WOW: Women of the World Festival Chester

The WOW Festival took Chester by storm last weekend. If you missed out, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

by Julia Migné

Started by Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly in 2011, WOW – Women of the World is a global festival celebrating women and girls which also brings to the forefront the obstacles they face.

Reaching over one million people across five continents, international WOW festivals have engaged girls and women in discussions about gender equality, around the world. This little gem of a festival made an appearance last weekend in Storyhouse, Chester’s brand new theatre, cinema, arts centre and library and we wouldn’t have missed it for anything!

With workshops, speed-mentoring sessions, films, panel discussions, exhibition, and much more, there was a lot of to take in during these two intense days! Here are five empowerment tips we picked from this fantastic weekend:

1. Be bold and unapologetic

“At WOW we encourage fun, activism, openness to new subject matter and an opportunity to add new voices, yours included, to the wealth of stories that girls and women from all ages, background and experiences are sharing.” – Jude Kelly, founder of WOW – Women of the World Festival

What better way to open the WOW festival than to talk about badass women of Chester! Rosie Saxon, President of Chester University’s brand new feminist society, cut right to the chase by explaining why Australian novelist Francesca Haig is her definition of badass. “She is ruthlessly unapologetic and doesn’t hesitate to tell people ‘excuse me, I’m not done speaking’.”

Rosie’s motto is simple: if it harms no other, do as you will. That’s exactly why she started the feminist university: “if nobody did it before and you want to do it, just do it!”

2. Try over and over again

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Sue Flood worked at the BBC Natural History Unit on the Blue Planet and Planet Earth series.

Nothing comes easy in life and getting what we want often require some perseverance. Sue Flood, wildlife and travel photographer is definitely a living proof that perseverance is key!

Driven and passionate, she decided when she was young that one day she would work with Sir David Attenborough and even wrote to the BBC to ask them for advice. After seven years of studies and voluntary jobs in different locations around the world, she managed her way to the BBC Natural History Unit and ended up working on brilliant productions such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet with Sir David Attenborough himself!

Her top advice to succeed: make your own luck. She didn’t hesitate to jump on a bus and head to Bristol to “be around for a coffee” after ending up second at a job interview. That coffee opened her the door to the BBC, so being open to opportunities is crucial.

3. Make sure to sit at the table and be visible

“You have to make yourself very visible in the world. Make sure that you sit at the table so that you are recognised and visible at what you do.” – Gabriella Gay, a teacher, poet and a small business owner

According to The Telegraph, women working full time in the UK last year won a weekly average wage of £12.82 while men earned almost 10% more with an average of £14.16. Even though the gender pay gap is decreasing, there is still a lot more progress to be done.

That’s only one of the multiple issues women face at work. Indeed, a lot of women at the festival expressed their frustration and concern towards another phenomenon: the lack of women in higher positions.

Addressing these issues is complex but can often be tied up to one thing: make sure to be visible. “Real power looks like a seat at any table,” said Hannah Philip, Co-Director of the Ask Her To Stand campaign (50:50 Parliament). So take up your own space and make sure to be visible and recognised!

4. Surround yourself with mentors

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Smashing the Glass Ceiling: Women in Business panel. From left to right: Gabriella Gay, Simone Roche, Jo Henwood, Jenny Garett, and Sandra Green. © Julia Migné

You don’t have to struggle on your own to succeed, reach out to people around you and surround yourself with mentors from different backgrounds and opinions. Find that person in your company or in your life that you really look up to, that really inspires you and talk to them. Don’t hesitate to have more than one mentor to guide you through different stages of your life or with different areas of expertise.

The speed-mentoring was a brilliant proof of how people can guide each other without even knowing each other. During an hour, a dozen of participants swapped seats every 15 minutes to discuss whatever they had in mind with one mentor of the panel. If complete strangers can help that much in only one hour, no doubt that the world is filled with potential mentors ready to help you grow!

5. Know your worth and fight for it

“Share your vision and the universe will conspire to make it happen.” Sandra Green, executive coach who established Handbags in the Boardroom

Take that step, ask that pay rise, bike until your legs hurt, risk a change if you feel trapped, the only thing stopping you is yourself. Write down your goals and share them with your friends, that way you won’t backtrack.  “I think having somebody believing in me made me do what I said I would do,” explained Sandra Green.

Always do your research, know what you’re worth and know how much you should be paid. Demonstrate that you know what you need to do to get it and do it! And if you don’t get that pay rise you asked for, make sure you get something else instead such as a training or a trip to a conference!

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