Back as a design student, Lauren Currie wanted to be the next James Dyson and create an awe-inspiring product. Her unwavering determination to make things better, however, led her to co-found Snook, the first service design for social change agency in Scotland, at age 23.
In the years following, she moved on to lead a new Master’s Program in Digital Experience Design at Hyper Island, then later, to her current role as Head of Design at the Good Lab. Nods kept dropping along the way: “30 Women Under 30 Who Are Changing the World” by ELLE UK. “35 Women Under 35” by Management Today UK. Most recently, she received an OBE for her services to design and diversity.
Through her actions, Lauren has gained power, influence, and attention. Today, the 31-year-old is committed to using her platform to solve a problem: lack of diversity on conference stages. Her solution is the #upfront movement, which invites anyone to experience the limelight without the pressure to perform.
GamePlan A talked to the London-based entrepreneur, a woman of multiple positive identities (most recent of which is mother), on how to improve your confidence and create social change.
You wear many superhero cloaks, but currently you’re committed to making conference stages more diverse. What do you think is the root cause of this problem?
I think it comes down to the simple truth that women and marginalized groups are just not included enough in any level of society. People can imagine a middle-aged white man in a grey suit talking about any topic, because that’s what a person of power looks like.
Women are still an aberration on screens and stages. We’re repeatedly told that one woman on a panel sufficiently includes our gender. This means we don’t see our reflection which, in turn, lowers our confidence. The effect can be devastating. We know, for example, that women will only apply for a job when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications, whereas men will apply when they meet half. Success correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence, so really it’s no wonder women are still underrepresented at all levels.
Many women of note are also attached to the notion of modesty and are proud to work below the radar. They find the idea of confidence almost offensive. That contributes to a dangerous narrative: confidence as something aggressive and male-focused.
That’s what your solution #upfront is about: it exists to change confidence. Can you talk more about that?
Yes. One part of #upfront is the workshops we run to help individuals and businesses find their most confident selves. Another part is the work we do to make conference stages more diverse.
We have an #upfront couch on stages around the world. That couch is an opportunity for people to sit in and “job shadow” a presenter and experience all the scary things about being in the limelight: your heart beats fast, you sweat and shake, but you’re not under pressure to perform. We’ve had over 300 people sit on the couch around the world so far and, afterwards, they’re 30 percent more likely to speak on stage themselves one day.
Speakers have told us they feel good about helping others. And audiences, seeing a physical manifestation of diversity, start thinking about the types of people they listen to, who they put on a pedestal and why.
Through #upfront, we’re dedicated to making it easy for any speaker to physically and visibly include women, persons of color, and LGBTQI people on stage.
That’s a simple, yet creative solution to a problem. How do you, as a designer, view the relationship between confidence and creativity?
Creativity, by nature, is the process that enables us to be good at solving problems, because it allows us to see things from different angles and use information in new and unusual ways. Understanding that you can fix stuff makes you more confident and, thus, more creative.
In any creative field, you need to take risks, throw your work out there, and see what happens. But then there’s that gremlin voice whispering you’re not good enough. Often, creative people whose inner critics take over simply lack confidence.
The good news is that confidence can be acquired. It’s not something you’re born with – it’s a muscle we all have. But first you need to get comfortable with ambiguity.
So essentially, to be more creative and confident, you need to be vulnerable.
Exactly. Give yourself permission to feel that your confidence is low. Learn to tolerate failure.
Understand that it’s okay to have those inner voices as well. It’s okay to be scared of a blank page. It’s okay to cry, even on stage. It’ll only make you relatable. Remember: it’s not about you – it’s about your audience. Being on stage is one way of making yourself visible. Because, fundamentally, you can’t be who you can’t see.
Outside of the #upfront stage, what can an individual do to improve their confidence?
Perfectionism is a huge confidence killer. Typically, women don’t answer questions until we’re sure we know the answer. We don’t hand in that piece of work until it’s perfect. Push yourself to let go, even if it’s tiny steps like sending that email without re-reading it a hundred times.
Meetings offer a good opportunity to practice being heard. Women: If you’re interrupted, keep talking. Or interrupt the interrupter.
Also, think about who and what you blame when things go wrong. For example, if we do poorly in a test at the university, normally women’s response is, “I wasn’t good enough. I don’t deserve to be here.” Whereas a man is more likely to say, “This is a tough class. I’m among high-caliber people.”
One physical thing you can do is to slow down and be still. Often the person with the most power, one who is most admired, doesn’t move much, but immediately can control a crowd. I’m somebody with too much energy, often bouncing around. Being stiller not only calms me down, but also changes the pace of the conversation.
And of course, if you’re asked to do a presentation or go on a panel, say yes. If you’re not asked but have a story to share, tell the organizer why you need to be there. Do it even if it terrifies you, because we all have a responsibility to be seen and heard.
Get to know Lauren and her work at RedJotter.com and WeAreUpfront.com