Interview by Jo Macdonald
When the United Nations calls someone ‘A champion for women and girls around the world’ you can be pretty sure you’ve found an inspiring woman! And Tabby Biddle is Inspiring with a capital ‘I’. She is a celebrated writer, the bestselling author of ‘Find Your Voice: A Woman’s Call to Action’, a gifted speaker (her TEDTalk moved me to tears), and a passionate women’s leadership coach. She has taught yoga to refugee girls in India, taught English to Tibetan monks in Nepal, has studied with and met the Dalai Lama, is a two-time United Nations Foundation press fellow, worked as a reporter in the Middle East, and has been featured as an expert in both national and international press – personally I think someone should make a documentary about her (or heck even a movie)!
Now aged 46, she recently became a Take The Lead Leadership Ambassador, an amazing organisation based in the US that ‘supports women in taking their fair and equal share of leadership across all sectors by 2025’.
‘For me, I love that there is a definitive timeline here. Last year [through this organization] we launched an initiative called ‘50 Women Can Change the World’…it was based in Arizona and focused on emerging leaders in the non-profit sector and was a 6-month leadership training programme. They have seen much success. One of the foundational pieces of Take The Lead is to help women redefine their relationship with power, so that they’re not orienting from a masculine ‘power-over’ paradigm, which makes a lot of women say ‘I don’t want that kind of power, it’s been used against me in my life, so if I have to be someone like that I don’t want that.’ We’re helping women orient to a ‘power-to’, what do we have the power to do individually and collectively. It’s about bringing everyone to the table and seeing what we can co-create together. So, now what I’m working on is a ’50 Women Can Change the World’ in California, specifically for women in the Entertainment industry. There is a small team of us collaborating on it, we’re working behind the scenes right now developing the programme and the plan is to launch in January 2018. The idea is to bring female studio executives together with female creatives (writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, etc.) and bring everyone’s skills, talent, intellect, and heart together and look at what we can co-create, how we can together change the world, how we can get those stories out there that are from the feminine perspective. I’m very excited about this, it’s a lot of work, but I feel I’m ready.’
Tabby is a passionate advocate for the feminine, but it’s something that came later in life for her. ‘I didn’t really have any female mentors growing up. The transition from girl to woman was for me, as it is for many girls, quite intimidating actually…it was 20 years or so before I woke up to the feminine aspect. Up to the age of 35/36 I was very much operating out of the patriarchal and masculine lens. Once I woke up though to the human rights abuses that were happening to women and girls, particularly in relation to our bodies, the sexual violence and sexual abuse, I committed to playing my part in amplifying the truth of what was going on, so that it couldn’t be looked over or turned a blind eye to, as I had been blind to it before. At that time I didn’t see many journalists, except Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times who I adore, outing these human rights abuses. So I began writing my blog The Goddess Diaries. Through that experience I found my voice. Even though I’d been writing for years it wasn’t until this that I really found MY voice. And, once I found the power of my own voice…I knew there was no doubt that we needed more women’s voices and stories being heard.’
As well as human rights, Tabby is a passionate advocate of women’s leadership. Rather than focusing purely on numbers or breaking down barriers though, she has a focus on helping women show up in leadership roles as themselves, fully, without having to fit into the more masculine idea of how things should be. ‘I long for all women leaders at high levels to be able to show up in an honest, authentic way as a female leader.’
This really is a big problem at high levels – just think of Hillary Clinton or Theresa May as examples of women who show up with very masculine energy, despite the fact this does not seem to truly represent who they are. I asked Tabby why she thinks so many women are afraid to show up authentically and be fully honest about their beliefs.
‘There is a layer of fear and self-doubt around showing up as a woman. Using Hillary Clinton as an example, she was ridiculed and metaphorically burned at the stake for putting herself forward. Women see that and it’s scary, they don’t want to put themselves through that. A lot of what women want to share is outside the paradigm that we’re used to operating in and that can fuel self-doubt and feel scary as well. Self-doubt and fear feed each other. I still feel it when I put something out there that I know will challenge the general thinking.’
One of the hardest things for many women to deal with is the abuse that can come with speaking out, the reports of trolling can be just as scary as actually experiencing it yourself. ‘This is why I think that the work you’re doing, the work that I’m doing, and that the women we know are doing, is so important. We’re amplifying each other’s voices, that’s the way we as a sisterhood can all be moving forwards together, by supporting each other, and knowing that we have this safety net, this support group…we’ve got each other’s back.’
Having coached many women in leadership and in getting their voices out there, this is Tabby’s advice for anyone who wants to step up and start becoming more visible.
‘First, every woman should have some kind of personal practice and it has to include something that connects them to their body. Because the body is where we store a lot of our feminine wisdom. It could be yoga, dancing, walking, swimming, running, something where a woman is really in her body because in order to feel really safe, powerful, and grounded in her message she has to be connected to herself. Secondly, she needs to open herself up as a channel, and for some women this could be through journaling, stream-of-consciousness writing, meditation, maybe yoga or dance again. And if you’re new to this idea then even just sitting for 2 minutes quietly is powerful. Then thirdly, whatever is bubbling up inside you that you want to say, write it down, tell yourself first. Then, when you feel ready, share it with a small group of friends. Let yourself feel safe, build on it, you don’t have to charge straight out there and share it in The Huffington Post. Let yourself feel safe, and then build on it.’
Tabby found that her own voice and way of being in the world shifted in her forties. ‘I became a mum at 41, that opened up a whole new element of the feminine to me. I struggled to give up my identity…in fact it was almost like the struggle, the resistance, I had felt going from girl to woman, it was like experiencing that again going from maiden to mother. I don’t know how much that’s part of public conversation but I really struggled with that transition. Now I’m 5 years in and I’ve grown into it and I’m embracing it, and at 46 I realise I have to speak up for other mothers. I’ve had to go through my own patriarchal unlearning of the view of mothers and I have to embrace myself as a mother from the feminine lens. I’m showing up as a fuller human being, with more depth, with more self-understanding, and therefore I’m able to serve others to a higher level.'
And her final thoughts for those of us in our forties?
‘This time period in our forties, those of us in our forties now, we really are the leaders for this next era in terms of how everyone’s going to think about women aging. We’re the torch carriers…I think our voices are needed: to be open, to have public discussions, authentic discussions, about our experiences. So I would encourage women to know that they’re in a very special category of change-makers being in this age-bracket right now.’
I couldn’t agree more Tabby.
She really is a truly inspiring leader for women. Oh, and in a beautiful bit of synchronicity, she also helped our Inspiring Woman for July, Murielle Marie, prepare for her TEDTalk.