Dancing round the handbags

Lynne Copp has written an award-winning book for hard-working women who are seeking to find the right work life balance for them. Workingmums.co.uk spoke to her about her own experiences of trying to find that balance and what led her to write the book.

Lynne Copp’s new book has already won an award, even before it has been officially launched. Dancing Round the Handbags, described as “a self-development book for hard-working women”, and recently won the Brit Writers’ Award for non-fiction.

The book, which is officially launched in Bath on 16 February with a glitzy fashion show, champagne reception and a book signing, has been 16 years in gestation, but Copp was given a deadline of just six weeks to get it ready for publication after she secured a publishing deal.

It offers an in-depth programme for exploring how to get the work life balance you need. The handbag is a metaphor for being a woman and the chapters are divided into different items in the bag, each of which represents a different facet of who the woman is. For instance, lipstick represents the mask women put on either for their own protection against difficult situations and stress or to disguise their true feelings or identity.

The book builds on Copp’s coaching work as managing director of The Worklife Company, an organisation she founded 14 years ago which works with firms ranging from Ernst & Young to Microsoft. Copp is the former Head of Marketing Communication at HP and the book also details her own personal struggle to find greater work life balance.

“I had a huge job and two little ones to bring up on my own,” she says, adding that she has given examples of the kind of issues she faced at several public events since she believes that sharing such experiences will help bring about change. In the book she speaks of how she was involved in a big campaign at work and was at a celebratory event afterwards and found herself literally shaking with exhaustion. A colleague told her that if her health suffered the company would be able to replace her, but her family would not. “I was sharing a story like that at an event and I could see one lady looking at me and I knew that she got it and that there was a lot of stuff going on in her mind,” she says.

Copp says her book is a guide to how to get more flexible working. She adds that women need to push for the flexibility they need and to change the traditional masculine work structures which still exist.

“When I see young women now sacrificing having children in order to get ahead in their careers it makes me sad," she says. "It’s okay to make choices if that is their choice, If they are making it because they don’t think they can get the balance they need then that is a different thing.”

Copp is a great believer in the idea that “life comes first”. She thinks that women need much more support in the workplace to help them reach senior levels. She cites statistics that 76% of senior women have a partner who is in an equally demanding professional role. However, 75% of men in senior roles, some 90% of senior managers, have a wife who stays at home.

“We need more empathy at the top. We need people who understand the need for work life balance,” she says, adding that some progressive companies are now doing reverse mentoring where middle manager women mentor senior men about the kind of issues they are facing. This is part of an effort to change company culture and help push more women up the career ladder.

Unlike many self help books, Copp’s book begins with external environmental issues and works its way towards deeper issues around identity and values. “This is the way to real change. It’s like peeling off the layers of an onion,” she says.

The book takes a multi-pronged approach to the issues it raises. Alongside the exercises and in-depth coaching issues is a fictional account of a woman confronting the person she would like to be.

Copp has another book coming out later this year called “Lipstick Leadership”. It looks at top women and how they have managed to get to where they are. She says almost all have a great support network which they have built up so they can deal with childcare emergencies and other problems.

“Women have so much responsibility and that needs to be recognised. They also tend to have a different purpose from the traditional male one," she says. “They don’t just want to make money; they tend to want to make a difference. They look beyond the bottom line to their impact on the family, community and planet and that is when issues around flexibility come to the fore. The data on this is compelling."

Although she admits some women leaders have aped the “masculine culture” they have come up in, she says that she has found that in general women leaders tend to work differently to male leaders. For instance, they tend to recruit people more for their values than their skills. “They hire people for values and train the rest. They are more interested in who you are. If people do not have the right values it means she may not meet her legacy,”  says Copp. 

She adds that all the women leaders she spoke to had a sponsor, someone to promote them and this was usually a man. She says women tend not to like internal politicking and blowing their own trumpets. They prefer their work to speak for itself. They also deal with struggling colleagues in different ways to men. “They will move alongside someone who is struggling and work with them, coaching them. When that person is happy and confident they withdraw. It’s a bit like how mums teach children, encouraging them until they feel confident. Women leaders seem to do this naturally,” she says.

Copp feels that we are witnessing a revolution in work culture. “The hierarchies and masculine structures are crashing to the ground. Women who are not getting the flexibility they need are starting up their own businesses. Green shoots are appearing. Women are stepping into their own power and running their businesses in different ways,” she says. “A lot of men at the top of the tower are not seeing it, but it’s a radical shift. It’s very exciting.”

She hopes her book will be “uplifting” and make women feel good about all that they are doing. “My message to women would be for them to surround themselves with other women, to create and recreate networks and communities who will support them. I wish I had had a book like this when I was bringing up my two girls [both now at university]. It would have been good to have someone saying you are doing a good job.”

*Dancing Round the Handbags is published by ecademy press, price 19.99.

Comments [1]

  • Jennifer Cole says:

    I was lucky enough to listen to a presentation by Lynne and all I can say is AMAZING!! Extremely motivating and inspirational!  I have ordered the book and can’t wait for it to come!!!!

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