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Breaking the glass ceiling

6 Mar , 2014  

Reema Patel, National Secretary of the Fabian Women’s Network Executive, on the impact of the Fabian Women’s Network Mentoring Scheme

Most mentoring and development programmes are judged by the impact they have – and in this respect the Fabian Women’s Network’s mentoring scheme is remarkable. Designed and run for four years by Fabian woman Christine Megson, the scheme has had over 70 members on its intakes – with over 20 of those women standing for local council, MEP candidates selected from the crop, and four Prospective Parliamentary Candidates selected through the development programme.

A number of other women who have gone through the programme have gone into positions where they are able to make a significant impact on policy and campaigns – and some of them have been appointed onto public boards and boards of national and international charities. Beth Knowles, a fellow Fabian woman mentee, described the scheme as giving women a hammer with which they could break the glass ceiling.

The success of the scheme has at its heart the principle that peer networking and mutual support is crucial to women’s success, and in particular that safe spaces, where women are in the company of other women and are inspired by women, supply the confidence and the skills to enable the entire group to succeed collectively.

If the glass ceiling is to be broken with a hammer, it appears, the hammer has to be lifted collectively.

But another equally important aspect of the scheme is its understanding of the influence that physical places have on women’s understanding of what is achievable and what is possible. The scheme places women in the corridors of power – they have met in Parliament, hosted meetings in and gone on visits to Brussels and European Parliament. As a former mentee on this programme I can attest to the fact that this quite literally and metaphorically unlocks doors by handing women the key to gates of power – by affirming that those who have never set foot in those places do have a right to be there.

When I started the mentoring programme I had a strong interest in politics and, in particular, public service and political life – but very little by way of understanding the roadmap into public and political life. I joined the Fabian Society, wrote a couple of pieces for Fabiana and applied for the mentoring programme.

A year later, towards the end of the scheme, I had put myself forward as a trustee of the National Deaf Children’s Society, was selected as a Labour Party council candidate in Barnet and was shortlisted as the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s finalist for their London Social Justice award on a successful campaign to reopen a local library. My experience on the programme was transformative but it was not unique. Other women similarly put themselves forward for opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have, and other women were also successful.

I’d encourage you to apply – applications are now open (www.fabianwomen.org/mentoring). I’m already looking forward to working with the next generation of women committed to reshaping public life for social and public good.

Reema tweets @ReemaSPatel

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