The Future is... Full of Potential

My reflections on the EQUALL conference earlier this month, and the ways insights from the conference have inspired me to change my behaviour.

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Earlier this month, I won a ticket to attend the EQUALL Conference 2020. Below, I outline three key insights from the conference which I am excited to put into practice both now and when I join the workforce in August.

1. Sponsorship in addition to mentorship

As a student, I had mentors through a number of mentorship programmes. Now that I’ve graduated, I am both a mentee and a mentor, but sometimes struggle to know how I can make the most of my relationships.

At the EQUALL Conference, Professor Herminia Ibarra of the London Business School spoke about the distinction between mentorship and sponsorship. In the words of Professor Ibarra, “a mentor is someone who has knowledge and will share it with you, a sponsor is a person who has power and will use it for you”. However, sponsorship and mentorship lie on either end of a spectrum, with behaviours between the two which are neither pure mentorship nor true sponsorship.

Image source: Herminia Ibarra, via Twitter.

Learning about the importance of true and valuable sponsors to women’s careers has inspired me to take two actions. First, I will endeavour to use my power, wherever possible, to assist others in being #ambitious where I believe in their potential and their project. In choosing to do this I am recognising that despite my junior status, I do have a certain amount of political capital that can influence decisions. Second, I will seek out sponsors in addition to mentors, and will be #brave enough to ask my supporters to vocalise their support in front of decision-makers.

If you would like to learn more about mentorship, sponsorship and the sliding scale that exists between them, Professor Ibarra’s article detailing the importance of sponsorship for women’s careers, published in the Harvard Business Review, is available to view on the Laidlaw Scholars’ Network here.

2. Promote people six months before they are ready

Laidlaw Foundation CEO Susanna Kempe spoke on a Women Trailblazers panel, sharing her own experiences and insights with conference attendees. One of the things she mentioned was a policy that Lord Laidlaw has when promoting employees: always promote people six months before they are ready to be promoted. The employee will always be stretching, #curious and learning, and will never be bored.

An internal report by Hewlett-Packard showed that women will only apply for a new position if they meet all the criteria for the role. Men, on the other hand, will apply if they meet 60% of the criteria.

Promotions are not looking so likely for me for the next couple of years, as I will be completing a two-year training contract, however I think there is plenty of scope to draw inferences from this to apply to my own life.

I will think of this to remind myself to stretch myself beyond my current skills and capacity. I will ask for more responsibility before I have developed all of the skills necessary to carry out that responsibility, and will be #determined to use the opportunity to learn and develop, as opposed to practicing what I already know. I will also use this promotion principle to remind myself, when I am delegating tasks, to entrust more responsibility to others, and have faith that they will stretch themselves and ask for help when they need it.

An image from the Trailblazers panel at the conference. Laidlaw Foundation CEO Susanna Kempe sits second from the left.

Laidlaw Foundation CEO Susanna Kempe was recently interviewed by Nikol Chen for The Good Leader, the Laidlaw Foundation’s podcast. You can find the interview, in which she talks about this promotion principle, here.

3. Using your personal agency

We often hear about the power of consumers to effect #extraordinary change on companies and their practices broadly in society - for example environmentally, as demonstrated by consumers pushing for micro-beads to be eliminated from beauty products. However, we do not always recognise our personal agency and the impact we can have within an organisation - this was another point touched on in the Women Trailblazers panel.

The advice from all the panellists was clear - if you hold a position within an organisation with poor diversity and culture, we as individuals do have power. If you are in a senior position, you can be #fast and take action to improve the diversity and culture by pushing for new policies and real change. If you are in a junior position without the clout to push new initiatives through, you can find another organisation to work for, and use your personal agency to walk away.

Thank you so much to Nikol for organising for me to attend the EQUALL Conference, and to the Laidlaw Foundation for providing the free tickets.

Which of these insights do you find most interesting? Will you be adopting any of these practices? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or in a separate post!

Emma Franck-Gwinnell (she/her)

Trainee Solicitor, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

Hello! I'm Emma, one of the Co-Presidents of the Laidlaw Alumni Society. I'm passionate about entrepreneurialism, diversity in business and ending slavery in supply chains. My Undergraduate Scholarship research focused on legislation which requires organisations to tell the public about efforts they are making to stop modern slavery in their supply chains. In particular, I looked at whether this legislation is making a difference in the fight against modern slavery in supply chains (spoiler alert: it's not!).


Go to the profile of Nikol Chen (she/her)
over 1 year ago

Thank you for this wonderful article, Emma! I am so overjoyed that you found the conference useful and took away these amazing points.

I especially support the message that we as consumers have the power to influence organisations. It is great to take on personal responsibility e.g. by using reusable coffee cups & shopping bags, but we need to push for systemic change together. To add to your example of microbeads, another example would be the ban on black plastic in supermarkets (although there is still long way to go with banning all plastic IMO). 

Here is an excerpt from Don Norman's book called The Design of Everyday Things, which specifically talks about usability issues in product design, but can be applied to any causes about which you are passionate and would like to change, main message being that we need to act on what we advocate to get somewhere: 

"If you are a user, then join your voice with those who cry for usable products. Write to manufacturers. Boycott unusable designs. Support good designs by purchasing them, even if it means going out of your way, even if it means spending a bit more. And voice your concerns to the stores that carry the products; manufacturers listen to their customers." 

Hi Nikol,

Thanks so much for your comment! Your black plastic example is so spot on - a great example of change which affects all of society.

I agree that is so easy to get caught up in what we, as individuals, can do to make an impact, without truly considering the systemic change. The excerpt you chose really hits it on the head - whatever consumers, users, do that will impact an organisation’s bottom line will really influence its behaviour. I think that this must be the key way to make an impact where we are external to the organisation. I would certainly be interested in hearing from senior product development personnel which consumer feedback has more influence when determining product strategy: currency or opinion?

Thanks again for sharing - some great food for thought and potential for discussion here!

All the best,


Go to the profile of Lusya Manukyan
over 1 year ago

This is a very insightful article, Emma! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I really like the focus on being practical. This was touched upon over and over during the conference, and I do agree that in many cases great ideas do not have much impact simply because they are not applied in practice. 

I particularly agree with the point that we should not wait for someone else to promote us or give more responsibility, but to seek opportunities to do more ourselves. This is something that I am also trying to work on, especially as I try to make my first steps in the transition from university to work. And I'm very excited to be working on creating new opportunities in our newly forming collaboration - not just for us but also other scholars as well!

Hi Lucy,

Thank you for reading!

With regards to seeking opportunities to do more - I certainly think that, even in the early stages of our careers, there is a lot of value to be found in taking the time to pursue new projects and collaborations. Even where we choose not to pursue certain paths at this point in time, giving thought to the opportunities means that it will be easier for us should we decide, later on, that we do want to go down that path. The reflection is also great practice in prioritising valuable experiences and saying ‘no’ to opportunities that will not, in the long run, take us to where we want to be.

I’m really looking forward to working with you, I think it will be very inspiring!

Best wishes,


Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe (she/her)
over 1 year ago

Not only is this super smart (and beautifully includes all our values) but I love that it is full of what you plan to do because of what you learned at the conference. Great article Emma, thanks for attending, and listening (especially to my bit!), sharing the learning and most of all, for committing to act. 

Hi Susanna,

Thanks so much for your kind words. I am excited to plan where I will be putting these insights into practice - and I will make sure to post about lessons learned and my next steps once I cross that bridge!

All the best,