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 “The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything...or nothing.” - Viscountess Nancy Astor, the first woman to be seated in the British Parliament

 “The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything...or nothing.” - Viscountess Nancy Astor, the first woman to be seated in the British Parliament

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the graduation ceremony for fifteen female entrepreneurs who had recently completed Make it Real - a business support programme for aspiring women run by The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Entrepreneurship (CEWE) at the University of East London. Held in the impressive surroundings of the Museum of Childhood amid a live market place which allowed the finalists to showcase their work, the event saw each winner congratulated with a cheque of £2,000 to grow their business.

The ceremony kicked off with a lively speech from Lisa Burger, Head of Customer Experience at easyJet. Lisa has been with the airline right from its entrepreneurial beginnings and she outlined how this has shaped her approach to life. During her speech she passed on many words of wisdom to the audience, but there was one thing in particular that stuck in my head:

"Don’t be afraid to ask the question."

Lisa Burger is a confident, successful woman but she was keen to relate to her (mostly female) audience and acknowledge the psychological barriers that often stop people from achieving - specifically, the fear of speaking out and being seen to be wrong.

So, honouring her request, here is the question I am slightly fearful of asking: are women inherently less confident than men when it comes to putting themselves forward and creating the career they newspaperreally want?

Are women hiding away?

I am not the only one to consider this question. Since the RSA set up its Catalyst fund, it has supported ventures lead by some inspirational women and many of these have focused specifically on helping other women. Dr Catherine Fieschi FRSA was inspired to set up her enterprise - 50 Foot Women, precisely because she happened to notice a worrying trend whilst recruiting for positions in her role as Director of Counterpoint.

 "While male applicants were more inclined to over-emphasise their skills and ability, the women tended to under-sell them­selves -"

This direct experience was enough to merit the birth of 50 Foot Women, a mentoring scheme that she hoped would boost women’s confidence and their potential. Cooking with Mama is another Catalyst supported enterprise specifically targeting women. Set up by Jennifer Fong FRSA, the project offers cooking classes run by mothers who might otherwise be out of work or not have the confidence to return to work. The classes address both problems by employing and empowering at the same time.

Discovering a problem in your locality and working to address it is the essence of RSA Fellowship. When it comes to tackling inequality in the workplace, things are definitely changing and entrepreneurship is a big part of the equation. Unfortunately, the question of why there are less female CEOs is a highly politicised issue, and my worry is that this will lead many women (and men) who have great capacity to help, to steer clear of the problem altogether.

RSA Great Room Mural | Distribution of Premiums The lesson illustrated by our Fellows is that it pays to ask the question but not get too caught up in trying to solve the whole problem - instead, focus on what you can do, and who you can help, right now. Do not become overwhelmed by trying to change everything at once and risk changing nothing. It was not until 1928 that Viscountess Nancy Astor became the first women seated in British Parliament, yet the RSA has been offering woman a platform to participate in public life and improve society from its inception in 1754. This in turn influenced other societies to do the same and slowly, things changed.

The Fellowship continues this legacy by letting innovative people like Catherine and Jennifer change the landscape for women, one bit at a time.

If you'd like to find out more about the projects mentioned, or would like to apply for Fellowship then contact If there is someone you know who would make a great addition to the network then why not nominate them?

Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA, @alexandrabarke1


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