When I was 8 years old, I remember asking my Mum, “Do you have to be a boy to join the school football training on a Saturday morning? I really want to have a go.” And she replied, “Why don’t you ask to join in?” The next day, I nervously went up to my teacher – much to my surprise she said of course you can join. I was the first and only girl to play that Saturday morning (and the only girl of Colour in my school). I remember feeling super nervous, but it was really fun. After that, a few more girls joined in and I will always remember that sweet, sweet feeling at having broken down my first barrier, which in my gut I knew needed to be done.
So 20 years and a few more broken barriers later, when GirlDreamer kindly asked me to Chair the GirlDreamer Advisory Board (GAB), I was absolutely over the moon. They explained that from December 2019, over 6 months, I’d be leading a group of 10 incredible, driven and passionate Women of Colour (WoC), to advise on GirlDreamer’s continuing journey to empower Millennial and Gen Z WoC.
We’d be advising on new projects, strengthening GirlDreamer’s digital platforms and supporting GirlDreamer to navigate this ever-changing world (little did we know back then what 2020 would actually have in store).
I’d just finished supporting GirlDreamer with facilitating workshops in schools and had seen the real life difference their work made, helping Gen Z girls to realise their dreams and break down negative perceptions that had been subconsciously holding many of them back. I knew the GAB would be an insane opportunity and I couldn’t wait to get started.
On an icy cold December morning, we all met for the first time at GirlDreamer’s bright and warm offices in Birmingham, to begin our Advisory Board bonding process and immersed ourselves GirlDreamer’s world of empowered WoC. I was so excited to meet the GAB – and a little bit nervous.
But I didn’t need to be nervous! As each one of them entered the room, it genuinely lit up, to the point where by the end, the whole room was a buzzing beacon of light and energy. Every single one of the GAB members brought enthusiasm, authenticity, respect – and a story on what brought them here.
We also had 2 special guests present to us, both totally inspirational Millennial WoC. Neelam Heera is the founder of Cysters – a charity that is removing cultural barriers in BAME communities surrounding women’s health issues. Ashley Zahabian founded the bioscience wearable tech firm, Daldot, and has lectured at Harvard on emotional intelligence. Both Neelam and Ashley reminded us that no matter who we are or where we have come from, no ambition is ever too big.
The first full 2-hour Advisory Board meeting took place in January at GirlDreamer’s offices. I was really nervous and remember hoping that the deep connections I felt we all made back in December were real and would be continued today. I wasn’t disappointed.
Over the next three months, I watched in awe at the GAB’s wisdom, creativity and drive. We outlined a project looking at how we could support WoC’s mental health – something all of us connected with on some level. Each of the members brought thorough research, strong ideas and a level of awareness and sensitivity that I haven’t ever experienced in a meeting before anywhere. It was so special to have such a safe space to talk openly about issues I had no idea others were also aware of or had experienced as a WoC.
We also began looking at ways we could strengthen GirlDreamer’s social media. The creative ideas the Advisory Board members had were amazing – they’d give any Social Media Manager a run for their money! A personal bonus was receiving some fantastic recommendations for WoC to follow.
Our April meeting was soon on the horizon and lockdown for COVID-19 had just started. Until now, all Advisory Board meetings had taken place in person. Kiran, Amna and I decided now was the time to experiment with video meetings. These created quite a different atmosphere for the group and bringing back the chemistry and buzz was a bit of a challenge to begin with. Video meetings are also notoriously more exhausting, so through feedback and conversations, over the following meetings, we adapted our 2-hour monthly meetings to a 1-hour meeting every two weeks.
As people, the GAB members were individually also trying to adapt to the lockdown world and obstacles that Coronavirus has presented to many of us. It was incredible to see so many of the Advisory Board members remain committed to and focused during the meetings, never failing to bring buckets of ideas and determination.
A key challenge was adapting our mental health project to suit the restrictions that Coronavirus presented. We went through about four iterations of this project in total and eventually found a way to push the project forward, by combining this with our plans for strengthening GirlDreamer’s digital strategy.
Our first recommendation was for an Instagram takeover on every Tuesday from different GirlDreamers, documenting a day in a life during lockdown. The aim was to show how different GirlDreamers were dealing with different challenges and sharing tips and ideas for managing their mental health and day-to-day living. Once approved, the takeovers began just a few weeks later!
We also advised on GirlDreamer’s approach to their women’s refuge appeal and on their COVID-19 response fund, including ways to maximise reach.
Kiran and Amna were so supportive during this process of adapting, sharing constructive feedback with us all and enabling the GAB to move quickly on reaching solutions.
It was incredible to watch the GAB members grow during the 6-month term, especially their confidence to follow through with ideas and articulation of their thoughts. The trust between us as a group meant we could share truly valuable ideas and experiences. It was wonderful to watch the members bounce off each other’s creativity and empower and build each other up. I would leave every meeting in awe.
The original GAB plan had a leadership retreat at the end of the 6 months, which as been postponed due to COVID-19. I think when we do go, it’ll be a beautiful reunion and brilliant to hear how they have all progressed with their personal goals.
Nobody could have foreseen that 2020 would bring such upheaval and it was amazing to see so many of the GAB adapt and maintain the incredibly high standards they brought to the first induction day, back in December. They were never phased by any challenge, which I took great strength and learning from.
It has been a joy and honour to lead such an inspiring, brilliant and powerful group of WoC. Their work and efforts ultimately helped to put both GirlDreamer and the GAB in an excellent position during such a challenging time. I can’t wait to watch this incredibly special group of WoC smash more ceilings and barriers in the future – watch out world!