Written by Helen Bailey, Head of L&D
If you ever catch me working from home on a Teams call you will more than likely notice that I have been joined by a friend in the background – Clarice Cliff who is described by the V&A as one of the UK’s most important and prolific ceramicists.
To me she is an inspiration of what can be achieved despite the limitations of content – at a time when although women dominated the pottery industry they were cast into two very specific roles either doing ancillary jobs or in highly skilled work such as gilding and decorating. Clarice would eventually become one of the first female art directors in the pottery industry and one of the first to brand her work. A real-life example of someone who worked to #BreaktheBias.
So, let’s take a look at some lessons from Clarice’s approach:
- Have courage – or as Millicent Fawcett put it ‘Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere’. In a world dominated by white plates Clarice had the vision and boldness to be different with her cubist triangles and bold colours which acted as a direct counterpoint the post war greyness which had enveloped Britain.
- Consider what makes you unique and different – Clarice’s uniqueness was the ability to both design the patterns and the shapes which they went onto which enabled her to create her very distinct products. Let’s embrace more what Matthew Syed calls ‘Rebel Ideas’ and let’s think differently – outside both the box and the envelope and most of all let’s not apologise for it. In my L&D world that means playing pass the parcel, making towers out of marshmallows and spaghetti, and throwing lemons. All used to create discussion and promote learning.
- Put other women front and centre – there is clear evidence that Clarice supported other women and would promote their skills. For example at her London store paintresses would be in the window in smocks and the decorating girls gave in store demonstrations. This amplification of other women is similar to that undertaken by the women in Barack Obama’s fist administration who when one woman said something important, other women in the room would repeat that point and give credit to the woman.
- Develop allies who can support – Clarice impressed the management both by her designs and her determination who in turn arranged for her to attend sculpture classes at the Royal College of Art in London. This enabled her to further extend her knowledge as she was introduced to the latest design trends. Let’s find our allies who can support us in being heard – Andrew Jacobs runs the Women Talking About Learning podcast in which two women talk about an aspect of learning. You can catch me on The Learning Theory one with Rachel Burnham. It’s a space for views to be heard and shared from a distinct perspective.
- Constantly evolve – As Heraclitus one said ‘There is nothing constant except change’ and as the world changes we must change with it. Reviewing Clarice’s career she developed her style and adopted new trends such as more muted colours and using different patterns such as Harvest Ware. I often describe myself as ‘Constantly Curious’ – this enables me to keep up to date and informed which then informs my work in L&D. My colleagues will tell you that I like nothing better than sharing the latest report I have read with them.
In the meantime let’s celebrate International Women’s Day and let’s be more like Clarice and #BreaktheBias.