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March 2013
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Building Bridges for Female Social Mobility

Posted by: Nicky Garcea


I am the first person in my family to attend university. I also attended a then ‘newer’ university, the University of the West of England, Bristol. According to government terminology, I am a ‘first generation’ university student. I know amongst my colleagues at Capp and our clients that I am not alone.


If I were to apply for a graduate programme now, in 2013, my ‘first generation’ status along with my ‘non red brick’ university makes me a quirky applicant. Quite probably, for some graduate programmes I would be overlooked on this basis alone.


For some years, I might have hid the fact I went to an old polytechnic, but these days I am starting to fully appreciate the role that it has played in offering me an education for life and a stepping stone into employment. I would also hope that I, together with many of my colleagues and peers, will also be able to show younger generations that you don’t have to have had a privileged background in order to get on.


As we approach International Women’s Day on the 8th March, we will no doubt be presented with many lists of inspirational women. Whilst I applaud almost anything that raises the profile of women, the compliation of these lists fascinates me. I am particularly interested in the subliminal messages that they send out to younger women and emerging female talent.


This year Radio 4 published for the first time, the Woman’s Hour Power List. Much was made of this list, which was generated from audience nominations and vetted by an expert panel.


Now, I am not suggesting that, aged 16 and attending Beacon Community College, that Radio 4 was my station of choice. Even so, had I stumbled across this list, it would have said to me, albeit implicitly and subliminally, ‘If you are not from a rich family, or if you haven’t attended the most elite universities in the US or England, you won’t become a woman of power’.


Please check out the educational and family backgrounds of these unquestionably accomplished women. While in no way is it my intention to detract from what they have achieved, I want to flag simply the implicit, subliminal message that their selection conveys: ‘If you’re not one of us, you won’t be able to make it.’


I’m absolutely sure this is the last thing that Woman’s Hour wanted to convey, but such is the implicit, often unnoticed impact of subliminal messaging like this.


At Capp, we recently asked over 200 women to share examples of their female and male role models. As you might have predicted, responses such as Hillary Clinton and Nelson Mandela were often included.


However, what is possibly most interesting is the number of women who list their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, managers, work colleagues and friends as their most impactful and inspirational role models. Several women noted how their role model had been their first manager, or a leader who took a chance on them, helping them into their first corporate role.


It is clear that the women are most influenced not just by the accolades of the accomplished few, but even more by the actions and behaviour of those with whom they have direct contact. This should be our focus as we approach International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day this year.


How can we collectively create cultures, homes, businesses and societies of people who seek to be role models for our youth?


With both International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day later this week, we’ll be turning our attention on The Capp Blog to how we can make this happen.


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