Starting with me – Leadership, Home, Motherhood: Esther Kuku. Our second anniversary special edition blog from our Women Behind the Network Series

Starting with me…

Working life

The morning after my wedding,  I woke up next to my husband in our hotel honeymoon suite, I was living the dream. Not long after there was a knock on the door and my new step-children charged into the room, my heart sank. I longed for the romance of a first family experience, suddenly it all felt like a nightmare, on day one.

The biggest leadership training ground I have encountered, thus far,` has been my home. The founder of Visa, Dee Hock said, if you want to lead, invest 40% of your time in leading yourself.

His overarching principle is that without exceptional management of self, no one is fit for authority no matter how much they acquire.

The first few years of being a step parent I had to learn to keep my mouth shut and just be patient. Gosh, it was so hard. After all, I was the entitled newly-wed, desperate to be the perfect wife and step-mum. I wanted to change everything in our home – immediately; I moved into the house my husband lived in with his ex wife.  I wanted new rules – new wall paper, new everything. Well that wasn’t going to work – it wasn’t long before I could see the negative impact my management of our home was having on us all.

And, most importantly on my bonus babies – who were 6 and 8 when I married their dad and had gone through a divorce.  

Born out of loss, or failure, step families can be complex and exhausting. The reality is that for many couples it’s through re-designed dreams and re-packaged plans a new-life unfolds. A new life that needs time to adapt and grow. Flexibility and respect  for difference are better predictors of success than trying to force togetherness and just becoming exhausted in the process. I was pushing too much.

The principles of not forcing relationships, or togetherness and having respect are very transferrable to leadership in a working environment.  We don’t have to like our bosses, but we do have to do what they say. If you have a step-child they don’t have to like you, but they do have to respect you when they are in your house. And, if you are a step-parent the most important people are the children – they do have to come first. 

I’ve had a few jobs and being a step-mum has been the hardest one of all, but also incredibly rewarding. Investing time in leading myself means I’ve learnt to invest time in managing my emotions that what I want most is not to be right, but to be happy. ( I am right, most of the time…).

Today, I have four children who follow me because they are inspired by who I am – not by what I do. In fact none of them really care what I do. When I leave the house to go to work every morning. They just want to know I’m coming home and that it’s a peaceful home.

 If I can ensure that peace for the majority of the time, then I think I’m doing ok on my leadership journey.


Esther Kuku
love God, love life, love people.

Twitter: @mew36

I’m Bringing Sexy Back – Body Image at 50. Female Leaders at 50 Women Behind the Network Series – Rachel Peru

If you had asked me ten years ago if I would be happy modelling swimwear and lingerie at 50 I would have run a mile. I started a new career as a professional model at the age of 46 with no idea where it might lead, but with a great sense of optimism and adventure.

Until I reached 40, I had no real career mapped out and certainly wouldn’t have classed myself as having any leadership skills. I found myself divorced and returning to university to gain a degree in Education Skills which I loved;I found learning later in life so much more rewarding than I remember school was. I thought I had finally figured it all out and was set to have a career in early years education. 

Life often throws a spanner in the works and when my eldest daughter became ill, I had to stop work and be at home full time. I have to be honest, this set back really crushed my new-found confidence.

During this time, I started modelling in charity fashion shows which was a great way to network with new people and helped to build my confidence back up. After several years I took the plunge and applied to a few model agencies. To my surprise I was signed up by a top London agency and have been working ever since.

JDWilliams Christmas commercial 2018

Swim Suits For All campaign with Ashley Graham, 2017

In the last three years I have carved myself a niche in the market as an older, silver haired curve model (size 14-16) and become a body confidence activist. I have modelled swimwear in the Bahamas alongside American model Ashley Graham, activewear with Davina McCall for F&F Clothingand represented the older woman in lingerie campaigns including Figleaves and Chantelle Paris.

Front cover of Goldie Magazine , 2019

I’ve been lucky to have worked with brands that are inclusive and show up to represent older women in fashion, it’s about continuously pushing for change. I use any opportunity I get to help represent older women in marketing and advertising and use my social media as an influencer to encourage women to step out of their bubble and be seen and heard.

Ulla Popken Spring campaign, 2019.

I am now asked to speak at events about my own body confidence journey and am keen to keep the conversation going around the lack of representation of older women in the fashion and advertising industry.

The Real Catwalk in Trafalgar Square, 2019

I have become an Ambassador for the Be Real charity which is committed to help the younger generation change attitudes to body image and to put health above appearance and to beconfident with our bodies. 

I’m looking forward to visiting schools in the future to share my own story and experiences to help young women break the cycle of comparing themselves to others and stopping their own body image from holding them back.

I realised that I wasted so many years stopping myself from achieving and trying things because I lacked confidence andheld myself back. I have talked to so many women who are in their late forties and fifties who say the same thing; this new level of body confidence and acceptance is liberating. It has allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone so much more and it’s where I have grown the most.

I talk to so many women who share similar experiences of reinvention later in life that I decided to create a podcast called Out of the Bubble. I invite women from all backgrounds to share their stories, how they’ve overcome hurdles, reinvented themselves and found new passion and purpose. The women all leave you with lots to think about and good dose of inspiration. In previous years I would have shied away from networking and sticking my head above the parapet but now it’s where I thrive best.

During lockdown I decided to cover more women so now host a Facebook live morning show where I interview a different woman each day and I am delighted with the viewers’feedback. It gives me another opportunity to share these women’s stories that so often get left unheard when we all have a story to tell.

If any of you have a story to tell that you think would inspire others, I would love to hear from you.

I am also happy to reach out to anyone who may be struggling with their own body confidence or might know of any organisation that are keen to help women have a better relationship with their bodies to improve mental well-being.

I’ve been working on a cocktail, called grounds for divorce-COVID-19 the relationship hangover?

In the last two weeks, four couples I know have advised me they are seriously considering terminating their marriages or relationships. The average age of these couples is 49.

Following the first wave of COVID-19 and as lockdown restrictions ease has the pandemic surfaced issues sooner for couples?

The average age for divorce in the UK is 46.4 for men and 43.9 for women. Similarly, those age 45 to 49 years old have the most divorces. So if we take the four couples in question they are matching the statistics.

Unreasonable behaviour is the most common cause of divorce in England and Wales, accounting for nearly half of all divorces. In 2017, 46.5% of divorces were caused by unreasonable behaviour. The second most common reason that couples divorce is after a 2 year separation with consent. Adultery was the cause of 10.5% of divorces.

Ref: Divorce Statistics UK 2020

For some COVID-19 has seen a return to rebuilding relationships and bringing families closer together, but not for all. It would seem that the pressure of cohabiting in isolation has brought extreme pressure to couples.

In her Warrington world wide Lifestyle brief “Coronavirus ‘very likely’ to cause spike in divorce rates” Hannah Skentlebery says “Deciding to get divorced is never going to be easy. With the current system, couples have to place the blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Coronavirus isn’t officially “grounds for divorce”, so you will instead need to determine the cause of the breakdown of your marriage between you.”

Whether these four couples go ahead with separation or divorce remains to be seen. However, it is more than possible COVID-19 has made many people re-evaluate their position in life, how they want to live their lives and who they want to live those lives with going forward.

We will need to wait some time to understand the full impact of COVID-19 on individuals and their relationships.

Ciara Moore- Founder of Female Leaders At 50 and Beyond

The Comfy Chair- Faith Spear – Female Leaders At 50 – Women Behind the Network Series – June

The Comfy Chair

Living in a small Suffolk village which consisted of literally one street, 15th Century cottage with roses growing up the door, backing onto a wheat field and with a new baby. Sounds idyllic, but I couldn’t drive, and isolation kicked in, it was just before Christmas. Many of the villagers went to a Christmas service at the local parish church and we decided to join them as a new family. The presence of a pram and new-born attracted many and I met a sprightly woman who I later found out to be Lady Gertrude. She took me under her wing, and I sat many times in her kitchen at the huge oak table chatting whilst keeping an eye on my very active baby. Gertrude introduced me to her daughter in law who took me out to a mother and toddler group organised by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). This lifeline helped me enormously and the loneliness, insecurities and timidity of being a new mum gradually diminished. Without hesitation I joined the NCT, became an active member and vowed that I would make sure if I came across any other isolated mum, I would be there for them.

I learnt to drive, we moved to a nearby town and I became the secretary of the local NCT branch and after two years became the Chairman. 

As Chairman, my list of priorities was to reduce the length of monthly board meetings, they commonly went on into the late evenings, keeping to the agenda,fundraising and supporting parents and children. 

I loved it. 

Life was slightly chaotic by then with another child. 

Each month we produced a newsletter and I renamed my Chairman slot the Comfy Chair. I wanted to be approachable. The title of Chairman brought responsibilities, respect and real sense of bringing people together. I worked hard at my role and took it seriously even appearing on the local tv. 

I was sent details of each NCT member that moved into my area. I then sent a welcome to…. card, with my phone number and assurance that there was a network of people ready to help in anyway they could. I remember receiving details from a woman called Susan, she had just moved into a local village, her husband had taken on a new job and with a baby and expecting her second child she knew no one. I sent a card to welcome her, and she immediately responded. I was determined Susan would not be isolated and face the loneliness I myself had often experienced through living in a village.

We met, drank tea, chatted and ate cake. 

This was the start of a great friendship. 

This year marked 25 years since I met Susan, we have continued to support each other through thick and thin. 

For me, as a leader, it was important to not ignore others, not put my title above the real things in life and to be willing to give of my time and energy. I connected people together, organised coffee mornings, book parties and realised leadership is not just about fulfilling your potential but enabling others to fulfil theirs. 

Be encouraged, we all have leadership qualities, we can all inspire, and we can all stand firm in what we believe in without backing down. 

Faith Spear FRSA

The Criminal Justice Blog:

Twitter: @fmspear



Pandemic Anxiety or Imposter Chatter?The potential impact of the Imposter Phenomenon during the current crisis- Kate Atkin- FemaleLeadersAt50-Women Behind The Network

In the current situation of a global pandemic we are all finding ourselves dealing with internal and external challenges.  Whether it is how to home-school, or keeping the kids occupied, worrying about older relatives, sorting out online or in-person shopping and that’s not to mention the worries, stress and anxiety that Covid19 may trigger from a health perspective… and then there’s the logistics and psychological impact of working from home.  Or if you are with one of the essential services and a key worker then you must be experiencing vastly different challenges from the rest of us, but challenges none the less.  If you are a key worker reading this, then I give you mywholehearted thanks for all that you are doing.

This blog will address the issue of the imposter phenomenon (IP), or imposter syndrome as it is often, though erroneously, referred to.  First of all a little about what IP is and where it might come from.  Then I’ll look at where it might show up, especially in the current circumstances and I’ll close with some suggestions that you can follow if you experience imposter feelings or if you manage others with those feelings.

The Imposter Phenomenon is an internal feeling of not being good enough, that you will be exposed as a fraud, even though the external evidence suggests you are really successful at what you do (Clance and Imes, 1978). Research indicates that these feelings increase can increase stress and trigger procrastination and maladaptive perfectionism – among other impacts.

The imposter chatter varies from person to personand from day to day or even minute to minute. It is not a constant feeling, nor is it at the same level all of the time. It can be experienced on a continuum from light to intense, and it is the moderate to intense feelings which create more issues and anxiety.

Causes of the phenomenon vary too. For some the cause can be hyper-critical parenting where you are never quite good enough and there is always room to improve, while for others it ishyper-supporting parenting where “you can do anything, darling” has been misinterpreted as “you must do everything, darling”. It can be perceiving yourself as different from others around you, whether that is in upbringing, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation – to give just a few examples. Societal expectations and messages weight heavily on others and for some it can be a misinterpretation of a childhood message such as “don’t get too big for your boots”, or “pride comes before a fall”. (I have unruly curly hair and my mum would often recite the rhyme “there was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”. As a child, I subconsciously interpreted that as “I must be good, because I don’t want to be horrid”, so feared making mistakes).

If you experience the imposter chatter, take a moment to reflect on what your own causes and triggers might be. Are they true? Are they still valid? What has changed? How have you changed?

You might like to take some time to reflect and re-write your own story.

Success comes with its own triggers.  For someone experiencing the imposter chatter, being promoted or performing well in a task or in a role can create an initial euphoria, closely followed by a sinking feeling or “oh dear, now I’ve got to live up to that”.  Indeed, Clance & Imes noticed that the more successful people were, the more prone to experiencing the phenomenon they were.

Given the current circumstances of the global pandemic, there are other triggers that may be causing imposter chatter in people. For those working from home, it can be the fact that you no longer have the chance to run your ideas past your boss or co-worker in a casual “what do you think of this…” manner. The isolation of home-workingdoesn’t provide a chance for someone to walk by your desk and break you out of a reverie, or tocheck whether you are ok when they see a frown upon your face. Or you might be juggling with home-schooling, and feeling that nothing you do is good enough, feeling guilty about not spending more time with your children, yet equally guilty about not being able to focus on your work.

If you are a key worker, especially within the NHS, you might be enlisted to perform a role that you used to do and are qualified to do, but haven’t done for some time.  You might find yourself promoted from student into a front line role.  You might worry about knowing what to do at the right time when treating a patient with Covid19. You might experience IP feelings in some, all, or none of these situations – and I’m sure there are many more instances where the imposter chatter can rear its head that I haven’t mentioned.

So if you are experiencing the imposter chatter – and please note I say experiencing, not suffering from (“suffer from” is somewhat disempowering, “experiencing” gives you the option of choosing a different experience) – there is something you can do, both to support yourself and others.

Before I get to what to do, one thing not to do, counterintuitively, is to tell people experiencing imposter feelings that they are amazing. They may be doing amazing work, and you may see them as amazing people, but pause a moment… if you tell them they are amazing, while that might be true it could exacerbate their imposter feelings as now they feel like they have to be amazing all of the time to live up to expectations. So be more explicit, give praise by saying WHY you think they are amazing and cite specific examples. And look out for the dismissal of “oh, I’m just doing my job” or “It’s nothing really” or “anyone would have done it…”. Encourage the person you are praising to accept the praise by gently reinforcing that they did that piece of work, dealt with that patient, calmed that customer down… Be explicit about their actions, the impact they had on the situation, and the impact their actions had on you and the team.

Research indicates that an effective way of combatting your own imposter chatter is to gather positive feedback and to talk about your internal feelings with others (Lane, 2015).  Both of these you can continue to do, even if you are remote working, or in isolation.  Gathering positive feedback is about noticing; noticing when someone says something positive or you receive a positive email, tweet or text, and then noticing your reaction to it.  While you can collect any number of positive emails or texts, how many you have, or what they say, won’t matter a jot if you a) don’t review them and b) believe the praise when you do review them. So start to collect the positive feedback and notice your reaction.  Are you saying “thank you” out loud because you know that’s polite, but in your head you are making loads of excuses not to accept the praise?  Instead of internally saying “yes, but”, try saying to yourself “yes, and…” or  “yes, and I learnt this while doing that work”  or “yes, and I used this skill”, etc.

Knowing and using your strengths can also be of great benefit when combatting the imposter chatter. Taking an online strengths profile, such as this one, can assist you. So can simply asking friends, family and colleagues to tell you your strengths. Or may be able to spot them yourself by looking for the commonalities in the positive feedback you receive.

Key tips for Leaders and Managers

At this time, more than any other, remember theimportance of regular communication. Everyone is busy, everyone is adjusting, and each person will be coping in their own way.  Keep in contact with your staff, by phone, online catchups, one-to-one meetings, a short text message as well as through the more formal (virtual) gatherings. Be a listening ear, even if you have heard it before.  

Don’t try to solve the issues, unless specifically asked to do so.  It might be easier or quicker, but it can easily undermine someone’s self-confidence.

Reassure your staff that their work is of the standard you expect.  If someone is worried how they will be able to replicate something they’ve done or live up to expectations, gently remind them of their skills and training, ask them how they’ve coped if they’ve been in a similar situation, help them identify what they have done in the past that will be useful in the current situation.

And please do not give in to the temptation to make minor, unimportant, amendments to work that staff have submitted, as that can undermine their confidence very quickly.

It can be very helpful to provide an opportunity for staff to network (online at this time, obviously!) so they can share their feelings in small groups – try to simulate the “water cooler” and “coffee machine” conversations that are not happening at the moment.

Finally, remember we are all experiencing a situation we haven’t been in before.  Give yourself a break if that imposter chatter has reared its head, and then tell it to pop back down again as it’s not useful at this time.  Stepping up, using your skills and focussing on what you can control will help you be the best version of you that you can be right now.  And that is all that is needed.  

Be you. Be safe. Keep well.


Author & inspirational speaker, Kate Atkin, is currently studying for a PhD focussing on the Imposter Phenomenon in the workplace (and battling her own imposter chatter in the process!) For more information see:

CLANCE, P. R. & IMES, S. A. 1978. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15, 241 – 247.

LANE, J. A. 2015. The imposter phenomenon among emerging adults transitioning into professional life: Developing a grounded theory. Adultspan Journal, 14,114-128.