criminal. She had done nothing wrong. Instead, she had been raped by a footballer. I had been following her story and one day I got an email from her family, thanking me for speaking out about sexual abuse. I’ll never forget it because I was feeling pretty low myself at that point. For the first time, I had spoken in public about the fact that I was sexually abused [Webster was assaulted by her running coach when she was 15 – the man was sentenced to 10 years in prison]. It was terrifying. I came off the radio and felt like I wanted to hide away for 100 years, but the next day I went to my laptop and there were 4,000 emails from survivors of sexual abuse. That gave me so much hope.”

Inspire others and change things

“When I heard that the footballer who had raped that woman was going to return to his club, I had no choice but to resign. I led the campaign to stop a convicted rapist leaving prison – having served half his time – and going straight into the same job, to be glorified as a role model and to influence boys and girls.That campaign caused controversy and I still can’t understand why. I couldn’t watch another innocent victim have no voice.”

Find out what makes you angry

“Picture gender equality as a massive umbrella with loads of spokes. There might be a spoke for violence, for workplace obstacles, for family barriers, for sexual harassment. It might seem too big to deal with, but what would happen if we all took"

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