International Women’s Day

By Dr. Fatima Ahmed

The campaign theme of this year’s IWD was #BalanceforBetter. The aim? To build a ‘gender balanced world’. It’s a punchy call to action to promote gender balance in the boardroom, government, media, sports coverage, wealth and pretty much any other sector you can think of. To mark the occasion, I was invited to attend a women in tech event held at The Conduit.

I’ll be honest, I took myself down to London for two reasons, neither of which had anything to do with International Women’s Day.*Gasp*. One of these reasons was Jon Snow, who I was told going to be there for the event. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing him in the flesh. Ironic, given that it was #IWD and I’d made journey down to London for an old, white, middle class, man. My bad. Although…#sorrynotsorry. It’s Jon Snow! Can you blame me?!

I was there early as I had an interview in the morning (more on that later!).

The Conduit is a new private members’ club in London’s affluent Mayfair. Setting itself apart from other private clubs in the area, this place has purpose. Their aim is to bring together a community of innovators, philanthropists and entrepreneurs to create positive and impactful social change. The women in tech event was held in one of its conference rooms. The audience gradually filling the room was an eclectic mix of people; Chanel handbags and Louboutins rubbing shoulders with the New Look’s and Zara’s of the world (such as yours truly). But don’t let their appearance fool you, or belie what this place is actually about; each member is doing something amazing for the community around them. What’s more, the cultural diversity at such a place is unparalleled.

To my surprise, the highlight of the afternoon was not Jon Snow after all. Although I was acutely aware of how phenomenally good he is at his job.

The highlight was Stacey Abrams.

And Jon Snow was the interviewer.

Jon Snow interviewing American politician and entrepreneur, Stacey Abrams, at the Women in Tech event at the Conduit, London, for International Women's Day

Stacey Abrams is a remarkable, unapologetic, black woman. Her CV reads lawyer (she’s a Yale Law grad no less), award-winning novelist, politician and entrepreneur.

Her parents were ministers who had a lasting and positive impact on her.  

‘My parents would make us volunteer. “You do realise we’re poor too?” we’d tell them. My parents were very intentional. There was obligation. My father would say “having nothing was no excuse for doing nothing”. I was raised with an ethic that you do what you should. You are responsible if you see a problem and should address it.’

And that’s what she did, and continues to do to this day. This young woman (she’s only 45) is truly impressive. She engaged the audience like no one I’ve seen before. She had everyone on the edge of their seats from the moment she took to the mic. On finding the awkwardly high chairs on stage difficult to sit on she did not hold back, and said exactly what she was thinking. “Would you prefer lower chairs?” asked Jon Snow. “Yes I would”. She then turned to the majority female audience and said:    

“First rule of leadership, never do anything that makes you uncomfortable.”

She spoke of voter suppression, and the campaign she unfairly lost (she narrowly missed becoming the first African American to win a seat as Governor in 4 years, you can read more about that here.) and the harsh criticism she faced during the campaign.

“They questioned my race, they questioned my authority, they questioned my humanity.”

I learnt a a lot from Stacey Abrams that afternoon.

I learnt to not be afraid of being the first at doing something (Stacey’s the first African American woman to do a lot of things). If you’re the first to do something, then by definition, it’s impossible for you to fail. You set the bar. You set the standard.

“It’s hard to be the first, but it’s even harder to be the victim of things left undone.”

I learnt the importance of staying true to your values. Your values are what will guide you when things get tough, and difficult decisions have to be made.

“You can compromise your tactics, but you can’t compromise your values.”

But most of all, I learnt the importance of speaking up and asking for the things you want. To not allow anyone to push you into doing something you’re uncomfortable doing or just don’t want to do.

It was an afternoon well spent. I’m glad I made the train ride down, even if it was for the wrong reasons. You can listen to Stacey’s TED talk here

2 thoughts on “International Women’s Day

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