Carrying on its annual tradition, TechPixies brought current students and alumna together for a fun-filled star-filled Christmas brunch. The Manor in Weston on the Green played host to the star-themed ladies (and brave gentlemen) in attendance.
Guest speaker Danusia Malina-Derben, wow’d the TechPixies crowd. The formidable businesswoman and mother of 10 spoke from the heart, telling her story of becoming a mother at 17, losing a daughter and raising triplets in her 40s all while running a successful C-suite consultancy business.
Danusia was introduced by Joy Foster, founder of TechPixies, who welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending. The Manor was a particularly poignant place for Joy as she spoke, her sentences even tear-filled at times, about the ups and downs of 2018 and the hopes and dreams for 2019.
“If 2018 was a year to survive, it is my hope that 2019 is a year to thrive – not just for TechPixies, but for each and every single one of you.”
Joy praised the investors for “investing in the future of TechPixies”, thanked the alumna and current students for “putting their trust and belief in the programme” and the recognised new and old team members for “their dedication to the mission of the organisation: to educate and upskill women with modern technology, giving them confidence to seek stimulating and fulfilling careers which in turn gives them choice over their future.”
But it was Danusia who stole the show. A regular board level advisor to the C-suite, Danusia shared what it was like to build a business around a growing family. Finding herself pregnant at the age of 17, she went ahead with her pregnancy despite pressure from her family to have an abortion. At just 22 she was mother of 4 sons while at the same time applying to study at university. By her fifth child she was being interviewed for her PhD scholarship and ESRC Research Fellowship. While in the interview for the scholarship, she was asked “if she was planning on having children”. That question was illegal then and is illegal now and yet, as she pointed it, it still gets asked.
But it was triplets that nearly did her in. Until that point, as a mother with 7 children, she felt relatively normal. Suddenly there was something surreal and extreme about 10 children that forced Danusia to realise she wasn’t normal. What was it that helped her get through it? Commitment.
“When you commit to something it helps you stay focused.”
Having it all
Danusia spoke about “having it all”. She is currently writing a book and is often included in panel discussions with mother of 9, Dame Helena Morrissey, who wrote ‘It’s a Good Time to be a Girl’ (included on the TechPixies recommended reading list). Danusia was quick to point out that the “having it all” phrase actually originated from Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 book “Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money. . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing”. Having read the book through and through, Danusia points out that only six of the 462 pages mention children at all! The origins of “having it all” was much more focused originally on women being equal in the workplace rather than the meld of women being mothers AND having equal representation in the workplace.
This is an important distinction she says because the message has somewhat morphed into something that it didn’t originally stand for. Danusia’s secret to having it all?
“Don’t forget yourself.”
ME SHEETS and the School for Mothers
To help women remember this point, Danusia has recently released a free download called ‘ME SHEETS’ on the School for Mothers, a website she founded dedicated to helping mothers find freedom. With so many children and such high-level work, she was drowning in ‘To Do’ lists. That is what helped her to create ‘ME SHEETS’. Having tested them with women across the globe, the value of the sheets says Danusia, “lies in putting yourself in the centre column. What do you want? Where do you want to go?” Danusia is adamant that women need to put themselves back at the centre of their own lives.
She shared the story of one mother who recently asked her what she should put on the ‘ME SHEETS’… “Can I put a bath?” the mother asked. “No” said Danusia, “Everyone needs to wash!” A glass of wine, apparently, is borderline. The point is that this is a list of things you really want to do, just for you.
It is not that you will be able to do it right away, but more that you identify that you want to do and start to figure out a way to prioritise it. Danusia’s point is that most mothers completely de-prioritise themselves.
What is on Danusia’s ‘ME SHEETS’? queried one TechPixie. “Getting my Polish citizenship” came the reply. “This opens up the world to me!” But Danusia isn’t waiting to live abroad, she has already lived in 3 other countries, 1 week out of each month for a couple months at a time. Making arrangements with her staff and family to help look after the children while she is away. Danusia praised women who have recently been admitting on social media that they aren’t taking everything on themselves, encouraging them to continue to admit that they have help from nannies, cooks, cleaners and husbands who are available to the family.
This begs the question – how can someone who doesn’t have help from friends and family and who doesn’t have bucket loads of money even start to think about themselves. “Prioritise” was Danusia’s response. You may need to let certain things go. She used to iron the napkins and sew on individual labels for clothing. She gave that up along with not committing to bake tea stall goods – preferring instead to rock up with store bought ones. The time she gave up ironing, sewing and baking allowed her time to prioritise herself.
But is it wrong to prioritise others? Certainly not. In fact, in Danusia’s entire working life, there has not been a moment where she did’t have to consider the impact of her decisions on others around her. She believes strongly though that women, by prioritising themselves, will reap the rewards and benefits of more energy and their children and families will benefit because of it.
Eye-opening, thought provoking, even a bit shocking at times, Danusia Malina-Derben held nothing back and we thank her for it.
The star-themed Christmas brunch ended with a #givingtuesday moment as the winning charity, Naomi House, being pulled from the hat. The children’s respite care organisation will be receiving a £300 donation from TechPixies.
Pictures of the event courtesy of Louise Sloan.
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This post was written by Joy Foster (@TechPixieJoy) on Instagram), the founder of TechPixies.