A loom ahead to the Fylde Coast International Women's Day Festival
PUBLISHED: 00:00 01 March 2019
A group of successful women has banded together to stage an innovative event designed to help girls realise their potential.
If you could have wired the room to the National Grid, it would have kept the lights on across Lancashire for a week. A group of women, and a few men, talking with great passion about an event which they hope will change lives.
Debbie Terras, Sue Littlefair and Rachel Bashforth have harnessed the collective will of a group of up to 30 mainly female mentors from Fylde, Wyre and Blackpool to share their inspirational experiences in the hope that young women can realise their potential.
‘This isn’t about feminists burning their bras,’ said Debbie, who is director of The Washington group, which helps support and develop communities. ‘Our aim is to help young women recognise the opportunities that are out there – whether it is a career, education or the social aspects of their lives. We want to help them lift their feet from the sticky carpet.
‘While girls are outperforming boys in the classroom this isn’t being reflected in business and industry, where gender pay gaps persist and women do not get the same opportunities in many fields of business and industry.’
The mentors will be taking part in a series of interactive, fun workshops – robots are promised and there may be dogs as special guests – hosted by the Blackpool Sixth Form College on March 9. Twenty-five schools across the districts will each send 15 girls aged between 14 and 16 to the Fylde Coast International Women’s Day event.
Rachel Bashforth, a former teacher at the college, said they wanted to help solve the puzzle of talented young women failing to grasp opportunities. ‘They have all these skills so why aren’t they making full use of them and realising their potential?
‘It is partly because many aren’t confident and they don’t feel supported. That is where we want to help. There are lots of barriers that we can start to break down so that when they finish education they have a good idea of what they want to do – not necessarily what mum or dad or social media tells them they should do, but what they want to do.’
This was echoed around the room by the mentors, people ranging from successful business leaders and entrepreneurs to accomplished athletes, who all spoke of personal experiences in overcoming hurdles barring their way to success.
This was close to the heart of Seema Dalvi. ‘I so wanted to get involved when I heard about this event. When I was growing up I wanted to be a chef or a Bollywood star. It became a battle with my dad who wanted me to get married and have children. When I insisted on work, the choice was a bank or be a teacher.’
She eventually quit teaching to follow her dream as a cook and now runs a highly successful catering company at Thornton Cleveleys.
Helen Broughton, managing director of the award-winning Danbro accountancy group and host of the get-together, said the company did all it could to retain the skills of women who have babies by introducing flexible working and she hoped that this message would spread so women realised what was possible.
Mentor Jane Cole left school at 16 and worked her way up through the transport industry – from making station announcements via the tannoy to a senior role with Virgin Train and is now managing director of Blackpool Transport. ‘The tram and bus industry is very male dominated so I want to get women inspired to work in the transport industry,’ she said.
The initiative has the backing of Dame Julia Cleverdon, who was chief executive of Business in the Community, a charity headed by Prince Charles, and it also has the support of Flyde, Wyre and Blackpool councils.
Dr Nic Robinson, an expert in sport studies, leisure and nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University, told fellow mentors: ‘It just needs a spark to set a young person on a new path and as a mentor you can light that spark.’
It also has the backing of Lancashire Police in the form of PC Ian Ashton, a gay police officer who has become a prominent campaigner on gender equality. Other supporters include Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Massey, Caroline Whalley-Hunter, of the power company Inenco, Sue Thompson, of Vicarage Park Community Centre, Kate Shane, of Merlin Entertainments, Paula Davies, of Radio Wave and Wendy Casson, of Educational Diversity Blackpool. Council chief executives Allan Oldfield and Garry Payne have also pledged their support.
Jill Gray, principal of Blackpool Sixth Form College where about 70 per cent of the senior team are women, said: ‘I don’t feel like a role model but I’m very passionate about Blackpool, which isn’t always seen in a positive light, so we are delighted to be giving something back to the area.’
Debbie said the team weren’t just passionate about supporting girls – they also planned an International Men’s Day gathering in November and an all-gender event in 2020. They were also examining ways of engaging with junior school children.
‘If just one youngster comes away having had their life changed by our mentors, then it will have all be worthwhile,’ she said.
Sophie is a role model
One young woman who has shown star quality in a male-dominated industry is BAE Systems engineer Sophie Harker. She has been recognised as world-leading engineer in the Institution of Engineering and Technology Achievement Awards
Sophie, from Lytham St Annes, has been awarded the Sir Henry Royce Medal, presented to an outstanding young professional who has excelled in the workplace within the last three years.
It recognises Sophie’s contribution to researching and developing future technologies for the air sector business. Sophie collected her prize at a prestigious London award ceremony hosted by Dr Emily Grossman.
‘It’s a real honour,’ she said. ‘It’s great to be part of an event that celebrates the great engineering and technology skills we have in the UK and I’ll use this award to help me keep inspiring others.’
The winners, who were nominated by their peers, and selected by a panel of judges, are leading engineers and technologists across the globe.