By Danielle Todd

This year sees the 10-year anniversary of Women in Research (WIRe). In celebration, everything they do this year is under the theme of ‘superpowers’.

Superpowers could not be a more fitting theme for a female-based organisation, especially in the current epoch of political turmoil, namely the scaling back of hard-won rights for women and an increased backlash against feminism. At the recent Body Confidence event, a key insight about young women was uncovered. Young women and girls who have low self-esteem hold back from fundamental life activities. This can be schoolwork, social activities or sporting events. Simply put another way:

Young women and girls opt out of fully participating in life

This trend can continue throughout women’s lives as they are likely to internalise barriers and obstacles that stop them from accessing their own superpowers. Resultantly, we – as people, as an industry, and as a society – all lose out.

Women need support more than ever.

We all need women’s superpowers more than ever.

So we continue to fight.

Resultantly, the WIRe London Spring Event was based around the theme of superpowers. Three charismatic women offered their inspiration, their time and their hearts to move us, inspire us and strengthen our resolve over the course of one evening, and beyond.

Kate Dale of Sport England wowed us with stories of awakening women to physical activity. She asked:

  • “How many of us really find ourselves in the images of professional sportswomen?”
  • “How many of us feel comfortable turning up at the local running club, rugby club, and swimming pool or boxing gym ready to throw ourselves into it against the pros?”

Sports, however casual, can feel like a male domain, and be daunting to attempt, never mind master.

Kate showed us stage two of the This Girl Can campaign, which is focused on providing confidence, action and resilience for all women, demonstrating the need for a sense of belonging for women in sports. Sport England pitched their new campaign perfectly. Set to– Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman – Sport England shows women, in all their messy, diverse, gracious glory. What a win or applying yourself physically looks like for one woman isn’t for another. And This Girl Can demonstrates this perfectly; ensuring diversity in representation is front and centre in their new campaign.

Vanessa Sanyauke of Girls Talk London talked about the journey of the organisation she has grown from scratch. Vanessa told us when she was a child, she wanted to be like the yellow Power Ranger, but these days, she finds inspiration from Beyoncé. As the adage goes, you have the same number of hours in the day as Beyoncé, so what are you going to do with them?

Vanessa started Girls Talk London out of a frustration at commonplace reticence that plagued any diversity initiative within the finance sector she worked. Organisations were great at saying they acknowledged the need for more women in their companies, but poor at taking steps to address this.

So Girls Talk London was born to provide young women with better lives and careers. It has been incredibly successful, growing to provide events and mentoring for young women and girls, with a database of over 1000 talented young women looking for careers in STEM and business. She has set the challenge to companies to lay their money on the table; if diversity and accessing the best talent are important goals – then invest!

Finally, we had affable and charismatic Jemima Bird both entertaining us and telling us her key rules for accessing your inner superpowers:

  • Be authentic
  • Believe in what you do
  • Surround yourself with talent
  • Give time, protect time
  • Live your values. Always

We rounded out the evening with a panel discussion, where two main themes struck me:

  1. The weight making life decisions can place on women

For our panel, their careers have been at times frustrating, fulfilling, terrifying and exhilarating and they’ve pushed through step-by-step to get them to their current position. That, in itself was such a learning for the audience; to understand that the first step out a negative situation can bring you towards greater success both personally and professionally.

  1. Lots of the stories of women’s success are based around helping others

Kate drove forward a national campaign that helped shape the life stories of diverse women. Vanessa set up a company to help young women access business and STEM careers. Jemima chalked up her great success and capabilities to the team around her who have often followed her from role to role.

Part of me longs for the day that an organisation like WIRe will no longer be required. I want to see every woman confident and capable of achieving her potential. And every organisation, company and club actively taking steps to remove barriers and increase opportunities for women. But that day is not now. And that day is not soon.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to be inspired by the incredible women who provide strength to us all. Thank you Kate, Vanessa and Jemima for their tenacity, their authenticity and their time.

By Danielle Todd, Relish Research