26 Jul 2017

This month I had the privilege to sit on a panel for The Girls’ Network; a charity that aims to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities.  While this work sits outside of my role as Ombudsman, it is so important to me that I wanted to use my blog this month to share my thoughts on this topic with you.

Representation matters.  Usually, when we talk about representation it is a reference to the way the media presents different aspects of society, but it applies to real life too! Representation matters because when we are making decisions about what we want to be and hope to achieve, we naturally look for people we can identify with to use as a measure:  “If they can achieve that, then maybe I can too.”

This is important at any stage of life, but particularly in adolescence.  Those crucial years of secondary school that are not only often characterised by uncertainty and a lack of confidence, they are also a time where important decisions about A levels and future careers are being made. At least that was true of my adolescence.

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A child of immigrant parents from Guyana, I didn’t come from the type of background where anyone outside of my family expected me to achieve anything of substance. So much so that one of my teachers advised me to get a job in Woolworths instead of doing my A levels! Thankfully I had supportive, loving parents and role models I could identify with within my family. That helped me to believe I was capable of achieving whatever I put my mind to – but not everyone is fortunate enough to have that. This is where mentoring can make a real difference and why I believe it is so important to give something back.

This is something I look at in my current role, particularly whether there is potential to open up work experience opportunities to individuals from diverse backgrounds who may be less likely to pursue a career in investigations or the law, but also outside of work time.  When I heard about The Girls’ Network I was drawn to the work that they do and my role as a mentor gives me an opportunity to inspire, support and empower young women. The Girls’ Network pairs professional women with girls from less advantaged communities because they, and I, believe that:

  • no girl should have their future limited by their background, gender or parental income, and
  • all girls should be supported to realise their ambitions, to discover their self-worth, and to develop their capacity to shape their world and their future.

This is just one organisation offering this type of support to a particular sector, there are of course many others and it is not just adolescent girls that benefit from mentoring.  Individuals from all sections of society can benefit from mentoring and there is a benefit to both the individual being mentored and the mentor themselves. Mentoring and support can not only improve the confidence of the mentee but improve the knowledge, understanding and communication skills of the mentor.

If you are in a position to do so, I encourage you to explore what mentoring options are available to you – as a mentor or a mentee – whether through an existing mentoring organisation/program or an initiative you establish in your own organisation.

I’ll say it again – representation matters. If we want to see individuals from all facets of society achieve at the highest levels in every industry, we need to make sure they know those options are within their reach.

On Tuesday, 11th July, the Ombudsman participated on a panel of female leaders, themed on empowerment and positive decision-making, for 100 young women (14 – 19 years old) at an event run by the charity The Girls’ Network.  The Ombudsman spoke of ‘not being afraid to be your authentic self’ and also ‘integrating your work life in with your own life’.  She also said that certain traits or characteristics which may hold some girls back right now, are actually critical parts of their experience and lives and that the girls should proudly and boldly own these characteristics.   The girls at the event loved hearing from the Ombudsman and felt that her advice was practical and accessible, while also encouraging and empowering them to achieve and be successful in their futures. The Girls’ Network’s mission is to inspire and empower girls from the least advantaged communities through connecting them with a network of positive female role models. Other panellists were Pat Gallan, Assistant Commissioner, Met. Police; Nicola Grinstead, Deputy CEO, Great Ormond Street Hospital; and Naomi Jane, founder of “A Life Less Ordinary Wanted”, The Positive Change Agency.