Monday, 31 March 2014

Conquering cosmetic Everest- no hold luggage required


 If like me you recoil in horror at the idea of checking luggage, your personal Everest is getting the cosmetic products you need for any business trip longer than a few days into a cabin bag.

But I can report that it is possible.  Long after I'd cracked the clothing conundrum, and way after I worked out that cashmere is the key to smart, comfortable travelling, I have finally just about cracked the cosmetics.

 Unless you look like a supermodel or are under 25, in which case I very much doubt you're reading this blog, then you're not going to want to spend a week in meetings 'au naturel'.  Jet lag needs concealing, late nights and red eyes will plague you even if you avoid dinners, drinks and the mini bar. It takes travel planning to a whole new level, but the satisfaction you will gain from pulling it off is worth the effort.  And once you've cracked it you never need to worry about it again.

The Bag
This is a key item.  You need something that will get through security checks (Heathrow is one of the toughest so a good place to start) but won't collapse every second trip. After a lot of experimentation and failures I discovered Muji's range of bags.  I use the larger one and have so far been fine (maybe twenty trips).

Bath and Shower
No need to take anything.  Even budget hotels these days provide reasonable bubbles and OK moisturiser to slap on all over to cope with all that dehydration.

Shampoo and Conditioner
This used to be where I gave in a took a hold bag.  One day I realised that the way to deal with this is to go to the the pharmacy air-side and buy a small shampoo, mousse and conditioner.  I take a tiny pot of serum (John Frieda is good but most brands make them now) in the bag with me as it lasts for ages. They don't cost much and I use them and leave them at the hotel.

Make up

There are so many great multi-purpose products on the market now.  I take Garnier BB cream and an under eye roller as I find it less chalky that Touche Eclat and a fraction of the price. Then a bronzer (I recommend Guerlain Bronzer - very subtle and you can buy small travel ones in duty free which last for ever and come with a tiny brush.  Powder blusher (again no need to put in the liquid bag) Bobby Brown eyeliner gel (in a pot, no one seems to think its a liquid) with its own applicator brush.  Mascara.  Any eyeshadow compact (the Bobby Brown travel one is excellent), one lipstick for day, one gloss for evening and some applicator brushes. Done.
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream.  Am astonishing product and good for everything - lip salve, emergency high density hand cream for flights, cuticle cream, eyebrow smoother.  And it helps insect bites.  A travel-sized Dr Hauschka Rose Cream.  It is very concentrated - one tiny tube lasts me two weeks. A No 7 serum if like me travelling makes your skin visibly age.

Buy the atomisers from the in flight travel catalogues.  I travel with two - usually Chanel No 5 (dinners) and Tom Ford Violet Blonde (daytime).

If I've obeyed all my own rules I will have room for a pot of colour and one topcoat. Essie's are great. But I have recently discovered Essie do a whitener pen which goes on like a felt tip and looks like intense buffing.  Take a glass nail file and a buffer and you'll look very groomed.

Two travel sized toothpastes should last a week brushing twice a day. Superdrug does the best range. 

You'll probably be inside in meetings all the time but for that rare breakfast meeting in the sunshine take a tiny tube of the highest factor you can buy.  I have found a good Neutrogena one in a tiny tube  (in the US admittedly) which is Factor 70. Ultrasun do small high factor ones as well.

Once you've done a long business trip without hold luggage you'll never look back. 

The Woman in Seat 64K

Many senior women need to travel as business becomes increasingly global. We need to travel as comfortably as possible arriving safely at our destination ready to work looking smart and groomed and well prepared for the meetings ahead.  If you gaze enviously around the cabin at the smug guys dressed in their matching blue shirts, chinos, suit jacket slinging only a largish briefcase with clean pants and shirts into the overhead locker do not despair.  I have discovered through hard won experience that you can do this too.  Well one cabin bag, a laptop bag and a handbag anyway for a week's trip. 

Women travelling on business have some particular challenges.  If you're  travelling alone as I usually do then you need lightweight luggage that is easy to maneouvre around airports and train stations. I try to avoid checking luggage if at all possible.  This stems from a very bad experience ten years ago when the airline lost my bag contaning all my clothes for a week's conference in a remote part of upstate New York.  I arrived in the clothes I had travelled in and the bag was never found.  So I have learned to become the queen of the capsule wardrobe and finally have conquered the last bastion - getting two week's cosmetics in a carry on liquids bag.

I hope you find some of these tips useful.

And here's the first one -  Seat 64K.  If you're lucky enough to travel Business Class British Airways on a 747-400 (the Jumbo Jet) which they use of many of their long haul flights this is the best seat on the plane.  The upper deck is quieter, this seat has storage space under the window and you don't have to climb over anyone's legs when they're asleep if you need the bathroom.  Oh and you're closest to the steps when it comes to disembark.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Why are we so hard on ourselves?

It is well documented that women frequently pursue perfection in all areas of their lives.  This can partly be attributed to society and media role models, but women famously make their lives harder by being far more perfectionist than men. 

The journalist Eleanor Mills calls this the 'alpha imperative'.  We want to be perfect - as mothers, as colleagues, as wives, as friends - and will exhaust ourselves and those around us to achieve this.

A survey by the Girl Guides (surely a last bastion of wholesomeness?) revealed that despite an endless procession of gruesome TV documentaries showing the consequences of botched operations, more than half of girls surveyed would consider plastic surgery.  Botox and fillers are a normal unquestioned part of life for many women.  There seems to be an unspoken but firmly held view that it is ok to look 35 but no more. 

Every woman had a different view on the ageing process - how if affects them and how they deal with it emotionally and practically.  So far I have resisted the surgeon's knife and non -surgical treatments.  Until recently I didn't even consider it, and anyway I am terrified of needles and hospitals so I can't imagine myself willingly submitting to surgery unless it was purely on health grounds. But I am not sure quite how I am going to reconcile myself with this as I see time starting to impose lumps and dips in the wrong places. 

I have no such qualms about grey hair.  My hairdresser is a patient and objective advisor and apart from one of our early attempts at concealing grey which left me a nasty shade of orange - an event which still makes him shudder, we have a good routine. I do exactly what he says and turn up every two months.  

Men sometimes say they envy women's ability to use make-up to show the world their best face. This is something in most women's comfort zone and I think is a secret weapon to boost confidence in business.  I used to spend a fortune on designer 'natural' products, believing that only the designer houses would make the investments necessary to create that breakthrough - the product that makes you look a better version of yourself.  I've seen the light - trips to Space NK are now strictly for special occasions turning instead to products such as the  very affordable BB range  that I think work as well as products that cost two or three times as much. I am British to the core in this - its important not to look like you're not trying too hard.   Of course as the 'real' you deteriorates these products need to do more and more...

Generally my advice is to do whatever you feel you need to make yourself feel confident and in control - to reach the point where you don't have to worry about how you look.  Men don't - a smart shirt suit and tie are for most a soothing uniform and they put it on and forget all about it. We can do the same.  I always take extra care on difficult days - when I have something particularly tough to do. Anything that makes you feel more confident has to be a good idea. 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Stepford Husbands?
As more men take care of families, we need to hear their voices too

The volume of the global debate about “having it all” continues to grow. Many women (including me) have joined the discussion searching for solutions - if we can’t have it all, how can we at least find an acceptable balance without facing divorce, insanity or both?

But what do the men think? We have heard very little from them. There is an unspoken assumption that if women can’t have it all, their sacrifices are being made on the altar of old fashioned male dominance.  That men are still having it all and the ultimate measure of this is the glacial speed of a movement towards more gender equality in the world’s boardrooms and top jobs.

Post it notes from a stay at home dad
Receiving far less publicity but exerting a powerful influence within individual families are statistics showing that more men are taking on the majority of childcare activity.  Surveys by BT and Aviva show that numbers of stay at home dads have increased ten fold in the past decade. But many believe that employer's policies aren't keeping up with parental demand, with two thirds of respondents to the BT survey saying they don't believe their employers have sufficiently family friendly policies.

But there are signs that the 'taboo' of men acting as the primary child carer is slowing reducing and that society is increasingly supportive of the idea that women need not be the primary child carer. A Pew Research study published in the US last year found that most people reject the idea that it is bad for a marriage if a wife out-earns her husband.
--> When asked if they agree or disagree that it is generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife, some 28% of survey respondents say they agree and 63% disagree. When a similar question was asked in 1997, 40% said they agreed

This is explored in a thoughtful recent article in Atlantic  Monthly by Stephen Marche.  He argues it is no longer an ideological issue,  rather about pragmatic family choices driven largely by financial priorities.  He lobbies for society and the state to view this debate not as it is currently - framed by a small number of 'superacheiver' women but rather in the context of how to create happier families by helping to men to feel they can step up to a different role without being seen as weak. 

He points to the irony that  "masculinity grows less and less powerful while remaining iconic of power. And therefore men are silent. After all, there is nothing less manly than talking about waning manliness."

Many commentators believe that much of the recent increase in men taking over childcare is short term - driven mainly by the recession.  The combination of a tight job market and high childcare costs means it often doesn't make sense for the lower earner to keep working.  But perhaps the recent introduction of shared parental leave will change choices for the long term. Nick Clegg announced the changes at the end of last year. In 2015 parents will be able to choose how they share parental leave for the first year of their child's life.

I hope such changes give men the confidence to start taking their seat more actively at the equality table.  It seems like many of them want to - perhaps they just need encouragement to step forward.


Monday, 30 December 2013

Witty Women in the Workplace: Why using humour more can boost your career

Research demonstrates that using humour at work is good for career progression. But it seems that women use it far less than men and this might be holding them back.  

 Comedian turned psychology graduate Ruby Wax says: "The past 10 years have seen a huge change in corporate culture.  People used to want to hire the smartest, slickest candidate. Now they want a human being, someone they can trust. It’s borne out of the recession, of witnessing so many big boys turn out to be crooks.”  So demonstrating charm and authenticity is good business as well as good manners. 

 Women are certainly able to use humour.  Anyone who as ever seen a group of women on a night out together making each other laugh hysterically can vouch for that.  But, unlike men, we don't use it in mixed groups very often and tend to leave it at home when we walk past reception on Monday morning.

This seems to be another area where boys have the advantage from childhood.  Scientists argue that men start using humour systematically with each other in their teens as a way of channeling testosterone and this develops into the male banter that seems to come so naturally to them as adults.  Men use this without thinking in business. It allows them to show they are intelligent and that they can make others comfortable.  Others interpret these characteristics as leadership and it is a subtle indicator of power and control.

So it stands to reason that if we can bring the humour we share with our girlfriends into the workplace we will be more successful.  It sounds easy but it doesn’t work quite like that in practice.  Rolling your eyes as you tell your colleagues about your husband leaving the toilet seat up won’t do much for your image.  And joke telling isn't the answer, although it’s useful to have one up your sleeve in case of emergencies. 

Women apparently  find it harder to remember jokes than men.  Despite feverish attempts I can only ever reliably remember one joke  - "What do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?  A stick".  It makes my children groan.  But the last time I tried it on another senior woman during a very boring meeting she snorted with laughter so perhaps it has hidden depths. 

Miranda Hart copyright

It's really just about making others feel relaxed and comfortable which is after all when most of us do our best work.  And you can do that most effectively by being comfortable in your own skin and relaxing enough to trust others and take a few risks.  It will make you seem human and in control and sends a subtle message that you are taking care of the harmony and productivity of the group as a whole. 

Brits may have a natural advantage.  We grow up in a culture where pomposity is a cardinal sin and making others laugh, especially at our own expense, is a required social skill.  But anyone can do it.  If you need some ideas read this recent article written by the hilarious Miranda Hart. I’ll certainly be following her advice.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Keeping up your energy

Having good reserves of energy is one of the most important characteristics of a successful leader. But people have varying natural levels of energy and you need to pay attention to topping up your physical and mental energy levels regularly.

Everyone gains their energy in different ways. I find cooking and gardening both relaxing and creative. Importantly both are often solitary and do not require conversation. I tend to find after weeks where I am 'on' all the time and meetings and calls fill all day, my own company doing something that is both creative and useful very helpful and restorative.

I also find being outside and seeking out wonderful views and vistas fills my energy banks. Fresh air is definitely good for you - our brains use twenty per cent of our oxygen so the more fresh air you can breathe the better.

I am not one of nature's athletes and find the gym and jogging very dull. This meant I just didn't do enough exercise which didn't worry me until I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Which was a wake up call. In the past few years I have taken up yoga and pilates which work for me. The yoga teaches you how to meditate and breathe deeply which are in themselves great stress relievers and the pilates is good to combat all that sitting down.

My latest idea is taking up dancing. Every winter I suffer from Strictly envy - watching the duffer celebrities turn themselves into elegant quick-stepping sylphs I am always sure that a few classes would see me slimmer fitter and generally happier.  This time I have actually started a class. Let's hope I make it past Christmas.

Brownies - my secret weapon

Most working women struggle with feeling guilty about not being their children's primary carer. I know I identified completely with Alison Pearson's character Kate Reddy in "I don't know how she does it" who bought mince pies and bashed them about with a rolling pin to look homemade for her child to take into school. Most of us secretly want to be able to spend afternoon's in the kitchen whipping up home baked treats for our children when they come back from school. The reality is often very different - I tried cooking with both my children when they were small and chaos ensued.

I found a few shortcuts really helped. Most weeks I made a batch of something - biscuits, fairy cakes or muffins to go in the children's lunch boxes. Not only did they feel I was 'present' in their day - their friends loved eating them too which made my children feel good. You can freeze most of these kinds of snacks too so you could make a big batch once a a month. The trick is to find an easy recipe that you can do quickly. I used to do it on Sunday evenings while the children were getting their things together for school with the Antiques Roadshow in the background. Brownies were always most in demand and here's my favourite recipe from The Little Red Barn Baking Book by Adriana Rabinovich - it is quick and easy and always works.


125g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
110g good quality plain chocolate (min 70 per cent cocoa solids)
110g unsalted butter
150g dark soft brown sugar
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
50g chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C/Gas 3. Butter and flour a 23cm square cake pan.

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Melt the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler or a bowl set over a pan of hot water (you can use a microwave but keep an eye on it). Remove from the heat, add the brown and caster sugars and leave to dissolve slightly, then stir to combine. Add the eggs, one by one, beating after each addition. Add the nuts and stir. The mixture should be very glossy. Gently fold in the flour. Don't over mix.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan to form an even layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until just set in the middle. A wooden skewer inserted should come out with a few moist crumbs on it. Don't over bake. leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Makes 16-20 brownies.

The other tip I would pass on is doing Sunday lunch. Sometimes it was the only time in the week I had the time to cook a proper family meal from scratch and it has the benefit of being very easy to do for lots of people so it can double up as your weekly entertainment - family, friends or quite often my children's friends. People of all ages seem to love it and it is no more work to cook for eight or ten than four if you do a roast lunch and the dishwasher can take the strain afterwards. Having the family and our friends around me made me feel like a 'normal' person at least once in the week and I found it did me as much good as anyone.