It’s always and forever International Women’s Day here at TrowelBlazer Towers. One of the things we’ve been trying to do a little bit more of is to use the amazing platform we’ve got here to push the world more towards the shape we’d like to see it in.* That means talking about the lessons we’ve picked up from our own experiences, and those that people have shared with us, to make big giant bullet points that we repeat ad nauseum until people stop telling kids what they can and can’t be when they grow up based on their biological phenotype.

For #IWD2016 this year, I won the raffle to accompany the fantastic Suw Charman-Anderson of the Finding Ada Project to the official residence of the US Ambassador to the UK.

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Suw Charman-Anderson and Brenna chilling with a fern and a portrait of George Washington.

Ambassador Matthew Barzun and his wife Brooke do immense amounts of work to promote women in leadership, in science, and regularly host events at Winfield House, in swank-tastic Regent’s Park, that bring together some very impressive people.

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Winfield House

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Scenes from Winfield House – of course there is a skateboard ramp #USAIMG_5934Brenna’s personal favorite thing: dress made of 10,000 adamantine dressing pins in the Green Room

Over the course of the day, I met women with a lot of letters before and after their names; women representing their countries, their companies, universities, themselves — the guest list was a roll call of achievement (and me). Ambassador Barzun led a fascinating dialogue that allowed each of us to reflect our own experiences, before refereeing a wide ranging discussion of how the hell you get to equality from here.

Key Things:

  • Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Networks matter.

The women we spoke to were pretty unanimous in affirming what we here at TrowelBlazers have said for a long time. It takes support to infiltrate a foreign culture, be it the Academy or a Fortune 500 company; mentors are critical to getting you that internship / training / interview. So start a conversation, ask for a 15 minute coffee, find a mentor. And when that bright eyed undergraduate comes knocking at your door, don’t just turn off the overhead lights and hope to god no one saw you come in — she may not have anyone else to help her out.

  • Role models reset imaginations.

This is such a TB obsession…for a reason. So many of the women at Winfield House talked about how important it was to see and be seen, just to let the next generation know what can be possible. It’s critical to support (read- don’t make fun of or generally denigrate the time spent on outreach) staff/employees who are willing to go that extra mile to widen participation because IT AINT HAPPENING OTHERWISE OK? And don’t forget you can’t just expect someone to want to do outreach, or to make a *deal* about being a woman / minority / under-represented group. Support those who do, but remember that’s an extra burden.

In the spirit of advice recounted from President Obama, sometimes you need to ‘just listen’; so here’s some of the things we heard:

  • Solidarity is key – bringing together different disadvantaged sectors can make any one group more of an ally of the others.
  • Hearts and minds can be changed, and the dinosaurs are dying out; it’s too shameful to be seen as a misogynist these days…and that’s a good thing.
  • Unconscious bias training is absolutely critical to reshaping attitudes

Finally, the Embassy staff asked participants ‘What would you tell your 20 year old self?’.

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Apparently my answer? Let your hair grow long 😉

Reportagery by Brenna.

*Essentially, the shape of a woman in a fancy hat wielding a mattock sliding down a pyramid.

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