Before I mention that I LEFT THE HOUSE last night and before I begin on my usual self-obsessed internal travelogue, let me tell you about the important bit. Inspiring the Future: Inspiring Women campaign was launched last night at an event hosted by Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez in Lancaster House. Ten inspiring women – women with successful and high-profile careers – were invited to ‘speed network’ with one hundred London school girls, exploring career interests, choices, and routes to success. This was the start of a campaign to get successful women into state schools nationwide, talking to girls about their futures, their passions, and how to realise their potential. Have a look at the website http://www.inspiringthefuture.org/news-events.aspx. I’ll tell you more later.
Anyway, there was this swanky reception afterwards at Lancaster House, with Nick Clegg, and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, and the ten inspirational women including Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge, and Fiona Bruce (have I owned up to my Antiques Roadshow addiction yet?), and Carolyn McCall, CEO of Easyjet, and Carrie Longton, Co-founder of Mumsnet. And there was wine, and canapes, and people in suits who had been in the real world all day talking to actual people who can take their own selves to the loo, and I WAS THERE.
I volunteered to go thinking it wouldn’t happen and when it was confirmed I was of course thrown into wild-eyed panic. What would I wear? What would I say while mingling with high-powered professionals and politicians in a governmental mansion? How would I stop myself swooning and curtseying in the presence of such amazing women? And what the hell would I wear? Shit! Shit! There were no excuses. I’d volunteered myself. My mum happened to be around to babysit, and I had scraped together an outfit.
So with Pickle hanging, wailing, off one arm, I applied mascara with the other, readied myself and managed to sneak out while they were eating their bangers and mash. And then as I travelled through London at rush hour – as I have done a kerjillion times before – I remembered that actually I’m still a proper person. I can catch trains. I know which door to choose on the tube. I am a grown-up and a Londoner. And then I was stopped by a film crew making a documentary about female genital mutilation and did a quick vox pop for them and felt like quite a competent, intelligent, grown-up Londoner, which was a pretty good way to arrive at a frankly terrifying networking event.
At my northern comprehensive school it was not The Done Thing to have crushes on fellow schoolgirls as I’m led to believe (by Mallory Towers) it is at girls’ boarding schools. But if I were a schoolgirl now I would have an unashamed crush on Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. She spoke with such passion about the Inspiring Women campaign and and in doing so she won my complete and quite possibly fawning support. Generally I like to fence off a cynical little corner of my heart when people are plugging a concept, but this time I couldn’t. ’75% of women still work in the five Cs of employment’, she said. ‘cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical. There is nothing wrong with that – but girls should also feel free to make a difference in science, IT, engineering or maths if that is what they like.’ I was nodding. Maybe I imagined that somebody cheered.
’55 per cent of girls aged between 11 and 21 say they feel there are not enough female role models. However, in reality, there are not only enough female role models, but a surplus of them’. Yes. I know loads. I know women who are architects, scientists, teachers, web managers, psychologists, doctors. I know genealogists, management consultants and project managers. I know women who work for tech companies, universities, and the police. And those of us at the coal face, who are bringing up girls to be clever, ambitious and curious. The idea of the project is that we are all inspiring women, and if we can give up one hour a year to go into schools and talk to girls about all the fascinating opportunities there are out there, girls can feel more able to do what they like. And that might be catering and caring but it might be gardening, computing or making scientific discoveries.
After the speeches I was able to elbow my way to Salma and Wahida from Mulberry School for Girls. They are currently organising a conference on International Relations in their home borough of Tower Hamlets. They had loved the networking event, they said, eyes shining. They had loved Fiona Bruce because she was so kind and had been so honest about sometimes feeling small. What had they learned? ‘That we are as good as anyone,’ they said, and the defiance in their voices told me they meant it. What did they think I should say to my girls, I asked, who are two and four? ‘Make them believe they can do anything,’ was the response. ‘And send them to the Mulberry School so they can do things like this.’
I managed to mingle a bit, and met some great women from LinkedIn, The Womens Room, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. I was not going to tap Dame Barbara Stocking on the shoulder, or interrupt Thea Green, CEO of Nails Inc, partly because I didn’t know what the hell I would say to them if I did. I’ll admit, I felt a bit of a fraud as a small-time blogger and Stay at Home Mother. But if I learned anything from my Night In the Real World it was this: we’re all inspiring, us women. Collectively we have done loads of amazing things, large and small. Historically we’ve been restrained by lack of good careers advice, lack of access to female role models and limited expectations of what we ought to do. But if we can help this generation of girls feel they can do anything, then, well, they really could do anything.
Before I left, I introduced myself to Carrie Longton, Mumsnet co-founder. After all it was Mumsnet that allowed me to attend at all and I wanted to thank her for the invitation. She was friendly, gracious and unintimidating and I managed not to swoon. Might have accidentally bobbed out a little curtsey though.
For more info about Inspiring Women visit www.inspiringthefuture.org. Please take part! You could be helping turn young women’s career dreams into achievable ambitions.