• Helen Ferguson

The Seed of an Idea

Where Has This Come From?

My mind had been restless for quite a few years; I realise that now, when I allow myself the time to examine how I’ve arrived here at this keyboard.

I was constantly burrowing away at bits of information, analysing conversations in my head, spinning off on a tangent and then prowling around the glimmer of another idea.

I couldn’t articulate what I was looking for, not to myself, or to even my most loyal loved ones. I just felt as though a small part of my mind was churning at a different speed to the rest of my body, and dashing off in a different direction to everything else in my life.

I would trawl through bookshops and libraries, scanning the shelves for something, some thing, a thing, the thing, to trigger my attention.

What's The Problem?

I wasn’t unhappy, I knew that.

I was not looking for ways to blow up my entire life, but I was always squinting at something that I couldn’t quite see, couldn’t quite reach.

Endlessly trying to pin something down;


I didn’t know.

What was I looking for?

What was I trying to achieve?

Who was I trying to reach? ……..Me? Hopefully.

I was busy and productive, my life can definitely be described as full, so why did my brain keep looking for more?

Was I looking for more activity? More stimulation? More attention?

What's The Solution?

I joined a dance studio, to reconnect with one of the big, enduring loves of my life.

Participating regularly in a dance class is a joy that I had quietly placed on the back burner, during the exhausting years of parenting a small, dependent person and simultaneously working full time in a growing family business.

Dance class helps to soothe my mind. Challenges have to be met, steps need to be learned. Friendships are formed as we fall flat on our backsides in front of each other, or stuff the choreography up for the umpteenth time.

I may not be an accomplished dancer, but I am a happy one. Dancing was a gorgeous addition to my week, goals were being set and my creativity was being sparked.

Maybe that was it?

Maybe I had been ignoring my creative side for too long and that was why I was feeling so unsettled?

What Next?

I bought myself a small set of watercolour paints; time to finally do a beginners course.

They remain unopened.

I was given a ‘Learn to Crochet’ kit; a brilliant gift, I definitely intend to use it, but as yet, I haven’t.

I joined a ‘French for Beginners’ class at the local Community College.

Dusting off my school girl French was interesting and quite enjoyable,

but I cringed when we began to be issued with homework!

Good grief, I struggled to hand it in on time when I was 14, there is zero chance of me doing it willingly now.

I'm glad to note that I am narrowing things down though.

I might not have the right answers, but I'm eliminating non solutions.

I’m being drawn towards creative outlets or forms of communication.

Is that it?

In reality, communication is my bread and butter, always has been.

Every job that I’ve ever had, even the ones I've detested, has relied on my ability to communicate well and make connections with people.

I spend all day and every day communicating my little heart out!

Surely that can’t be what’s bugging me?

And then it dawns on me.

When I’m working, I’m communicating ‘the message’, ‘the product’, ‘the service’, and I do it very well.

No false modesty here. I’m really good at my job.

If I wasn’t my own boss, I’d be encouraging everyone to send glowing references to my employer.

But...None of that communication is about me.

Once the penny drops, I get quick flashes of recognition in my head.

Every time that I have felt unsettled or questioning over the last few years, it’s when my voice doesn’t seem to be cutting through, or when I’ve witnessed another woman being silenced or ignored or disregarded

I grasp that, as well as not being heard, sometimes my discomfort comes from not being seen…….when I’m right there.

I was never the prettiest girl in any room, so I never relied on my appearance to do any of the work for me, but my conversation and my jokes absolutely pulled their weight.

My willingness to ask other people about themselves, and draw a shy person out of their shell and into a comfortable chat was always a helpful skill.

So now I’m in new and uncharted territory.

What has changed?

My age. My perceived usefulness or relevance.

The Invisible Woman

This revelation was illustrated with crystal clarity a few weeks later, when I had the unplanned need to go into the same Electronics and Tech shop for 3 different reasons, 3 days in a row:

Day 1: I go into the shop with my husband, who is looking for a new set of speakers for his games room.

As he walks through the shop, 2 separate assistants greet him with a friendly ‘Good Morning’ and the invitation to let them know if he needs anything. As soon as he stands near a shelf full of speakers, the designated sales person for the area approaches him and offers to help - lovely. Excellent customer experience.

Day 2: I go back to the same shop, without my husband, but with my teenage son.

He is looking for some bluetooth jiggery pokery to spend his savings on.

We get a few smiles and a few ‘Hi!, need any help?’ from the mostly young and University aged staff. I note that we have gone from Good Morning to a relaxed and informal Hi! , Clearly my son is the targeted customer. Mother and son shopping duos usually indicate Mum is paying, so this is probably going to be a lucrative pitch. My son finds his gizmo, hands over his cash to a smiling geezer; everyone is happy.

Excellent customer experience.

Day 3: I go back to the same shop, alone.

I have done something weird and wonderful to my laptop, and whilst the repair-shop is figuring out if it can be salvaged, I decide go and check out the cost of a replacement.

I walk through the shop, nobody says Good morning or Hi, and 2 staff members walk past me without making any attempt at eye contact.

I begin to look at laptops, clicking on a few keyboards, swiping a few screens.

These are quality items, I’m not rummaging in a bargain bin.

I am, quite literally, left to my own devices.

I remember that I could do with a new cover for my tablet, and start to flip through the display, but can’t find one for my model. Looking around for someone to ask, there is nobody nearby, but across the aisle, a trio of staff are discussing the merits of some piece of kit amongst themselves. They are turned inwards to each other, away from the prying eyes of people attempting to spend money.

I try to make eye contact and fail.

I shift a few inches from my spot and do the very English thing of rising up slightly onto my toes and craning my neck to the right, hoping that my contortions will be attention grabbing enough to get noticed. Absolutely nothing.

I raise my hand, give a little wave, arch my eyebrows and smile in a ‘please let me spend my money’ kind of way, all for naught.

I call ‘Hi, excuse me!’ (why am I asking them to excuse me, what do I need to be excused for?)

Trying it again but a bit more irritated, “Hello”....ooooh, eye contact.... “Hello, are any of you available to help me?”

I’m met with very definite eye contact now, all three of them look at me as though I have just farted right next to them.

One brave soul volunteers himself as tribute and crosses the floor to see what on earth I could possibly want. He promptly informs me that they don’t stock that item. No alternatives are offered, no enquiries made on my behalf, no attempt to sell me anything else.

My moment in the sun has passed.

I’m irritated and empty handed: Disappointing customer experience.

Am I only visible if I'm standing next to a man?

Or am I only visible when I am young?

Is this what has been bugging me?

I was always visible. Sometimes even when I didn’t want to be.

I really enjoy that the male gaze has now abated and I can walk past a building site unnoticed these days.

But I am still a human. I am still a contributing member of society. I can still spend my money in your businesses, I can still cast my vote at the ballot box.

Looking around I couldn’t help but notice other women, my age or older, navigating the same experience; People talking right over the top of them at dinner, eyes being rolled behind their backs if they expressed an opinion, simple processes being explained to them when they hadn’t asked for any input.

I visited a new client, a friendly lady in her early 60’s, and noticed an incredibly beautiful glass platter on her kitchen bench. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

It turned out that her best friend had made it for her. I was so visibly impressed that she said, “that’s nothing, come and look at this’.

She took me to her bathroom, where she had the most glorious glass shower screen, with waves and circles all the way through its texture. The same friend had hand crafted the shower screen as a gift. It was exquisite.

My client, it turned out, was an award winning Florist in her own right.

She was so gifted and so successful that she had spent the last 15 years of her career being invited all over the world to give lectures, to advise businesses and to be the honoured guest at Flower Festivals and Horticulture shows.

Nothing in her appearance even hinted at her talent.

Standing in her kitchen, she was the most normal looking, everyday type of woman, with a world class skill set and stellar professional reputation.

Her friend, the wizard of glass art, would no doubt have been just as ‘normal’ in her appearance.

The thought kept returning to me; what if nobody listens to her when she’s chatting, or just ignores her at social events?

What if someone speaks over the top of her, or never thinks to ask her a question about herself?

What if she feels invisible, or irrelevant or disregarded?

What if she’s just seen as a type, not as an individual?

What if she’s measured by some unrealistic yardstick and judged to have fallen short?

What an utter waste that would be.

So That's What I've been Looking For!

That's when my restless mind started to calm, and ideas began to take on understandable shapes. I could finally verbalise what was niggling at me.

I knew that I couldn’t change great chunks of society and deprogramme generations of behaviour.

What I could do though, is ask normal, everyday women about themselves, and share that with others.

I could meet the extraordinary business woman, the gifted artist, the hilarious story writer, and I could listen to them and record them for others to hear.

I could learn from them, I could write about them for others to read.

Sharing my idea with family and friends, some of them got it and were encouraging.

Speaking to groups of women in business forums and seeking their opinion: goodness me, it was like a great wave racing towards me!

They all got it!

They knew; they recognised all of it.

So many women, from all walks of life and different levels of education and experience, encouraged me to push forward.

I should build my site, I should interview as many women as I could convince to speak up, I had to tell as many stories and I could find.

It was unbelievably exciting.

I could be creative with this. I could communicate through this!

I really hope you enjoy watching this project grow and develop.

I’d love you to be an active part of it.

Please let me know if you or a lady you know would like to tell me your story.

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