Breaking down hierarchy and reframing negative stories

Keynote presentation

Fiona McUtchen


Fiona McUtchen and the Epworth Future Women’s Forum working group partnered with Visibility Co to co-create a session aimed to help reframe negative self talk and self-defeating beliefs among women in their organisation.

The Challenge

In July 2018, the Epworth Future Women’s Forum was set up to celebrate and empower the women in the organisation. Being a healthcare organisation with the majority of employees supporting patients, the intent of the Future Women’s Forum was to care for the people caring for patients by offering a series of events, activities and initiatives for women to help them with their personal and professional development.

Epworth’s Group Director Learning & Organisational Development Fiona McUtchen led the Future Women’s Forum working group, and was tasked with developing the program of events that would roll out to employees across the year. These events needed to be relevant to women across all departments and levels.

After seeking feedback from women within the organisation around the topics the events should address, one of the key issues that women wanted to discuss was the lies women tell themselves - the self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that women in particular can have. The Epworth Future Women’s Forum working group decided to start the series of events with a session on this topic, and they knew the Visibility Co team were the right people to help bring it to life.

The Solution

Fiona and her team partnered with Visibility Co to co-create a live event specifically designed for Epworth’s female employees. The event, which was to be run over lunchtime and broadcast live to those working at other sites, would be the first in the Future Women’s Forum series of events - it had to be engaging and impactful in order to set a benchmark for future events in the series.

After the  Future Women’s Forum working group shared the topics they wanted the session to cover, Julia and Sarah drew on their research, resources and experiences to build out the agenda. They suggested that Fiona encourage senior female leaders to play a key role in the session by sharing their personal stories in order to create a space safe for others to speak openly about their experiences.

Fiona also knew it was important for the event to include a practical element. She worked with Julia and Sarah to devise an activity that would stimulate conversation amongst participants and give them something tangible to leave the room with.

Being the first event in the series, Fiona and the Epworth Future Women’s Forum working group really wanted to make sure they knocked it out of the park - they knew a successful launch event would set the rest of the program up for success.

The Result

The attendees came in droves, from a range of different departments and levels of the business. Fiona expected around 50 people to attend, but over 100 gave up their lunch break to participate in the session in-person and many more participated virtually.

The session, which was led and facilitated by Julia, began with senior female Epworth leaders talking about some of the lies they told themselves. The vulnerability, openness and honesty shown by the organisation’s leaders throughout the session had a powerful impact on the rest of the participants, breaking down the levels and layers that usually exist in a hierarchical organisation and providing a safe space for women from across the organisation, including corporate, clinical and frontline staff,  to look within themselves and understand what might be holding them back.

Julia then outlined some of the theory and the data behind negative self-talk and shared some of the common lies and self-defeating thoughts of women, before asking the group to split up into pairs and complete an activity. Each person had to come up with a lie they told themselves, and then reframe it in a productive and constructive way before writing it on a card. The participants left the session with a positively-refamed self-defeating belief written down. Not only did the participants have the opportunity to learn about and discuss the impacts of negative self-talk, they were able to take steps towards reframing those thoughts in a positive way.

The overwhelming success of this first session demonstrated that getting together to discuss these topics and barriers is powerful, and can have an individual and collective impact.  Attendance at the following sessions in the Future Women’s Forum series was high as a result.

“As soon as we had a conversation with Visibility Co, we knew they were the right people to lead the first Epworth Future Women’s Forum symposium.

Their work was completely aligned with ours:  the visibility of women and the importance of looking within ourselves to build understanding of what leadership can be. Julia and Sarah were exceptional in creating a safe space for participants to share their experiences with one another, which resulted in strong participation and overwhelmingly positive feedback.”

Fiona McUtchen

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