Like other women my age, now and then I am blessed with a bout of impostor syndrome. It’s my confidence gremlin. You may not be familiar with this psychological phenomenon and I’ve done no studies to back this up, but if I did, I expect I’d find it’s more common in women than men. After all, women do well on a test or get a promotion and we feel ‘lucky’. A man does the same and he ‘worked hard to deserve it’. Ever had fraudulent feelings about where you are in your career? That’s impostor syndrome.
Recognising this gremlin is half the battle, but all the same, there’s something about the lofty glass-walled buildings that form Canary Wharf which intimidate me. Just last week I went to an event there, hosted by KPMG, for Women in Banking and Finance. Not very me, but the event centred on something I feel strongly about – the Economic Empowerment of African Women.
How refreshing to enter the room and be faced with an all female panel. How much longer until I don’t find it ‘refreshing’ because it’s the new normal? Chaired by Claer Barrett, Money Editor at the Financial Times the event placed its focus on the impact of educating girls in Africa, the importance of building entrepreneurship skills and access to micro-finance, and the role we can play in addressing these social issues. Unsurprisingly when I was there I realised that Women in Banking and Finance is all about having a network where women can support each other and I could leave my gremlin at the front door. I might not work in the sector – but these are professional, capable women, just like me.
Claer began by revealing that staff at the FT have been instructed by their Chair not to appear on ‘manels’ (the all male panel). Not a problem tonight. Although it’s not just panels. You might remember the picture that was circulated at the beginning of this year, with President Trump. The photograph showed a team of all male advisors watch as Donald Trump signed the anti-abortion executive order in the Oval Office. Something women might just want a say on.
Back to the evening in question – joining Claer was Olivia (Libby) Hills, Head of Education at PEAS. Libby comes from a teaching background and has a smartness about her that makes you pleased she’s working in development. PEAS is delivering a life-changing education to over 16,000 children (52% of whom are girls) across 30 schools in Uganda and Zambia. Also representing PEAS was ‘self-confessed nerd’ of the panel, Dr Rachel Linn, with an academic background in international politics. They were joined by Minaho Shiraishi, a partner at KPMG, bringing a corporate perspective to the group. Statistically having Minaho on the panel was unlikely; at KPMG 4 in 5 Partners are male.
Minaho began by questioning the gender pay gap – attributing the discrepancy to lower-skilled work, and women working part-time (usually whilst raising or caring for children). She emphasised the importance of measuring, saying that at KPMG, ‘what gets measured gets done’. She went on to press the significance of having diverse female role models – not just full-time, outwardly driven extroverts, but women working part-time, women with disabilities, BAME women, women with different sexual orientation, and from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. Discussing diversity at PEAS, in rural areas of Zambia and Uganda, only 1 in 4 teachers are female. To counter this, PEAS appoint senior women leaders as champions, run girls’ clubs and provide teacher accommodation.
The discussion moved away from diversity and Claer asked Libby how someone in the audience should choose who, or which organisation, to support. In brief, Libby’s response was ‘data’. Specifically not just the existence of data, but the quality of the data in question. Led by Rachel it’s clear that data, monitoring, and evaluation play a paramount role at PEAS, ensuring quality access and sustainability throughout the school network.
There are nuances within data too, and some of PEAS’ greatest achievements won’t necessarily come out in government data. For example, PEAS take a larger number of lower-achieving students, from the poorest backgrounds, who end up leaving school with the same grades as their wealthier peers in government or private schools. Surely this is an achievement? Though just not one that is visible in school leaving results tables. Libby suggested we might like to take a look at ‘Effective Altruism’, a social movement that aims to apply evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others.
Perhaps the best bit of the session, and telling of a 95% female audience, was that the audience questions were considered and insightful. At no point did someone from the floor use the time to essentially make their own point; they were genuinely interested in what the panel had to say. Some people just can’t sit in a room without making their opinions heard. I like to refer to them as ‘conference trolls’. No trolls to be found that evening – here are a few of the questions that were asked:
To begin, one woman questioned the role of mothers in girls’ education in Africa. If education starts at home, how does PEAS work with mums, educating why girls should go to, and stay in, school? Both Libby and Rachel responded, explaining that PEAS have strong links with the community. The schools in the network have to do a lot of community engagement work in order to prosper, and to ensure that 50% of students at PEAS schools are girls. They have found that the mothers in the community always want a better level of education for their own daughters, so it is hoped that each future generation will be better educated.
Another woman asked about the links between menstrual hygiene and education. Rachel explained that data shows that girls were missing 2.5 days a month due to their periods. With funding from DfID, PEAS trialled an approach to combat this issue by supplying reusable sanitary pads, but it proved not to be financially sustainable, as further funding would be required when the pads eventually needed to be replaced. Perhaps the next step is for PEAS to broker an initiative in the community, where local women can make sanitary pads and therefore address this issue. Again, coincidentally, I read in this week’s Stylist magazine about the taboo surrounding periods – not just in the developing world, but in the UK too. This isn’t just an Africa issue. Earlier in the discussion, Libby had raised ‘period poverty’, a case in 2017 that made the news, where girls in Leeds weren’t going to school because they didn’t have sanitary products. I found myself thinking not just of girls’ education in Africa, but also of girls at school here in the UK, and my own time at school – not wanting to use the bathrooms.
Erica Stuart, a trustee of PEAS, remarked on research, which found that girls feel less talented than boys by the age of six. Minaho commented that this research was not Africa based, and was in fact led by a group of US researchers. Libby added that the PEAS approach is inclusive. Good teaching is inclusive teaching. PEAS have life skills programmes, which complements the academic curriculum for girls and boys.
The final question came from Victoria Moorhouse, Costa Coffee’s Head of Sustainability, about deep-rooted cultural stereotypes and how to overcome these norms. Again, PEAS referred to links with the community and Rachel questioned how much poverty drives this culture. PEAS find ways of working through existing structures, working with school leaders and members of the PTA, who have a real role to play. It’s important to send girls to school even if they might drop out. Data shows that every year of education is beneficial, and has effects on the well-being of the next generation.
Another highlight for me was Minaho discussing how women and men who behave in the same way are viewed very differently saying, ‘If a man is seen as slightly aggressive, he’s a leader. If a woman is, she’s a bitch’. It’s just perception and attitude. It reminded me of a post that is doing the rounds on Instagram this month, fuelled by Cara Delevingne, Sienna Miller and Dianne Von Furstenberg. Taken from a speech Barbra Streisand gave in the 90s, I’ll finish with this short but powerful quote.
A man is commanding, a woman is demanding.
A man is forceful, a woman is pushy.
He’s assertive, she’s aggressive.
He strategizes, she manipulates.
He shows leadership, she’s controlling.
He’s committed, she’s obsessed.
He’s persevering, she’s relentless.
He sticks to his guns, she’s stubborn.
lf a man wants to get it right, he’s looked up to and respected.
If a woman wants to get it right, she’s difficult and impossible.