Mimi Harker OBE: Ambassador for Community Cohesion
International Women’s Day 2022
As International Women’s Day approaches, it is interesting to take a step back to look at a snapshot of the world as we approach 8 March 2022.
I am the Heart of Bucks Ambassador for Community Cohesion, and one of the main focuses of this role for me is #BreakingTheBias – gender, ethnicity, beliefs, sexuality, age, skin colour, roles, jobs, capacity, capability, ability…..everything comes into this area!
I warn you now, if you don’t have a stomach for real thoughts and feelings, huge honesty in writing, then look away, as everything I share is brutally frank and straight from the heart! I am renowned for this!
The Crisis in Ukraine
As I write this, the world is holding its breath, waiting to see what Russia does next regarding Ukraine and whether Putin will do the unthinkable and escalate things even further. However, one picture I spotted in my news feed on Facebook made me stop. It was a photograph of Ukrainian soldiers, in full combat gear, armed, resting against a tree – and all women! This greatly affected me and caused me to take a step back and consider why, apart from the horror of their situation.
Upon reflection, I realised it was a manifestation of one of my own implicit biases being held to account and exposed for what it was – a false assumption, integrated at a fundamental level from a society that, thankfully, has moved on. I don’t know why this affected me so deeply but it did, and not only was I filled with admiration for these women having the courage of their convictions to get involved and do their bit, but also their courage in fighting off gender bias – frontline combat has not typically been the first place I see women mobilising in my mind’s eye.
It also reminded me of a trip to Israel, where the passion to serve your country as part of the armed forces attracted women back to the Israeli frontline from all over the world, even following their two years of compulsory service. These women were passionate about their cause, strong, true and some were deeply ambitious, which was incredible, given how young some of them were. I was filled with awe. Awe at the courage of their convictions. Awe for their no-nonsense attitude. Awe for their belief that they could do anything they wanted to do and be anything they wanted to be. The composure, the calmness, the feeling they created that you were in safe hands – it was remarkable from such young women.
Time to challenge yourself
The point of this is to recognise we all need to challenge ourselves about our own inner beliefs and thoughts. Therefore, I challenge myself to change. To always challenge that implicit bias and recognise it for what it is when it rears its ugly head. Why shouldn’t we be on the frontline if that’s where we want to be? We train like anyone else. We are tested like anyone else. We either succeed or we fail like anyone else. That will determine what we do – not our gender, or the belief that we are less capable, less strong, less allowed by, for example, our cultural background, as in my case.
I’ve fought for more women to step up and be involved in politics, and especially women from BAME backgrounds. I’ve fought for more women in boardrooms and in top jobs. I’ve campaigned and encouraged more women to stand as trustees on boards across the UK. I’ve brought up my daughter to believe that she can be anything she wants to be and I am so proud of who she has become – she never queries whether a man would be better at any job. If the role appeals, she goes for it! When I think back to how I was brought up, it was very much boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs. In my mind, there were very definitely things I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do.
Yet now, looking at the “me” in 2022, I see the self-belief and confidence I lacked as a young woman. I see the insecurities that have greatly diminished as I have self-taught and self-learned to appreciate skills through achievements and grow that faith in my own ability to do things. Today, thankfully, there is more tolerance, more acceptance, more opportunity – even though young people will say they have it tough! Never has there been so much support for what you want to do and achieve.
We still have a long way to go; progress is a continuous journey. But I am thrilled that in my lifetime I am seeing a generation, my children’s generation, where they don’t see race, religion, ethnicity, gender….people are simply people and anyone can do anything! How fabulous is that! To anyone around my age reading this, I have more words of wisdom – it doesn’t matter how old you are – if you want to do something, don’t let your own thought process hold you back! I only discovered radio in the last 5 years as a regular presenter and I love it, so I do it. And why not! #BreakTheBias – be the change! Be the future! Be the example for everyone across all ages!
Happy International Women’s Day!