At a time when society feels increasingly divided, and when women in politics and the public eye, especially women of colour, disabled women or LGBT women, continue to face barriers, discrimination and abuse, the Fabian Women’s Network mentoring scheme is more important than ever. As I come to the end of my year on the programme, I’ve been reflecting on what makes it so special – and why you should consider applying too.
Mentoring can be a powerful tool to help women reach their goals and confound expectations. Spending dedicated time with an experienced woman in politics or public life can give you insights, ideas or perspectives you hadn’t considered, or encourage you to turn ambitions into concrete actions. Sometimes, it’s simply about reflecting what you actually already knew but needed to hear from someone else. Personally, I gained insight into the pressures, challenges and stark inequalities that my mentor, as a woman in politics, continues to face. Despite this, seeing the remarkable difference that she and other women are making in the world has strengthened my resolve and motivation to follow in their footsteps.
One of the pieces of advice my mentor gave me was to focus on building the skills and experiences that will equip me to make a difference in the future, in politics or public life more broadly. And this programme offers many opportunities to learn these skills– whether in public speaking, writing articles or starting a new campaign. It is hugely valuable to have the chance to challenge yourself in a supportive environment, gaining feedback and experience to take forward. The programme instils confidence, enabling you to walk a little taller into whatever space you enter – whether it is parliament or the boardroom, your constituency Labour party, council chamber or workplace. A year on, without even noticing it, I’m doing and enjoying things that, not so long ago, might have seemed daunting or unachievable. It makes everything feel so much more possible.
But perhaps the most radical part of the scheme, and the most important for me, has been being part of a group of incredible, inspiring, brilliant women. Our backgrounds and experiences are varied: there are doctors and lawyers, people with experience in local government, charities or trade unions and women with policy expertise ranging from the environment to infertility. What we all share are our values and culture of solidarity and support. We have real capacity to bring about change.
It’s a safe space to have challenging conversations. Thanks to this diverse and dynamic group, I have encountered new perspectives and been spurred on by the successes of others. Over the course of the year, we have celebrated mentees’ new jobs and conference speeches and the experience of going through the candidate selection process, writing articles or being interviewed on TV. Each one of us has different skills, knowledge and experience to share. This in turn helps you to realise your own value and voice, as part of this group and beyond.
The political backdrop to our year on the mentoring scheme has been turbulent to say the least. We have seen insecurity and division over Brexit, internal battles within the Labour party and the continued abuse of women in the public eye. In sharp contrast to the turmoil around us, the strong relationships of solidarity forged through this programme have inspired, motivated and spurred us into action. These relationships are the key to building a better future. The conversations on train journeys that lead to a new campaign, the WhatsApp messages of support ahead of an important day, the people you can turn to when you need to work through a problem or challenge are all so important. Through learning from each other, amplifying each other’s voices, building bridges for each other and other women, ultimately we’re working together to make the world a better place.
You can be part of this movement. If we are to tackle the biggest challenges facing society, we need more diverse, motivated women working together in solidarity to increase our individual and collective impact. Join us.
Applications for the Fabian Women’s Network mentoring programme 2019-20 are now open. For more details and to apply, click here: https://fabianwomen.org.uk/mentoring/
Applications are open until 23 June
Photo credit: Hernan Pinera