“I am a writer.” There I said it. “I am a writer”. Why I write is another story, but it has taken me over 10 years to say these four little words out loud, to write them on a blog post, to include the word “writer” on my profiles. About 70% of what we practice in academia is writing in some form or another. But being a writer is not part of many academics professional identity (unless you are in the humanities or the literary arts). Being a researcher is more respected, more prestigious and more funded … so more used. Over time, training and working in this culture, one can come to forget your artistic or writing sensibilities and deep down who you are. That is, until something or someone inspires or provokes you to change. For me, that someone was Sharanne Basham-Pyke.
In November 2009, one evening I walked into the foyer of the St. David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay. I had arrived to attend a Cardiff Business Club Dinner sponsored by my management school. A dinner in Honour of Baroness Helena Kennedy. As I walked into the room I felt the apprehension growing inside me. Listening to the Baroness talk I was looking forward to. But an evening chatting with business people I didn’t know unsettled me. I summoned the actor inside me and walked into the dinning room.
I made my way to the large round table at which my seat was assigned. As I saw my table number, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sat two seats to the left of my seat was a petite blonde woman who equally commanded attention and naturally received it. Reaching out her hand she introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Sharanne Basham-Pyke.“ Smiling, I introduced myself, feeling welcomed and suddenly at ease with the people who might be sat with me.
I’d heard Sharanne’s name many times at work, she is a member of the schools international advisory board; and a business director of one of the UK’s largest companies, British Telecom (BT) working on growing new skills for a sustainable Wales [YouTube]. Later I would learn Sharanne is also a writer. A writer of stories about women and the journey of motherhood.
As I listened to her participate in the conversations around us that evening, I learnt that in addition to her love of networking, her optimism and her support for others; Sharanne was true to herself: What you see, is what you get.
Despite this not being my first dinner of its kind (nor last), she left an impression. Sharanne not only showed me the art of the business social, she showed me how to … be who you are.
A few weeks ago I reached out to Sharanne and asked if I could steal a few moments of her time for an interview about the people, things and events from her world that have inspired and supported her.
Learning to be optimistic …
Kelly: How would you describe yourself in a couple of sentences?
Sharanne: A small, but powerful, Welsh woman proud of her family, her achievements and her heritage. Very fond of lilac!
Kelly: How would you describe your work?
Sharanne: I work for BT as a Business Transformation Director. I suppose I am best described as a trouble shooter as I go to where I am needed in the business – to sort out issues or set up new programmes of work. I work at CEO level with public, private and third sector organisations. My key skill is relationship management.
Kelly: What is your proudest achievement or moment?
Sharanne: Without doubt it is having my two lovely boys. Nothing beats motherhood and the total, all-consuming, love that I feel for them, even though they are young men now (and will be very embarrassed if they read this).
Kelly: What has failure and success taught you?
Sharanne: The difference between success and failure is often just a hair’s breadth – and is often down to interpretation. I struggle with failure. Some people can just brush it off and move on. I really, REALLY, don’t like it and will often blame myself even for things outside of my control. I always try to do my best – so if I have failed, and am criticised, then it is a criticism of the best I can do – that’s why I mind! Constructive criticism is great – but we are very, very poor at it in the UK.
Kelly: What is your biggest moment of life change?
Sharanne: I’ve had lots of big moments. Life has treated me well. Marrying my gorgeous husband, having my two boys, moving to Australia in the 80s, buying a house with a school friend, buying the lovely house we now live in, joining WS Atkins, joining BT, have all set markers for my life.
Kelly: Is the glass half empty of half full?
Sharanne: Definitely half full – my husband describes me as irritatingly optimistic because he has a bleak outlook on everything (he claims that it is because he is from the Black Country and everyone is negative) – but we balance each other well.
Kelly: What book would you recommend others to read?
Sharanne: I would say ‘Of Mice and Men’ is probably one of the best books I have ever read. Such brilliant writing by John Steinbeck, such a tragic tale, and so carefully crafted. It had a deep impact on me it would be unfair to recommend it as it upset me so much.. I recently read ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls and really loved it – I purposefully didn’t go to see the film because I didn’t want it to spoil the image I had created in my mind.
Kelly: What inspired you to start writing?
Sharanne: When I had my first son, Harri, there were seven of us who joined ‘Parentcraft’ – we have stayed friends for 20 years and I have said to them over the years that I should write a book based on women who meet at Parentcraft. That is what my book about, four women who meet at Parentcraft. It is called the Four Directions of Motherhood and describes how the women (who re at the same point in their lives when they meet, each married to their first husband, expecting their first babies) lives evolve. It has some laughs, some tears, some sexy bits, even some pornographic bits… and some recipes as their meetings centre around eating cakes and baking! It is mostly fiction but includes some true stories (with their permission).
Kelly: What has writing your book taught you?
Sharanne: That you can make time if you need too – but that you can find plenty of excuses too.
Kelly: What advice would you give to other writers?
Sharanne: As everyone says, stick at it. Dr Suess, my favourite children book author, apparently had 97 rejections before he was accepted by a publisher. And use your networks – ask who knows agents/publishers as a personal introduction makes all the difference. On that note, anyone reading this who can put me in touch with a literary agent that might have an open-mind, please get in touch.
Kelly: What advice would you give women starting out in their careers today?
Sharanne: Have an exit strategy as well as a career plan. As you get older you may find you want to do other things – considering this earlier rather than later in your career will give you lots more choices.
Kelly: What do you feel/think about social media in your life today (I’ve got to ask a geeky question ;-))
Sharanne: It’s great. I use it in exactly the way I want to. I keep my personal information private. I make sure my settings match what I want. I am very careful who I friend on Facebook, or who I link in to on LinkedIn etc, in exactly the same way as I would if I met them in person. I go for quality of contacts rather than quantity.
Learning and being inspired: “Who Inspires You?”
Kelly: Can you tell us about a Women in Wales who has inspired, mentored or supported you?
Sharanne: So many!
- Rhiannon Cooke, who was Director of WS Atkins when I joined, who now is Managing Director at CMC because she had such faith in me. She saw my potential and threw me in to things… sink or swim… and I swam!
- Ann Beynon, BT Director Wales, who is one of the best networked people I have ever met but who is, very unusually, generous with her network, makes connections and links people into new opportunities.
- Jo Wright who is my mentor in BT (who is not in Wales but I met through the BT Wales Board) – and who is an absolute inspiration.
- Janet Horton – who had such confidence in me that it gave me confidence in me too.
- Helen Jenkins from Inspire Wealth Management.
The list goes on and on… gosh, I know some really impressive women. And I am proud to count all of them as friends now too.
Kelly: What do you want to share, and inspire in others if you ran a workshop, gave a talk or wrote a book
Sharanne: I am known, renowned even, for my optimism, energy and enthusiasm. Feedback I have received over the years tells me people really appreciate that and find it inspiring – and the amount that people who have chosen to stay in touch suggests that is true. Also that I am honest and true to myself, I am not one person for work and another outside. What you see is what you get!
Kelly: What is important for you for learning.
Sharanne: To learn from everything, big or small. I am constantly learning, constantly questioning. But most importantly learning should be fun. I didn’t have great schooling. Now, as a an adult I can see that I was badly let down by the quality of schooling I received.
Kelly: What does being a ‘Women of the World in Wales’ mean to you?
Sharanne: I see myself as part of a big global network – I find that exciting and stimulating. Wales has a huge role to play in that global community (I am really excited about the imminent top level domains for wales .Wales and .Cymru – it will give us a great platform for profiling our identity). To be a successful women in Wales is therefore very important to me. I hope I have, and will continue to do my gender and my country proud!
Sharanne, your optimism, development of relationships and all thing networked; and your love of writing real stories about real women inspires.
May we all learn from you to not just to “sit at the table” or to “keep our hands up” (to use the famous words of Sheryl Sandberg [TED]) but through conversation and networking … to lead change where ever we are by being who we are.
Who inspires you?
Read more about my #Wowwales Insight Series. From the 9th February to the 9th of March, I’ll post a new blog post every day with a tribute to someone who has inspired, mentored or encouraged me during my 10 years here in Wales.
You can follow my insight series @drkellypage with the hashtag #wowwales OR why not join me and contribute your own blog tribute to the Women of your World (#WOW) — women who inspire, mentor or encourage you.