Last week, I chaired my very first event – App4England's Celebrating Women in Apprenticeships Conference. To say I was nervous would be an understatement.
Getting up on stage in front of hundreds of inspirational women was extremely daunting – I felt like an imposter, like there were so many other women who were more confident, more qualified or more popular than me to do the job. But instead of letting my nerves get to me, I explained how this imposter syndrome affects me and thousands of other women, and that we need to start believing in ourselves and show the world the impact we can have.
I needn't have been so worried, the room was full of warmth, positivity and support – like nothing I'd ever felt at an apprenticeships conference before!
And this feeling lasted the whole day. Inspirational woman after inspirational woman took to the stage. We heard from Petra Wilton about the lack of female directors in UK business today and what we can do to prepare young people and make a difference.
I think everyone was touched by her plan to leave her directorial role at CMI in August to retrain as a primary school teacher so she can make a difference at grass-roots level.
We also heard a touching story from Jenny Garrett about the importance of mindset. She showed us that our own perception can have a huge impact on how we act. To make things happen, we need to be self aware, articulate our own story and act confidently – only then will we see the change that needs to happen.
Arit Eminue from DiVA apprenticeships switched things up with her honest, humourous approach to diversity. She used her comedic approach to talk about the challenges she faced growing up as a black woman in the North East, and how we need to embrace diversity and all the benefits it brings not only to business, but our communities too.
The real highlight of the day was hearing from female apprentices. Kody, Kerry and Sophie from Coca-Cola spoke about their journeys as engineering apprentices. All three women were told they couldn’t become engineers as they were girls – but instead of feeling defeated, this gave them the drive they needed to achieve their dreams. Even though they were advised to do A levels and only consider an apprenticeship if they didn't get the grades, they've taken the path that's right for them. They've risen above the stereotypes and are leading the way for young women today.
We also heard from Sona – the first apprentice to complete the new adult care work standard. She joked about becoming a care worker by accident, but told her humbling story about wanting to care for people in our society. You could feel the sense of pride from everyone in the room – not something you usually experience at an apprenticeship conference. Lindsay McCurdy did an excellent job getting all these inspiring women together and organising what many people described as 'the best event they've ever been to'. Everyone left with ideas to implement in their own workplace which I'm sure will be making a difference.
The event was the first of its kind – but it definitely won't be the last! In the final session of the day, I asked the audience to send in two words to create a thought cloud for the day. The top words were positive and inspiring, which was definitely the theme of the day. Everyone felt empowered to make change, proud to celebrate female role models, and positive about the future of female apprenticeships.
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