On this International Women’s Day, I’m reflecting on the mentoring I’ve been doing with The Girls Network for the past four months. The Girls Network is a charity whose mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional role models who are women. In October last year, I arrived at a secondary school in Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived boroughs in London, with several other aspiring mentors to be matched with a mentee. With some trepidation, as we faced a school gym full of vibrant young women, we sat down for some speed dating that quickly turned into lively conversations about hobbies, favourite school subjects, hopes and fears, exam stress. I was immediately transported back to my teenage years when the world felt enormous and full of possibilities, yet small and concentrated around dynamics of friendship groups, school work, whether my hair had enough hairspray in it to withstand the rain! I now know how privileged I was to be white, from a working class but aspirational family living in south Wales and surrounded by role models who I could draw inspiration from – a friend’s activist mother, the lady at the bookshop who nurtured my love of books, my hardworking, humble Nan who handmade everything. Facing bias as a result of their gender, ethnicity, background, parental income and after two years of major disruption to their education and uncertainty for their futures due to the pandemic, the girls we were meeting were in no such privileged position.
According to reports from the Office for National Statistics, there are 106,000 more young women than young men who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) and economically inactive. Statistics from Teach First show that 50% of 16-year-olds from the poorest backgrounds achieve no GCSEs above a 3 (grade D). As a PR agency proudly led by a team of phenomenal women from very different backgrounds, we have supported the work that The Girls Network does for several years. We are all keenly aware of the barriers to entry, particularly to a professional role in the culture and entertainment sector, and work to break down those barriers. For example, we’ve recently been awarded the Blueprint diversity mark for our work to promote racial diversity in PR and communications. Riot’s MD, Preena Gadher, who is a passionate advocate of women in business and the arts, especially women of colour, and has mentored for BME PR Pros PR Week mentoring scheme, says, ‘Being a brown woman in business is sadly still a disadvantage in the UK and so starting my own agency in my twenties was a massive risk. I’m super proud of having defied the odds and proved some early nay-sayers wrong. Mentoring programmes that help people see themselves in contexts that are not always obvious can only be a good thing.’
I’ve learnt a lot from my brilliant mentee over the past few months. I hope she’s picked up a few tips from me too and felt empowered by our meetings, but mentoring is definitely a two way street. We’ve had fun navigating London’s public transport to help her become more independent and to expand the area where she might find work experience or part time work. She’s shared some beautiful stories of her family bonds that have made me go home and reevaluate my priorities. She’s reminded me of the importance of dedication and determination. I’ve wanted to be the best I can be for her. No matter the age gap or the difference in backgrounds/circumstances, two women coming together to share their experiences, their worries, their dreams and discovering solutions, devising plans, having ideas is a powerful and wonderful thing.
So on this International Women’s Day, I salute the work of The Girls Network. I salute my mentee, who is defying the odds to realise her ambitions and self-worth. I salute my brilliant colleagues at Riot Communications working to shape a better tomorrow.
#breakthebias #genderequity #thegirlsnetwork