Episode 4 – Lauren Currie

A new podcast episode of #21for21 is out: full of insights and inspiration. In this episode, Lauren Currie speaks about confidence, the power of design, the need for diversity and inclusion and amplifying people’s voices.

Listen to the episode below 👇 🎧

🎤  The changes we face are BIG:

“There is a lot to process and make sense of. The way I think about it, these paradigm shifts are opportunities for progress.”

🎤  The depth of injustice and inequality is being REVEALED:

“The covid-19 crisis has revealed something we could not see before or if we could see it we weren’t paying attention…This global pandemic has pulled the curtain, and let us see the depth of injustice and inequality. And also the scale of the problems that we need to address: the scale of racism and bias,  the scale of incompetence we can see at leadership levels across the board from political parties to corporations to local businesses.”

🎤 Reminding ourselves of the importance of supporting EACH OTHER:

“When you focus on the power that you do have, you come to the conversation from a place of abundance, optimism and hope. A place of knowing that collectively -when we have each other- we are bigger than any institution, any corporation or any policy.”

🎤 Building a confidence REVOLUTION:

”Confidence is a muscle. It is something anyone can learn. It is not something you are born with. It’s not innate within you. You learn confidence the same way you learn to play basketball or you learn to breastfeed. These are really powerful muscles that I believe play a really important part in the conversation that we’re having.”

🎤  The importance of SPEAKING UP:

“Call sexism and racism out when you hear it: often it’s these moments that may be passed off as ‘oh, he’s just joking’ or ’this is just his way’, or ‘I know there’s an event and we’ve got no women of colour speakers but we couldn’t find any, we asked a few and they all said ‘no’’. It’s in that moment where you need to choose: okay I am going to be uncomfortable. I am going say something that is probably make people uncomfortable too. But you’ve got to do that. In fact it’s a necessity.”

About Lauren Currie

Lauren Currie OBE is the Founder of UPFRONT; on a mission to change confidence. She is a Trustee of the Design Council and chairperson of the UK’s leading maternity discrimination charity Pregnant Then Screwed. In 2017, Lauren was awarded an Order of the British Empire for her services to design and diversity.

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Episode transcript

Marco van Hout 0:33
Welcome to #21for21 with Lauren Currie OBE is the founder of UPFRONT on a mission to change confidence. She’s a trustee of the Design Council and chairperson of the UK leading maternity discrimination charity “Pregnant Then Screwed”. In 2017 Lauren was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services through design and diversity. #21For21 is a podcast about transformation. This is happening right now, and it is complex which is why we are talking to 21 transformational leaders. People who are ahead of the curve, and to whom we can ask the views like from their perspective to inspire us in our transformational journeys. Today, we will talk with Lauren about confidence, the power of design, about the need of diversity and inclusion, and about amplifying people’s voices but let’s first start with hearing Lauren’s voice. So welcome to the show, Lauren.

Lauren Currie 1:36
Hello, good to be here.

Carola Verschoor 1:38
So happy to have you.

Marco van Hout 1:40
So let’s get right to it. We are in a context of paradigm shifts, and it feels like the end of an era. Systems are collapsing, new ways of working, doing, and living are emerging as the old ways fail to deliver. Technology is disrupted and the climate is in crisis. Challenges arise on many fronts so Lauren, what do you make of all of this?

Lauren Currie 2:05
It feels bad, you know, a lot of the things you’ve just described are fake. There is a lot to get my head around and try and process and make sense of– the way I think about these paradigm shifts are opportunities for progress. Everywhere we look whether that’s our political parties to the conversations that are happening around our own dinner tables about race, we can see that the old way of being and the old way of doing is failing us. And that recognition is exactly what you need today create new norms and new routines and new rituals and new ways of being and doing when systems collapse, change happens.

You mentioned the climate crisis which is very real, and there is a very real-time stamp on that crisis. I certainly don’t profess to have any coherent thoughts on that specific crisis, but I definitely feel the weight, and the fear around the damage that has been done and the damage that is currently happening to this one and the only earth that we have, and it’s incredibly scary.

I think pessimistic when it comes to that specific part of the shift and the crises that we are witnessing but there’s a lot in the other things that you mentioned that actually, I feel very hopeful about. Now, the reason for that is I think COVID-19 and it has been a tragedy for so many people and this is still causing a huge amount of harm, as we speak, but at the same time that has revealed something that we couldn’t see before or if we could see we weren’t paying attention which is this scale of inequality.

I think this global pandemic has pulled back the curtain and let us see the depth of injustice and inequality, and also the scale of the problems that we need to address, the scale of racism and bias. The scale of competence we can see at leadership levels across the board from political parties to corporations to local businesses. I really hope that I believe that this kind of sight and exposure of the reality and the work that needs to be done is the first stage of change and the work that will follow.

Carola Verschoor 5:19
Yeah, absolutely and that’s the Lauren, I know and love. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of knowing you for many years now, even from back in the day where some of us knew you as a red daughter, even back then you had the wonderful pioneering capability of literally taking a red marker and putting circles around the things that we’re playing wrong and bringing them out in the open making them visible for those of us who couldn’t, and even those who wouldn’t see. And this way of looking at the world, these practices have become absolutely important because, as change agents, it’s also our role to help change the narrative, and perhaps one of the blessings in disguise of the COVID crisis is that the sense of awareness is very heightened.

There is a need really for facing up to the facts, facing up to the madness, facing up to what Genesis once called the land of confusion and it’s hard to do because we need to transform while the world keeps spinning. We can’t just press the pause button or stop our daily activities. We just have to really carry on and transform as we go. What do we need, of course, we need one another but what else might help us in the context of creating change that is meaningful, that is lasting, that is equitable, that addresses what needs to be addressed.

Lauren Currie 7:09
I love your headline of we need each other, that feels like a very beautiful poetic version of my longer thinking. Red daughters are still very much alive and kicking but I still don’t have a sponsor from Moleskin so maybe this podcast will be the one that finally, someone from Moleskin will buy a red… but yeah, how do we keep going? And how do we make a difference in amongst the chaos and, I think it’s a question that is on so many minds. I have a version of this conversation often and sometimes it comes from a place of fear of am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough? Other times it comes from a place of despair, doesn’t matter what I do, the systems are too big. Other times, it comes from a place of exhaustion. You know, I know for women of color in my life that this conversation, it does feel new for me and knew for sure many people listening but for many black and brown people, this conversation has been at the forefront of their minds for hundreds of decades of years.

I think for me, it’s always about power. You know, that’s why I talk about this idea of helping women to see and use the power that they already have because when you focus on the power that you do have, it’s coming out this conversation from a place of abundance, a place of optimism, a place of hope, and a place of collectively, as you see when we have each other we are bigger than any institution than any corporation than any policy. And when it’s just you on a blank screen in your Google search bar, it feels like a mountain that you could never claim and I really love, there is an analogy by a feminist marketing expert called Kelly Diels. I’m a big fan of her newsletter and she talked about the metaphor of imagining these crises and all of their different shapes and forms.

We are facing this huge wall that has a scale so vast that one of us as individuals can’t quite get our head around the scale of this wall and when you’re sitting in front of it as little as you, of course, you’re going to think, what’s the point? Where do I even start? I’m overwhelmed, I’m scared, I’m sad but when you look down at your toolkit, and think, hey, I’ve got pickaxe, and that pickaxe as the metaphor for your ability to tell stories, for your ability to make sense of data, for your ability to help children find happiness through singing, you know. I don’t know, only you will know what your tool is and when you engage with that tool, and you look to your left and your right, and up and down.

And there are hundreds and millions of other people standing at the wall with their tools and it’s this notion that you have to focus on the part of the wall that you can see and feel and touch, and the tools that you have. And that really just blew me away because, for me, it’s such a powerful visual that helps me not get overwhelmed with, you know, it’s that old age thing, you solve a problem, you create other problems in other places, and it all just is so interconnected, and complex and systemic but when you focus on– the sphere of influence is another great way to think about it, what is your sphere of influence? What do you have power over?

And it’s about being there in a way that is using what you already have, and also taking power not waiting for permission. I meet a lot of people who are waiting for somebody else to come and fix this. They’re waiting for somebody to come and rescue them, or somebody to come and make better the problem that’s keeping them up at night. I want to say to you like there’s nobody coming. There is nobody coming to rescue me or you or any of us. We have to take responsibility for this ourselves. We have to do what we can with our own sphere of influence.

And you’re so right about the point of how do you do that in a way that is long-lasting and sustainable. I’ve been doing this work for 13 years, and I think I’ve definitely had quite a significant shift in my thinking around longevity and, part of me as the impatient designer that’s just desperate to prototype and desperate to make and build and ship and test and learn and, that’s a part that I honor, and I would never change.

I hold up my hand and say like, that isn’t always the best course of action because of the problems that we’re talking about in this conversation that you both– this framing that you’ve set up around the paradigm shift, these things are decades and decades of work. This conversation will still be happening when the three of us aren’t here anymore. You know, their grandchildren’s children are having a version of this conversation and like when you frame it that way. I think the things that come to mind for me is our relationship with rest and our relationship is pausing and stopping because I think a consequence of our relationship with our phones and the internet means that we are constantly bombarded with messages about how deep these crises are. And that might be a Twitter feed, it might be a news headline, but it means that our bodies are existing in a constant state of fear, and panic.

And of course, depending on the color of your skin, depending on where you live in the world that will have a big role to play in how deeply you’re affected by these things, and that effect is very real. You know, we’re talking about anxiety, stress, depression, burnout, chronic fatigue, exhaustion, and I’m just at the start of my journey trying to understand and unpack the relationship between rest and capitalism. This notion that we’re all taught from a very young age that our self-worth is attached to being traditionally productive.

Carola Verschoor 15:01
To a degree, we are very much enslaved to a model of performance and I think, also relating to your previous point, we have to be on the one hand grateful, but particularly aware of our privilege in that, as you said, people who are waiting to be rescued, you know, you can hear the bells are ringing in the background, that rescue is not going to come, it’s up to you. But at the same time, that rhetoric feeds this sense of you’ve got to do it by yourself and that does lead to a lot of anxiety and that does lead to a lot of issues because of the first question, and that’s where the design abilities come in, the first question that arises is yes, but how? How the heck am I going to do this? How am I going to put this into action? I see that it’s needed. I feel that it’s needed. It’s burning inside of me, I just don’t know, where are the others. And this is where it relates to the others, and this is something I’ve always admired you and your work in.

I’m much more of a revolutionary than you are. And actually, that ends up biting me in the butt because it’s very frustrating. I just like, Okay, let’s do it, and sometimes that’s not the wisest choice. The wise choice is perhaps one of understanding and we women are slow to understand that at times, that we are role models to one another all of the time in every single choice that we make in every meeting that we’re at, where we see that there is an uneven distribution of people in the meeting, making a decision that involves numerous stakeholders, someone has to say, Hey, you know what, we might be missing someone in the room, we might have forgotten to ask some questions, maybe we’re moving too quickly through issues. And this realization that we are role models to one another continuously in like simple things like back in the day when we actually took buses and went places, or airplanes and went places, giving the seats to someone else making room for other people, all these things were being watched continuously, because we imitate both negative and positive behaviors.

It feels like we’ve gone viral not only in COVID terms, we’ve gone viral in some very toxic ways of doing and of being that need to be readdressed but sometimes some of us may be in places where that feels like a very steep mountain to climb and so that’s where that really comes in and your work at UPFRONT is so important in allowing that to unfold. Tell us more about your workout UPFRONT.

Lauren Currie 17:47
Yeah, of course, so UPFRONT as an organization on a mission to change confidence, not women, and I say that with emphasis, because one of the reasons the UPFRONT exists is because of confidence in the broader sense of public speaking, taking up space, advocating for yourself, advocating for others, asking for what you need. It shows up very differently for different genders.

The majority of literature and products and narratives that exist in the world around confidence are not designed with women in mind. We’ve kind of got the Tony Robbins, Gary Vee narrative of masculinity being about dominance and then we have the kind of another version which is sometimes, I can feel quite elitist around like arts and drama led to finding your confidence between your breath and your relationship with your body. And there is a huge opportunity and a huge need, and a demand for a new kind of conversation about the confidence that is rooted in the fact that low confidence is a consequence of your environment. The work to be done here is about changing existing systems and structures in creating new environments with a whole range of different voices and leadership styles can thrive, rather than the current narrative which is one of those one version of confidence that all of us are conditioned to believe is the preferable one which is usually masculine, alpha, white, extroverted, often American.

And if you don’t fit that mold, as a woman, you’re told that there’s something wrong with you and that you must bend and mold yourself to fit that. If you are a woman of color, you’re new and you display versions of this confidence, you’re told that you’re too much. And any woman who displays a combination of these things, in a way that we’ve described that it’s unacceptable, and the consequences that play out in so many aspects of our life from our family living room to the school gates, to the boardroom, to our career development.

UPFRONT is building, you know I talk about building a confidence revolution, and we’re doing this through bonds. So the bond is the collective name for a group of women. We run six-week programs, each cohort has a bond, the fourth bond starts on the seventh of June, which I’m super excited about. We have an UPFRONT global community bond which is a membership space for women who are building new muscles around confidence and of course, that’s another thing that might be new to some of your listeners. Like a muscle, it’s something that anyone can learn. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s not innate within you. You learn confidence the same way you learn to play basketball, or you learn to breastfeed and these are really powerful muscles that I believe, do play a really important part in the conversation that we’re having because part of the reason that a lot of these shifts and tragedies that we’ve talked about, and what happened is because of systemic racism, bias, sexism, ageism, and those systems have led to the people at the very top who make decisions and hold the power and majority of being middle-aged, privately educated white men.

And that means that I mean, we saw in the UK this week, there was an article in The Guardian that outlined why the COVID strategy from the UK government did not consider gender at any point. And that’s what happens when you have policies created by people who all come from the same social group. And, of course, we need to change the systems that are around, but we also need to raise awareness and start conversations to help women understand the problem does not lie with you. The problem lies with the system that we’re trying to make a change and so now we know that let’s get it to work.

Carola Verschoor 22:33
That’s right. Now we know that let’s bring our intention. That’s really designed our way to change the system.

Marco van Hout 22:44
Yeah, and actually, as a white man of middle age, I feel that you speak to me…. so what can I do?

Lauren Currie 22:57
Yeah, my favorite question. Well, thank you. So first, you have to send this episode to all of your friends to look inside like so they also hear my answer. The first thing is to recognize the power and the privilege that you hold, and every space that you’re in to really reflect on how you have benefited from the systems existing as they are which mean for most of your life, most rooms that you’ve walked into and the color of your skin has not been a reason for you to feel uncomfortable in those spaces, and your gender hasn’t been a reason for you to be treated differently in those spaces.

So I think it’s that kind of work on an individual level and then the next layer out is with your family, with your friends with your co-workers, you know, have a version of this conversation, Call sexism and racism out when you hear it: often it’s these moments that may be passed off as ‘oh, he’s just joking’ or ’this is just his way’, or ‘I know there’s an event and we’ve got no women of color speakers but we couldn’t find any, we asked a few and they all said ‘no’’. It’s in that moment where you need to choose: okay I am going to be uncomfortable. I am going say something that is probably make people uncomfortable too. But you’ve got to do that. In fact it’s a necessity that people let you do that if we’re going to get through to the other side of the problems we’re talking about. And then the really practical ask I have is to tell the women in your network professional orbit what you earn because that act and again, you might be squirming in the thought, it might make you feel uncomfortable and that would be very valid because we’re taught to keep these things so that they don’t change but we know that there is an intense gender pay gap, there is an intense ethnicity pay gap.

And one of the most powerful ways we overcome that which we all have our disposal is to tell each other what we are because when you tell women and men and women of color who do a similar job to you what you are, and then that moment if they realize that they are paid less than you or they are charging less than that information you have given them as a ticket to them getting the financial compensation that they are worth and it’s very difficult to start that journey when you don’t have the data. Most of us have an assumption.

Carola Verschoor 25:58
I think that is the most interesting aspect by addressing the taboo, we remove the toxicity of it because the thing is that of course, there’s an assumption but there’s also presumption and if people feel that they’re not being treated fairly, it’s also a good thing that when they comes to the light so that they can relax into it. And they can then go back to the point that you mentioned about the wall and the pickaxe and realizing that now they can relax into their talent and go make a difference with it knowing that all the other aspects are considered and brought in a fairway. So it’s again, one of those topics where we need one another to bring the issue to the table to help one another notice.

Lauren Currie 26:46
I was going to say I think the very notion of a taboo is actually super relevant to what you make over or sitting up here with the series of conversations because taboos– there’s such a good example of how an old way of thinking manifests itself and kind of stays present over generations and they exist so that things don’t change.

For me, I find that helpful way to think about it. It’s like “oh this makes me feel uncomfortable”, you know, for women we have I mean, we could do a whole podcast like periods, menopause, given birth, breastfeeding, like mental, there’s so many. And we’re taught to not talk about any of it. I’ll bet each of us has got really powerful stories, and really profound moments that have happened in our life, where we had a conversation with somebody, and we’ve decided, you know what I’m going to talk about it. And something amazing happens when you break when you see I’m taking this taboo out of the space. And that’s what I’m trying to do with the bonds which is a digital space, but one is high trust, high safety. And it’s a space for women, you know, they tell me, I’m talking about things here that I wouldn’t talk about with my professional coworkers. I also probably wouldn’t talk about it with my family, and I’m able to dig into it. Money is something that, you know, my relationship with money is a super common one because it is very particular to women. We are conditioned to think about money in a very different way and you know, the consequences of that are everywhere, and they’re not good.

Carola Verschoor 28:40
That said, we have a narrative that needs changing, and it’s a system narrative. It’s not only a personal or individual narrative, but we all are also part of it.

Marco van Hout 28:49
Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much, Lauren and we’re going to close very soon. We haven’t promised our audience any answers. We’ve said that we will generate new questions. I think, at least for myself, I heard a lot of things that I question a lot of the things that I do. So that’s important. To close mean, you have seen behind us on the wall in our studio, you have seen the sentence, ” Dear Future, I’m Ready! “. And we would like you to actually finish that line and Say, Dear future, I’m ready, and then yeah, just fill it in by whatever comes to your mind and how you are ready for this future and perhaps also rallying for the people that have to join you in that future. So Dear Future, I’m Ready! according to Lauren.

Lauren Currie 29:45
Dear Future, I’m Ready, let’s do this together.

Marco van Hout 29:51
That’s a beautiful ending. Thanks so much, Lauren.

Carola Verschoor 29:57
Amazing. Thank you so much. Really, Laura and you’re always a great inspiration.

Lauren Currie 30:02
Oh, thank you.

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