On Wednesday 10th February, COINS Foundation’s Director, Abigail Deffee, attended the University of St Andrews as a guest speaker. As a young female director, Abigail was invited to speak by Charles Lovatt to deliver a talk on Women in Leadership.

It was a great pleasure to welcome Abigail Deffee to the School of Management at the University of St Andrews last week. Abigail gave an inspiring and engaging talk focusing on Women in Leadership. She struck a deeply resonant chord amongst the hundred or so Masters students who packed out the room. Feminism in management is an important issue as widening diversity is increasing recognised as a source of competitive advantage.

Charles Lovatt FRSA, University of St Andrews

The room was crowded with over 100 students, many of whom had also been present for our Chair and Founder, Larry Sullivan’s visit back in September, meaning that most already had a firm understanding of COINS Foundation and how it operates. After briefly recapping a few of the projects, including The Cookie Bar and the implementation of solar panels in Uganda, Abigail began by highlighting the difference between male and female leaders in society.

When I first Googled men in leadership I got nowhere, because that is the norm.

Abigail Deffee

At the age of 18, whilst most of her peers hit the clubs in Zante, Abigail stepped on to a plane to a slightly different destination, Guatemala, marking the beginning of her involvement with GVI (Global Vision International). Breaking away from the standard activities of young adults of her age, she was involved in a number of their projects, enjoying new experiences whilst making a difference to other people’s lives as well as her own. She learnt that it was OK to be different and not simply go along with the norm.

In 2011, Abigail was made redundant from her job working for an NGO in London, but despite a loss of confidence that sense of adventure stayed with her. These difficult circumstances prompted her next big move, relocating to the landlocked Lesotho, in Africa. Doing something different, here she was building ‘identity capital,’ a phrase that was first coined by clinical psychologist, Dr Meg Jay, author of ‘Why 30 is not the new 20.

Your identity capital is your career toolbox: a collection of tools, skills, jobs and interests that you accumulate over the years. It’s the patchwork quilt of your career, elements that are pieced together to make your career narrative unique.

Dr Meg Jay, clinical psychologist

Abigail was inspired by the truth in this concept, that you may not know what you’re doing or have your life plan mapped out, but we are so privileged, and with privilege comes responsibility. With this in mind, why not make the most of the opportunities that are available to you by expanding your social circle, take risks and go where other people may not go to so that you can experience things they might miss out on.

New and good things come from new people, she says, from friends of friends who may be out of our comfort zone

Dr Meg Jay, clinical psychologist

She strongly believes that for some reason women often have lower expectations of themselves, something that may be instilled into us from a young age. At school, often girls are told to look nice but boys are encouraged to play sports and be competitive, an attitude that then transfers into their studies and careers. Often it is noticed that if a male does well, in tests or their career they embrace the success in a deserving manner, whereas a female in the same situation is more humble about their achievement, assuming they got it due to circumstance (i.e. being up against lower quality candidates).

This may be as a result of a lack of role models, particularly in business. Of the FTSE top 100 companies, there are more CEOs named David than total women, with only 5 of the 100 CEOs being female. This is not unique and is the case in so many industries, which is why Abigail believes that quotas are necessary to try to improve the situation. She argued that there is a real business case for diversity, as with the same people you end up with the same outlook, therefore, more diversity leads to better decisions.

Abigail finished the talk with a reminder about Dr Meg Jay’s article and encouraged the students to do things during their 20s that will invest in the person that they want to be.

Abigail's talk was truely inspirational and eye-opening. It illustrated how the work she and the COINS foundation do is such an important part of today's society. Abigail is one of the women who made it past the transparent walls so many women still encounter in their work-life. She helped many of us realize how tough and the world of business still is for women, but also showed us tools of tearing down barriers we might find infront of us in our careers.

Katrin Ganser, B.A. Management Master's Student