Reflecting on my experience of LOTI x Upfront

About LOTI x Upfront

Upfront Bond is a six-week online confidence course designed for and by women. Participants of the course join a ‘bond’ (a collective noun for a group of women) to take this journey with, and learn from Upfront founder Lauren Currie’s practical tools and insights to help women:

  • Feel more confident and assertive at work
  • Become more professionally visible
  • Combat and overcome nerves
  • Strengthen their own voice

Recently the London Office for Technology & Innovation (LOTI) invested in over 80 places on this course for women across London local authorities to take part. I was one of those women and wanted to share my experience of the course and my own relationship with confidence.

Why did you sign up for Upfront?

I signed up for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to overcome imposter syndrome and this was really good timing for me having just been promoted to a more senior role. I can usually project confidence externally (e.g. I can speak up in meetings and give presentations) but I often feel inner self-doubt that can make this a pretty uncomfortable experience.

Having moved up into the role of Data & Insight Manager, I also wanted to take this opportunity to develop skills that would help me support my team better. I wanted to be more confident in setting boundaries and saying no so that I could protect the team’s capacity and well-being. I also wanted to be a better coach and cheerleader so that members of the team feel safe and confident themselves.

What were your doubts going in?

I had been to an information session about Upfront last summer and after this had thought that it wasn’t for me. It’s hard to describe, but it felt a bit…much. It felt very extroverted and I wasn’t sure there was room for different presentations of confidence. However, I had the opportunity to discuss these doubts with a colleague who had just completed the course. I’m happy to say that the discussions and content were a lot more nuanced and thoughtful than I expected.

I was also a little wary of the idea that women had to ‘fix’ themselves and act more like men in order to be (or be seen as) confident. I’ve felt conflicted about advice I’d heard in the past about women changing the way that they speak or write – I quite like using exclamation points in my emails, thank you! However, I was pleasantly surprised that in the first ‘Live’ session Lauren addressed this point head on and said that the problem is not the women aren’t confident, it’s that society generally doesn’t reward confidence in women.

How did you make the time?

I needed to dedicate 2-3 hours each week to Upfront. It wasn’t easy, but at the start of the course I blocked out 2 hours of focus time each week and rearranged regular meetings which clashed with the ‘Live’ sessions. I also had to miss stand ups, delegate things more, and be Upfront in saying ‘no’ to other meetings in order to stick to my plan.

What did you learn? What were your top 3 takeaways?

I think I knew most things that we learned on the course already intellectually. However, I didn’t really believe them to be true. This course was an opportunity for me to focus on my own confidence and really reflect on how it plays out in the workplace with the support of other women. My top 3 takeaways from the course were:

  • I don’t need a good reason to say ‘no’ to something. I need a good reason to say ‘yes’.
  • I don’t need to apologise for things that aren’t my fault.
  • Work doesn’t always speak for itself. I need to take credit for my achievements.

What have you done differently?

The Upfront course has caused me to reflect a lot more about how I think about work and act in certain situations. Here are a few of things that happened during my 6 weeks:

  • I copied someone into an email chain and got a somewhat angry response from the original sender saying they didn’t want that person to be included. I very nearly apologised but after I typed the words I stopped to think ‘what am I actually apologising for?’ I hadn’t done anything wrong in this situation. I deleted it and instead enquired about why this was a problem. Before Upfront, I probably would have apologised because I wanted the other person to like me, and then thought about it all evening.
  • I was in a meeting where a colleague was given credit for some of my work. I didn’t speak up because at the time it didn’t feel important and I wanted to focus on the content rather than who did what. However, I thought a lot more about this after the fact and wished I had corrected this at the time. Hopefully I’ll act differently next time.
  • I introduced ‘weekly wins’ in team stand-ups to start sharing some of our learning with the wider team. This is an Upfront practice where you reflect and share something that you’re proud of, with the idea that this aims to increase your motivation, sense of accomplishment, and feeling of happiness.
  • I encouraged a colleague to be Upfront herself when faced with a difficult work situation which led to a positive outcome for her, her team, and Hackney.

Overall, I think I’ve felt a bit less anxious about work (even my husband has commented that I seem less stressed recently). I am also reflecting a lot more about the unique value that I bring to the council and my team.

What’s next?

It’s unrealistic to expect a six week course to change a lifetime of social messaging and learned behaviours. There is also a wealth of resources in the course that I’ve only scratched the surface of. This is the beginning of a journey, and I’ve identified a few areas that I want to work on in greater depth now:

  • Taking credit for my work: I am already fairly visible at work but I’m often shining a light on the work of the team (and rightly so, they’re brilliant) rather than my own. I think this is tricky for managers, as we often don’t have tangible outputs we can point to and we don’t want to take credit for the outcomes when it was a team effort. I want to find better ways of identifying the unique value I’m adding to Hackney and shining a light on this too.
  • Being thoughtful with the language I use: I’ve already made progress by stopping myself from mindlessly saying ‘sorry’ and using filler words/phrases like ‘I think’, ‘just’ etc. but I don’t necessarily want to eliminate these words from my vocabulary. I want to be more mindful about my language and use them in appropriate contexts.
  • Building ladders behind me: how do I best role model these behaviours and encourage other women to embark on their own confidence journey? (hopefully this blog is a start).

I hope that with the grounding the Upfront course has given me, along with the support of other women (via our emerging LOTI Women’s Network and the Upfront Global Bond) I’ll be able to make some real progress in these areas this year.