Gender is no barrier to career progression

Last week I had the honour of taking part in an event with 600 S5 girls from across Scotland.

The FUTURE AS5ETS conference brought these young people together to give them the resounding message that gender should never be seen as a barrier to progressing in whatever career you choose.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, set the scene by talking about her progression up through the political ranks. She recalled how when she entered politics she thought she had to behave like a man to be taken seriously and to get on.  Thankfully times have changed and it’s now acceptable just to be yourself. However she reminded us of the Daily Mail story about her post-Brexit meeting with Theresa May. The headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” suggested that things haven’t moved as far as we’d like in some quarters! Her over-riding message however was “Follow your heart, follow your dreams and do what is right for you.”

My role on the day was to take part in a speed-networking session. This gave the girls the chance to question women from different industry sectors about their careers.

I had a heart-stopping moment at one point when I looked across the table at a group from my old high school and saw my 17-year-old self reflected back at me! It did mean though I could tell them with all honesty that I could fully identify with their experiences.

The fact that this event wouldn’t have happened when I was their age is a very positive reflection of how things have moved forward. While there’s still a long way to go in some respects, it’s thanks to the determination of working women over the decades, and their refusal to play second fiddle, that things have come so far.

For me the key message of the day – and one I hope every girl there took away – is that if you believe in yourself and make the most of every opportunity, then you really can achieve whatever you set out to. 

In the words of speaker Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Virgin Money, “Say yes first, then ask what the question is!”

Mairi O'Keefe, Chief Executive, Leuchie House. Published in The East Lothian Courier, 28 September 2017.