As a mentee from the second cohort of the Fabian Women’s Network (FWN) Mentoring Scheme, I had the honour of speaking at the launch of the FWN Cracks in the Glass Ceiling report in Portcullis House last year. It’s an evening that in many ways I would not have had the pleasure, skills or nerve to undertake without the Fabian Women’s Network Mentoring Scheme.
From opening the doors of Parliamentary buildings to me, to instilling within me with the confidence to stand up and speak to an audience of nearly one hundred women, the scheme provided me, and all of the past and present mentees, with the essential foundations to enter public life.
From walking the halls of the European Parliament and bumping into the President of the Socialists and Democrats group, to eating Pringles in the shadow cabinet office with Ed Balls, the mentoring scheme gave us all an invaluable insight into the real world of politics.
The unparalleled political exposure and networking has allowed us all to open doors we never imagined could be open to us. The political education and training delivered by women who have trodden the path before showed us how to take those first few steps. And crucially, the network which developed around us has given many of the mentees the final thing we needed: the belief in ourselves to step forward and walk into positions throughout public life.
For me personally, this meant being elected as a Labour Councillor for Manchester city centre in the 2014 local council elections, starting a community charity to improve green spaces throughout Manchester and helping to found the Fabian Women’s Network North West, the first regional sub-network of the FWN set up to encourage more North Western women into all walks of public life.
I have never considered anything about myself to be extraordinary and that is the one thing I thought you had to be to become a politician, sit on a board, or lead a charity. Before starting the scheme I thought these people were picked out and somehow pre-destined to become powerful women in public life.
With no family background in politics and fewer visits to London than I have fingers, I had absolutely no idea how to enter public life, but had always been curious, and like many of the mentees this curiosity made me send in the application.
And now, after a full nine months on the scheme, I think all of the mentees can agree that Westminster’s gilded walls don’t feel quite so impenetrable, the green benches are looking a little bit more comfortable, and being part of real, effectual change doesn’t seem impossible.
There are nearly a hundred women that have been, or currently are, part of the scheme; a hundred women achieving things they would not have dreamt of without this opportunity. Maybe a few of us would have eventually become Prime Minister anyway, or made it to Leader of the Free World in one form or another, but I don’t think any of us would have achieved so much, so quickly, without the FWN Mentoring Programme.
In just four years, trustees of national charities have emerged, Prospective Parliamentary Candidates have flourished, school governors have risen, policy experts have surfaced, businesses have been founded and boards invaded, dream jobs attained, articles penned, campaigns lead and lifelong friendships forged.
However, this incredible journey that we have had the privilege to be part of would not have been possible without one thing: other women. Our mentors provided us with unsurpassable knowledge and their priceless time and patience. MPs, Baronesses, charity leaders and business founders spent their ever-decreasing time with us because of nothing but the desire to bring other women along with them.
And there are several women upon whom the very existence and sustainability of the scheme rests: Christine Megson, Caroline Adams, Seema Malhotra and Ivana Bartoletti. Their efforts allowed every mentee, past, present and future to begin to achieve their full potential and crack that ceiling once and for all.
Being part of the FWN mentoring scheme has taught me that if you want to see progress and change you have to be part of that yourself. In doing so the scheme points to the glass ceiling and hands you the hammer to break it down.
Together as former mentees, mentors and women, it is our responsibility to pass these tools on to other women until that ceiling isn’t just cracked but is shattered at our feet.
Applications for the fifth cohort of the Fabian Women’s Network Mentoring Programme are now open. For more information click here.