This week, I’ve been reading: I Am Malala – How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

25 Oct I Am Malala_book cover

I Am Malala_book coverAhead of the UK release (in November) of the film He Named Me Malala, a revised and updated version of her original memoir has just been published, written by Malala Yousafzai (with renowned teen author Patricia McCormick) for her peers and containing some very thoughtful discussion materials at the end of the book.

But who is Malala? I first heard of the Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban shortly after the attack (in October 2012) and of course she’s now world-famous as the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and as a global advocate for both peace and education, especially for girls (on meeting President Obama: “I told him that if America spent less money on weapons and war and more on education, the world would be a better place”).

Perhaps what I had not really appreciated, prior to reading this wonderful book, was the extent to which Malala, then a school girl with dreams and ambitions (“That summer I turned fifteen. …. I knew for certain now that I wanted to be a political leader. … I would do the things politicians only spoke of. And I would start with education – especially girls’ education.”) was specifically targeted by the Taliban, who knew of her through her BBC blog on life in the Swat Valley (near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan), her appearances in local media – “Throughout 2008, as Swat was being attacked, I didn’t stay silent. I spoke to local national TV channels, radio and newspapers. I spoke out to anyone who would listen.” and even her appearance in a New York Times feature. At the beginning of the book,  she describes the day of the October 2012 attack:

Two young men in white robes stepped in front of our truck.

“Is this the Khushal School bus?” one of them asked

The driver laughed. The name of the school was painted in black letters on the side of the van.

The other young man jumped onto the tailboard and leaned into the back, where we were all sitting.

“Who is Malala?” he asked

No one said a word, but a few girls looked in my direction.

He raised his arm and pointed at me. Some of the girls screamed and I squeezed Moniba’s hand.

Who is Malala?

I am Malala and this is my story.

A week later, Malala awoke in fear and confusion in a Birmingham hospital, recovering from her terrible injuries. She fought back to full health and now lives, with her parents and two brothers, in Birmingham – as well as travelling the world (“I met one of my favourite people in the USA, a man named Jon Stewart, who invited me to his TV show to talk about my first book and the Malala fund”.), studying, speaking and fund raising.

I love this quote from her speech to the United Nations:

One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world

At the end of the book,  she tells us that “I am Malala. My world has changed, but I have not … we have all adapted, little by little, to this new place. My father wears a handsome tweed blazer and brogues now when he goes to work. My mother uses the dishwasher. Khushal is having a love affair with his Xbox. And Atal has discovered Nutella.”

But yet she is still the same teenage girl who played in the streets, argued with her friends and learned English from DVDs of Ugly Betty and Mind Your Language.

It’s a wonderful book, thought provoking, uplifting and inspirational. Make a note of 12th July in your diary as Malala Day (it’s her birthday) and check out The Malala Fund at

On joining the anti-banter campaign

24 Oct

I was pleased to note earlier this week that it’s not just me acknowledging how damaging the notion of “banter” can be in the work or educational space.

A new guide, “Opening Doors”,  from the Institute of Physics, as reported by the BBC, argues that schools do not take sexist “banter” as seriously as they (rightly) take racist and homophobic language – and makes the point that “this can lead to gender stereotyping and turn girls away from studying science subjects as often as boys.”

Given the massive gap that we see in women in STEM careers, surely educators need to acknowledge the part that words can play on influencing the career choices made by young women,  and actively seek to stamp out inappropriate language and gender stereotyping?

Banter_(c) @100Banter? No, thanks.

#justask: Negotiating your way out of the gender pay gap

22 Oct

Mind the Gap imageAs a follow up to last month’s post on the gender pay gap, I just wanted to share the details of a forthcoming event on negotiation skills, aimed at helping to close the gap by empowering women with skills to ask for what they want.

(Alas) I’m not being paid to promote this event,  but it came to me via the Guardian’s Women in Leadership newsletter and it sounds promising. Tickets (£12.50 plus booking fee) are available through Eventbrite:


In the UK the gender pay gap stands at 17.5% and the UK has slipped from 18th to 26th in the rankings of the Global Gender Pay Gap Report. It’s time to equip ourselves with the skills and insight to push back.

Negotiation specialists advantageSPRING and the Guardian Women in Leadership section are proud to invite you to an exciting and empowering event exploring the realities and implications of the gender pay gap.This event is being generously hosted by our partners Helix Property Advisors Limited.

In addition to looking at current statistics, developments and trends with Harriet Minter from the Guardian, we will also get to hear from the ‘other side of the table’ with insight from Robert Potter, Group HR Director at Hays Plc. Delegates will then hear from Natalie Reynolds of advantageSPRING and learn how women can empower themselves to ‘make the ask’ and negotiate for the salary they deserve as well as exposing and challenging some of the stereotypes and penalties women face when they get to the negotiation table.

You can tweet about this event using the hashtag #justask

We are proud to be supporting UN Women through this event with £5 from each ticket sale being donated to their work promoting gender equality around the world #Planet5050

“We are thrilled to be working with the Guardian Women in Leadership and negotiations experts advantageSPRING on an event which challenges the current landscape with regards to fair pay for women in business and hope to see you there. At Helix, 62% of employees happen to be women, with a 50/50 gender split at board level, and pay is determined by performance, not gender. It’s challenging to be reminded that such firms are still in the minority. Those of us with equal rights and fair pay have a responsibility to speak out.”

Yvonne Smith, Director of Property & Asset Management at Helix.

It’s in central London on 11th November; let me know if you attend and what you think of the event and the messaging.

Celebrating women and girls of colour at the 2015 Precious Awards

21 Oct Precious Awards 2015 photo grid

Precious Awards 2015 photo gridLast week, I went for afternoon tea with nearly one hundred strangers. I was joining Foluke Akinlose MBE at her annual celebration of the best in black, British female talent, the ninth annual Precious Awards and,  aside from Foluke herself, I didn’t know a single other person at the event.

However! The room was buzzing, everyone was in celebratory mood, people were genuinely friendly and I learned that, in answer to the oft asked question “What brings you here today?” simply answering “I’m a friend of Foluke’s and I’m here to support her” was a great gate opener and conversation starter.

Foluke believes that “women of colour are virtually invisible in mainstream society today” and she established the Precious Awards in 2007 in order to shine a light onto black womens’ achievements, and to also ensure that women and girls of colour have no ceilings to their ambitions.

The awards are sponsored by Barclays and Credit Suisse and take place over afternoon tea – this year at the Banking Hall in the City of London. The awards themselves – full results are here – covered areas such as women in professional services, women in STEM, women in the creative industries, outstanding social enterprise of the year and outstanding leader. The Precious Man of the Year award, which goes to a public vote, was won by the heart-as-big-as-the-world Solomon Smith of the Brixton Soup Kitchen, a grassroots organisation which provides food and practical resources to the homeless;  the Precious Girl of the Year award celebrated two teenage girls who will one day lead the world, at a bare minimum. Congratulations, Lashai and Precious.

My biggest takeaway of the afternoon was the sheer joy that everyone there felt at being amongst their peers. I know from my work in training on bias awareness that we all instinctively feel most comfortable and like ourselves when we are with people like us – whoever and whatever that might be.  And many women at the awards told me that, so often, they were not only the only woman but usually too the only PERSON of colour in a meeting or at an event – so their enjoyment at being with their peers (“it’s so fabulous to look around this room and see so many beautiful black faces!”) was a wonderful thing.

My highlights of the day (aside from delicious rare roast beef sandwiches) were meeting, in no particular order:

  • My Mummy is an EngineerKerrine Bryan: electrical engineer and (genuinely surprised) winner of the Women in STEM award, with which she was presented by MP and Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Chi Onawurah – herself a former engineer. In addition to holding down a senior level job in the oil and gas industry and visiting schools in her capacity as a STEM ambassador, Kerrine has also “in my spare time” co-authored a children’s book called “My Mummy is an Engineer” and will be releasing the next in the series, “My Mummy is a Plumber” before Christmas. She and Foluke were interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme the day after the awards – if you hurry, you should be able to listen to them speak at the beginning of the broadcast.
  • Lashai Ben Salmi, the fifteen year old winner of the Precious Girls Creative Award: and her awesome mother Sabrina; Leshai won the award for her work to stamp out bullying via the use of her self-created book and app and she is also a very accomplished public speaker, who in her spare time is learning Korean. Yes, Korean. (I learned this fact when I asked her where she might like to go to university ..)
  • This “spare time” thing was something of a motif of the day, as pre-tea, I got chatting to Claudine Adeyemi, who told me that she was a property disputes solicitor with top firm Mishcon de Reya (“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of twelve”). A job like that would probably be enough for most people but no – Claudine has also set up the Student Development Company,  a non-profit organisation which aims to support, develop and create career opportunities and improve employability for young people. And yes, Claudine was also a winner, taking home the trophy for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
  • Finally, the keynote speaker was a woman who announced to the room that she “had a strange passion for tights.” Bianca Miller, one of last year’s Precious winners (and runner up on the 2014 series of The Apprentice) is on the brink of launching her own hosiery business and has come up with such a brilliant idea that I’m sure her new product, Bianca Miller London, will fly off the shelves (I suggested her Christmas marketing slogan should be: “A Pair of Tights in Every Stocking”. You can have that one for free, Bianca). She’s launching a range of tights and hold ups which come in eight different skin tone colours, to match every woman’s idea of “nude”, irrespective of skin colour, and in different sizes too,  so that they will fit women sized from 8 to 22. Genius! And I loved Bianca’s comment that “it’s not about tights, it’s about diversity.” Anyway, the hosiery will be launching soon via her website and through a Big Department Store chain – watch this space.

So, that was my experience of the Precious Awards. Uplifting, brilliant, inspirational – and all down to the vision of one fabulous woman, Foluke Akinlose. We salute you. And I can’t wait for next year.

Profiling a Precious woman: Foluke Akinlose MBE

20 Oct

Last week, I was an attendee at the 2015 Precious Awards – an annual event which celebrates the achievements of women of colour in the UK. The ceremony was amazing – uplifting, inspiring, all the superlatives. I’ll blog a bit more about it and some of the women who I met in another post, but ahead of then: here’s a re-blog of an article I originally wrote in 2011.

The Precious Awards were set up by journalist, entrepreneur (and all round superstar friend) Foluke Akinlose. I profiled her for The Glass Hammer four years ago and thought that, as an introduction to the Awards, the article could do with a wider audience. Here it is.

* * * * *

As a child growing up in Manchester, Foluke Akinlose dreamed of launching a magazine for women and girls who looked like she did. But how did this childhood vision culminate in the creation of Precious Online, an e-magazine, network and resource for the UK’s c. 2.3 million women of colour and of the UK’s only awards for this community, described as a “memorable occasion” and “inspirational” by Prime Minister David Cameron?

“When I was younger, there were no British magazines that featured girls who looked like me. I’d spend my pocket money on American imports and they were great, but I really wanted to read about the Black British experience. When I grew older and started working in the media as a journalist, I quickly realised how expensive setting up a print magazine was. I just didn’t have those kind of funds, so I decided to put the magazine idea at the back of my mind for a while.

“In 1996, I began working in the online department of TV company ITN. Because of the nature of my job, I spent a lot of time researching online. I came across so many online publications aimed at African-American women but there was nothing for those based in the UK. I soon realised that the web gave me a publishing channel and that it was a way for me to launch the magazine of which I had always dreamed. So I followed my dream.

“Precious got underway in 1999 and was the first publication of its kind to launch in the UK. We now get 80,000 unique website visitors each month and reach 10,000 women via the mailing list – our goal is to be the premier destination for women of colour on the web.”

Precious aims to provide resources for and to showcase women of colour and to shine a light on their achievements in business and life. The site runs articles on health and beauty and profiles black writers and artists, as well as organising events every quarter on topics such as the joy of networking or audiences with entrepreneurial women.

The living embodiment of the phrase “seeing a gap in the market”, Foluke then launched the Precious Awards in 2007, as a result of “always being invited to awards ceremonies and yet rarely seeing black women receive recognition.”

“The Precious Awards are unique, in that they are the UK’s only awards to focus on diverse women of colour. Back in 2007, I went in to see Pearson, who agreed to host the first awards and to support it. I had no budget initially, so had to do everything myself. The first awards honoured women in six categories, which included leadership in the workplace, best social enterprise, best creative business and best start-up. Pearson are still big supporters and I’m very grateful for their vision and involvement.”

Foluke’s own vision and determination to succeed saw her lobbying the great and the good of British society to ask for their support for the Precious Awards – which in turn led to her receiving messages of support and goodwill from then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his wife (and social activist) Sarah Brown (“she was great – she re-Tweeted the details of the awards to her thousands of followers and encouraged them to nominate women”) , (then) Deputy PM Nick Clegg and many other luminaries.

In the fifth year of the awards, Foluke introduced new categories, which in 2011 included Mentor of the Year, Blogger of the Year and Precious Man of the Year, for which actor Idris Elba, rapper Tinie Tempah and politician Chuka Umunna were nominated.

As for the awards in the future, Foluke would like to find a major sponsor who will commit to supporting Precious over an extended period and being part of their success.

“The awards have had a huge impact on women’s professional and business lives. To win, or even to be nominated, gives them so much confidence and is a wonderful platform for any sponsor.”

So, where next for this intrepid woman?

“I would like to create a Precious presence in every corner of the globe – that’s my aim and I want to encourage young girls everywhere to be the best that they can be. I see myself returning to my childhood dream, when I read those American magazines – I would love to do an event for women of colour in New York.

“Here in the UK, Precious is proud to partner with [high school] St Matthew’s Academy in south London – we work with their pupils, both girls and boys, to inspire and encourage them to see that being a woman of colour and having your own business is a possibility. I want to make an impact and to show girls that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.

“I hope that’s what Precious shows them.”

Precious Book of QuotesEarlier this year, Foluke published her first book, The Precious Book of Quotes, which features inspirational advice from 50 women of colour. She is now working on a novel and would like to create a publishing wing of the Precious empire by establishing an imprint for young female writers.

“I’m passionate about what I do and I hope to continue being an inspiration and a role model to other women.”

Awarded the MBE in the 2010 New Year’s honours list for her services to the creative industries (“I thought it was a spoof call at first when the Cabinet Office called to tell me I had been nominated”), Foluke is proof of the strength, talents and diversity of the black British community.

#WElaunch: on Tuesday 20th October 2015. Because equality is better for everyone.

20 Oct

It’s been great to see how much press the newly minted Women’s Equality party has been getting in recent weeks, with calls for Parliamentary quotas to get us to a 50:50 male/female balanced House of Commons within ten years.

#WEP logoPlus I like the very robust rebuttal from party leader Sophie Walker, in response to “suggestions” that this approach could challenge the concept of merit.

Quoted in the Guardian, Walker says, in response to traditional criticism that quotas could be unfair on male candidates and unmeritocratic:

“Which quotas are you referring to? Are you referring to the quotas we are suggesting here, or are you referring the centuries-old, unlegislated quotas that have meant men have had an unfair institutional advantage for centuries? To me, those are quotas – it’s just they are not written down in law. That makes them much more invidious.”

Walker addressed the argument that quotas allow in mediocre people by saying: “A system in which you are fishing in a small pool of people who all look and sound alike is more likely to create mediocrity than if you break it open to the huge diversity in our country. We have 30 million women in the country; I think it’s highly unlikely you would struggle to find 325 brilliant ones to become MPs.”

And look at how much momentum the party is gaining;  WE now has 45,000 members and supporters across 65 branches, compared with UKIP’s most recent claim to have “more than 40,000” members and the Green party’s 65,000.

Today sees the party launch its policy document,  which will show and share how WE proposes to tackle its aims of equality in politics, business, education, pay, parenting and the media, as well as an end to violence against women.

You can download the policy paper here and here’s some footage of the launch event:

This week, I’m watching: “Suffragette”

12 Oct

Suffragette film_Oct 2015Today, on its first day of full UK release, I went to an afternoon showing of the film “Suffragette”. I emerged into the Salisbury sunshine two hours later – blinking, stunned, slightly tearful, emotionally overwhelmed and full of gratitude for my life as a 21st century woman.

A life in which I can earn and  use my own money to make payments; a life in which seven year old girls don’t start work in a laundry; a life in which women don’t lose their children or their maternal rights in the event of marital breakdown; a life in which no means no and rape is a crime; above all, a life in which both women and men have the right to vote and make their voices heard.

“Your laws mean nothing to me, I’ve had no say in making the law.”

This is an astonishing piece of film making and one which I think does great credit, not only to the memory of the women who gave up so much so that we have the right to vote but also to the largely female cast and crew:  director Sarah Gavron, scriptwriter Abi Morgan and particularly Carey Mulligan, who gives a brilliant and, I hope, award winning performance as laundry worker Maud and tells us that –

“All my life I’ve been respectful, done what men told me” but who evolves through a series of life changing events and activities to scornfully ask of the policeman who torments and hounds her:

“What are you going to do – lock us all up? We’re in every home, we’re half the human race.”

Watch the trailer, then go and see it for yourself. And then, women everywhere, please use your vote every opportunity that you can.


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