In the UK today there are more women in employment than ever before.[1] There are more women pursuing higher education than their male counterparts and female youth employment is on the rise.[2] And yet, women are still underpaid and underrepresented. As of April 2019 it was reported that 78% of major companies still have a pay gap in favour of men.[3] And in 2018 it was recorded that while the pay gap is narrowing, women still earn approximately 80% of men’s median hourly wage.[4] Meanwhile, women continue to be overlooked for leadership roles, both in employment (in 2018 only 23.7% of Chief Executive and Senior Official roles were occupied by women) and in politics (in May 2019 women held 208 of 650 seats in the House of Commons, and just 208 of 789 seats in the House of Lords).[5]

So how do we continue to inspire women to pursue leadership and success, personally, professionally and politically when the odds are stacked against them? How do we get our daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, doctors, employees, engineers, artists, ourselves, to know that female opinions, contributions and influence is invaluable, imperative?

Here at the Baytree Centre in Brixton, we continuously ask ourselves that question, often coming up with different answers. Then a mere 8 months ago our Spark girls came up with ‘Sparking Change’. A Leadership Conference for Women and Girls, not as a solution, but a stepping stone. As part of our continued efforts to support, encourage and educate our participants we decided to introduce this new leadership conference to further benefit the women and girls at Baytree and in our wider community.

For this event, we wanted to bring together female speakers from various professions to talk about their experiences with success, failure, and leadership both professionally and personally. We wanted to host a panel and conduct various workshops, in order to both inspire and elevate our female participants. Supported by our partners Wonder Foundation, a charity that also seeks to encourage young female leaders through a number of different approaches, and our Red Glow project, an Erasmus funded project which aims to inspire and support young women’s leadership and participation, we were able to bring this conference to life;

On the 13th July 2019 the Baytree Centre hosted 100 women and girls for the first installment of our ‘Sparking Change’ conference, hosted and facilitated by our own young women. The conference, included a panel discussion, an array of workshops, a professional ‘speed-dating’ session, and most importantly, free cupcakes.

For our panel discussion our girls were honoured to be joined by Barbara Burton, Founder of Behind Bras, an initiative that helps women to transition from prison to employment in the fashion, retail and creative industries; Margot Heller, Director of the South London Gallery for nearly two decades, who has overseen visitor figures rise seven-fold over her tenure; Mariah Idrissi, a British model, public speaker, and online personality involved in humanitarian work; Leyya Sattar, co-Founder and Head of Partnerships at the award-winning The Other Box, a platform for increasing diversity in the creative industries and Otegha Uwagba, founder of Women Who, a platform that connects, supports, and inspires creative, working women, and the author of the Sunday Times Best Seller, the Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women. These incredibly inspiring women came together and shared their own personal and professional experiences of being a leader, providing insight into how they have and continue to deal with adversity and ignorance and how they found success as women, in a man’s world.

“It’s really inspiring to look to women who have faced challenges in the past and today and see how they respond to it.” Sparking Change participant.

We organised five workshops, focused on confidence, communication and creativity. Liz Sugg, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, ran a workshop on communicating confidentially both in and outside of the workplace. We invited Leticia Rosales, a Marketing Executive at HTC, to run an out-of-this-world interactive workshop with HTC’s VIVE virtual reality headset, and a chance to talk about the gender imbalance in the tech world. Kanndiss Riley and Tracy Lomanga, the founders of She is Clothed, explored imperfection and alternative pathways in life, while making pom-poms. Nina Cosford, the wonderful Illustrator ran a brilliant workshop ‘That’s What She Said’ where participants could create an empowering piece of art to take home. And Baytree’s very own Apithanie Fraser did a workshop on asking ‘big questions’, getting participants to think outside their current reality, as all change starts with possibility and vision.

For our ‘speed-dating’ sessions we invited over a dozen women, all leaders within their fields, to sit with the women and girls in attendance and provide insight and advice in all stages of employment, whether they were entering employment, looking to advance, or change their profession. They were then invited to swap around at various intervals to talk to as many women as possible. Ideas flourished, networks were made, friendships brokered, laughter bubbled and even a couple of internships were secured.

Panellists and workshop leaders alike highlighted that leadership is not only about professional leadership, but also about personal success and well-being. It is about the importance of being a leader according to what is authentic to you, whether it is in the office, at school, at home or in a community.

Here were their top three tips for young women and girls to spark change within their lives;

(1) Know your whys. Why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing, it will motivate you when times are tough.

(2) Believe in yourself – do what you want to do and only listen to criticism that is constructive, not the naysayers.

(3) Embrace everything that makes you different! You are unique and special. One of a kind.

 

[1] Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce – UK(2019).

[2] Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce – UK(2019); House of Commons Library, Youth Unemployment Statistics (2019)

[3] BBC Business, Gender Pay: Fewer Than Half of UK Firms Narrow Gap (2019)

[4] Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce – UK(2019).

[5] Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce – UK(2019).