SILENCE is never golden if it is caused by suppression.
It leads to rage which must find an outlet, even if it cannot be unleashed for hundreds of years. To prove this point, head to Shakespeare’s Globe, where a new play is placing the life of the poet Emilia Bassano Lanier under the spotlight.
Her story is worth telling. In 1611 Emilia became one of the first English women to have her poems published. Her name largely vanished from public consciousness until the 20th century, when the historian AL Rowse suggested that she might have inspired Shakespeare’s “dark lady” of the sonnets. It’s possible - just possible - that she encountered Shakespeare, because Emilia was the mistress of Henry Carey, a courtier whose clients included Shakespeare’s company.
The playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm embraces all the possibilities of Emilia’s long life in a play that smoulders with rage. In the play, Emilia becomes Shakespeare’s lover. He steals her words and stories and passes them off as his own. For every Emilia, who managed to get a solitary book past the censors, there must be hundreds of thousands of women whose voices were never heard.
Although the play is a celebration of a single woman’s life it has wider - and therefore corporate - relevance because it derives its greatest strength from being an ensemble piece.
It was written to challenge the belief that a play about a person needs to be a vehicle for just one actor or actress. Three actresses, for example, play Emilia. One of the reasons the play has evoked such a passionate reaction from audiences crammed inside the ‘Wooden O’ is because Emilia is a play without stars; it is truly a triumph of teamwork.
To be a role model, you don’t have to hog the limelight or push others off stage. This is especially true of the corporate world, where role models are needed at every level to tackle the skills deficit and reduce the gender imbalance.
We can learn a lot from the success of Lean In Leeds, a women’s network set up by Zandra Moore, the CEO of Panintelligence, It has become one of the biggest groups of its kind in the country with 330 members.
“We’ve been running events for three years now,’’ said Zandra. “What I feel, along with the women who help to run the network, is that we are all role models, but we don’t recognise it.
“Too often we hear there is a reticence or a reluctance for women to put themselves up on the main stage or put themselves up for awards.
“But being a role model is something we all do every day,’’ said Zandra.
“We need to recognise that. In our everyday life we are all probably role models for somebody.”
You just need to look over your shoulder and consider the person you might be leading by example.
“We need to have a more proactive conversation in how we can support people,’’ Zandra added.
“It’s very much about encouraging women to challenge their own thinking about what holds them back. It’s about what they can do to take control and effect change. At the next event my mum is speaking. She’s retired, but she was a woman in tech when it was very much a man’s world. My daughter is coming along too; we get women bringing their daughters. There are voices from all stages of life there.
“We’re using it as a platform to create a community. It’s very easy to say that things aren’t moving because of the gender pay gap. But the gender pay gap is one part of a much bigger story. We create our own glass ceiling some times.
“If we tell ourselves that there aren’t enough role models, but we are not prepared to be a role model or recognise that we are one, then we are not going to change things,’’ Zandra added.
“There are more things within our control than many women realise.”
Which takes us back to Emilia. In the play, Emilia is stifled and ignored. But she still acts as a role model by encouraging other women to take up writing. Although they in turn are suppressed, the charge of progress cannot be halted forever. The ensemble will make sure of that.