“To be truly transformative, the post 2015 development agenda must prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment. The world will never fully realise 100 per cent of its goals if 50 per cent of its people cannot realise their full potential.” Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon
International Women’s Day was first marked in 1911 in a handful of countries. It is now a global event of recognition and celebration, providing an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of ordinary and extraordinary women across the world.
The political and human rights of women globally remains the focus for the United Nations, and International Women’s Day is a time to highlight the achievements made and the struggles which still need to be overcome.
Across the UK hundreds of events are taking place in celebration of this global event. It also provides the perfect opportunity to highlight campaigns which are seeking to further empower women, including the #notjustforboys campaign launched last month by Employment Minster Esther McVey.
The campaign aims to give young women the tools and confidence they need in their chosen careers, but additionally to assist them in securing positions in traditionally male-dominated workplaces
Esther McVey held a number of roles in a number of industries before entering the world of politics and understands only too well the challenges women face in the workplace. We asked her all about the campaign, her views on International Women’s Day, and which women inspired her on the road to Westminster.
Can you tell us what the #notjustforboys campaign is all about?
The aim of this campaign is simple. We want to equip young girls with the knowledge about future opportunities and encourage them to keep all their career options open.
Over the next decade it is estimated that we will see 12 million job opportunities open up in the UK. Many of these are likely to be in occupations where women are currently underrepresented, such as engineering, IT and science. We have yet to see - for example - the first women Governor of the Bank of England, President of the Supreme Court, or Director-General of the BBC. We therefore want #notjustforboys to showcase the opportunities on offer in traditionally male dominated sectors and inspire women across the UK to consider a range of career options. In the engineering profession for example, only 7% of the workforce are female. Whilst this number has increased since 2010, we realise there is still more to be done which is why we have launched this campaign.
How important was it for you to see this campaign launched and to essentially be the face of the campaign?
This is an issue I feel passionate about, having spent the last fifteen years working with children from inner city areas to showcase the different types of role models out there. As a woman and as Minister for Employment I believe that everyone should have equal opportunities to access work and employment, regardless of age, ethnicity, religion or gender. For me, this campaign is about social mobility and encouraging people to be the best that they can be.
Often girls and women don’t see some careers as open to them because they are male dominated. That is why we have launched the #notjustforboys campaign to inspire people to get involved and showcase their journey, career paths and real life stories. Don’t just take my word for it though – get involved and visit the campaign page: www.gov.uk/notjustforboys to see the incredible women already taking part and join us.
How do you think it will inspire girls/women into careers not traditionally viewed as 'female'?
It’s about supporting women to be able to make the best choice for them. We are doing this by highlighting real life examples of inspirational women who have broken down barriers and have succeeded in careers and industries where women are under-represented, such as engineering, construction and sport.
It’s also about equipping women with the knowledge of certain industries e.g what does it take to become a female fighter pilot, what grades to do you need, what attributes are best suited to that role, so that women can make informed choices about their future career.
A number of high profile businesses and individuals are supporting the campaign, why do you think they've become involved?
Fundamentally because they believe in the campaign and because it makes sense to businesses from a practical point of view. Any company needs to attract talent if they want to be a successful business and that talent must come from a wide pool of potential recruits. Businesses also know that attracting staff from different backgrounds and different interests can provide valuable insight into new markets. In fact, studies have proven that the more diverse the workforce is, the more productive that business will be.
How can other individuals or businesses interested in getting involved do so, and how can people help you to promote the campaign?
Individuals and businesses can get involved by visiting the campaign page: www.gov.uk/notjustforboys it’s as easy as that.
Is there anyone that stands out as a role model for you who has inspired you in your career?
I have worked in several different sectors; journalism, business and now politics and I have many role models, from my mum to my ballet teacher to inspiring friends including Debbie Moore who was the first woman to launch a PLC (Pineapple Studios) and Lucinda Ellery of Ellery Solutions. However one woman who stands out has to be my former boss in TV, Janet Street Porter. She was – and still is - a high achieving visionary creative machine who had a way of bringing TV and documentaries alive and was a great supporter and champion of women in the workplace.
Janet allowed me to believe someone from Liverpool or south London or Sheffield or Newcastle could lead the way. You don’t need to sound the same as everyone else. You don’t need to look the same. You need ideas, to work hard and deliver and above all, be true to yourself.
What advice would you give to any girl/woman looking to reach the top in their chosen profession?
I would say there is no silver bullet.
No one makes it to the top without putting the hours and effort in to get there. Whilst it may not be a sexy message, it’s the truth. You need to get your head down, work hard and stay focused.
I would say to girls / women that no matter what your background is, where you are from, where you went to school – if you work hard you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.
What do you think about International Women's Day?
This is a symbolic day where women from across the globe, from a range of backgrounds and cultures can come together with a shared goal – which is all about celebrating the talent and potential of women and discussing how we can overcome the barriers that women sometimes face.
It is essential that we use events like this to showcase the talent seen in women around the world and talk about the importance of increasing the number of women in the workplace and embracing the choice we have.
To mark International Women’s day, my charity will be working with the National Youth Theatre to perform the If Chloe Can play at the Ambassador’s theatre. The play, (which originated from the career books I created) follows a young schoolgirl who wants to become an inventor and aims to inspire young girls to consider a whole host of careers. During the interval, school children in the audience will be able to ask questions to the pop star Pixie Lott, the first female to launch a PLC, Debbie Moore and the first female UK bomb disposal expert, Louise Greenhalgh.
*The #notjustforboys campaign is supported by a number of well-known businesses including Liberata. Jonathan Watt, Group Director of Human Resources at Liberata Group, explained why.
“Liberata takes its Diversity agenda very seriously and has its own national Forum, which is actively supported by UNISON; this group also reviews HR policy and application. As an employer we positively encourage female employees with a range of supportive policies in order to progress careers in the business. Currently we have a large number of female leaders across the business occupying a variety of senior roles including Contract Director, Business Development Director, Health and Safety Director, Sales Director and many Service Delivery Managers.
“We are therefore pleased to support the "Not just for boys - campaign" as we genuinely believe in real equality of opportunity and as a company we engender a culture which recognises and rewards employees for their skills and contribution to our business.”
Many thanks to Esther McVey for answering our questions and to our feature writer, Suzanne Danon, for her input to this article.