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The Power of Women United #EmbraceEquity #IWD2023

By Yasmin Ariff    @AriffYasmin

Just before the pandemic started in 2020, I attended my first women's networking event hosted by #WomenEd London at Sarah Bonnell School in London.

I don't think I had ever existed in a space like I did that day. I felt:

An unspoken kind of safety, knowing that this community embodied inclusivity

Increasingly motivated to challenge the status quo as speakers shared a truth that resonated with my own

Quietly inspired to start sharing my truth

And a refreshing kind of freedom.

Just. A. Bit. Of. Freedom. For. The. First. Time. Since…

I struggled to remember.

Even in 2023, it still doesn't feel permissible to express any kind of emotion in the modern work place. Whether implicitly or explicitly, we are taught to contain our emotions at work, no matter how unfair work politics can seem. They tell us to:

Calm down.


Don't take it personally.

Don't overreact.

You're too emotional right now!

Or worse…

It must be that time of the month or the menopause!

But #WomenEd created a safe space where it felt normal to express a range of emotions which are natural to the human experience. The range of emotions conveyed through the guest speakers, whether it was enthusiasm or anger, were fully embraced and permitted.

Being allowed to feel what you wanted was liberating.

It felt like a kind of freedom which I don't think I'd felt since I was a little girl, before societal conditioning taught me that it wasn't favourable to feel bad, let alone express these negative feelings in public spaces.

This was a group of women fully living out the #WomenEd values of:

Community, Connection, Challenge and Confidence

And no one even had to tell me that these were the #WomenEd values.

This was a real lesson in living out your values as an organization because they permeated the day. The lived experiences of women were acknowledged and celebrated. You know an organisation is living out their values because people sense and feel them. With some unknown gauge, like a sixth sense that day:

I just felt part of this community.

I just felt connected to these women.

I was safe to challenge and we were all behind one another which grew our confidence.

But I also felt pissed off as more guest speakers opened up about:

  • The ongoing gender pay gap
  • How 63% of all teaching staff in secondary schools at that time were female yet only 38% of headteachers were female
  • The unconscious bias against women that was rarely spoken about in schools

I was curious around my paradoxical emotions, my empowered anger.

Then I remembered Gloria Steinem's famous quote:

'The truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.'

That day triggered something inside of me.

I knew I had to start feeling like this more often: more 'pissed off' and OK with this.

I knew I had to do some work on myself to gain confidence to start living out my TRUTH, start trusting others and myself.

I knew I had a long way to go but it was like, that day, a guardian angel landed on my shoulder and echoed the powerful words of the writer Jen Hatmaker in my ear:

'The world is hungry for women like you who show up and tell the truth, unafraid and free, expanding to the very edges of who you were always meant to be.'

Fast forward 3 years, and I have evolved considerably since that event with still a long road to travel.

There have been lots of detours through dark valleys and a worldwide pandemic along the way but, for me, it all feels better than it was, anchored in that day at #WomenEd in 2020.

That women-led community incited empowered action for change. And helped me to find my voice.

More recently, as I moved to a remote working role and started to feel the isolation that comes with sitting in your home-office all day interacting with people virtually, my guardian angel knew I needed to find that communal space again that was reserved just for women. Because women-only spaces are special. They allow you to relinquish inhibitions and share things more so than in any other space.

So, on 2nd March this year I was led, yet again, to another women-led networking event in my home town, Bolton, hosted by an inspiring leader Sarah Hulme.

Women gathered (in the same vein as #WomenEd) to tell their stories and listen to each other. Yet again, it felt like a room full of guardian angels who were there to protect and serve one another.

There's something very special about women-only spaces.

They feel safe.

The ego is softened.

An invisible thread runs through us all, connecting our experiences, reminding us that none of us are islands, entities on our own.

And every time I sit in these spaces, I am reminded that, in this world, there is nothing quite as sacred and life giving than…

The Power of Women United.

Note: This blog originated here

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Launching #WomenEd Hungary
Our beautiful, messy rainbow. #EmbraceEquity #IWD2...


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Thursday, 08 June 2023

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