This year on International Women's Day (8th March 2021) the campaign theme is 'Choose to Challenge'. What does this mean? We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help to create an inclusive world.
This week we're going beyond one day to recognise International Women's Day and will be sharing interviews from women within our sector on what and how they choose to challenge.
We start with Dr Soo Nevison, Chief Executive Officer of Community Action Bradford & District.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role?
I'm proud to be the CEO of Community Action Bradford & District. I have a really varied role, switching from local strategic meetings, to running a large district-wide organisation, to dabbling in regional and national programmes and projects. It can be pretty busy and I'm very lucky to have a fantastic team working alongside me.
In this role, can you share an example of when you chose to challenge?
For those who are reading this and know me, they'll know that I won't and don't ever shy away from disagreeing with or challenging something I believe to be inherently wrong or just not quite right! I feel we all have a duty to tackle such 'wrongs' - be that injustice, inequality, or a whole host of other social issues we face locally, nationally and across the world.
We all have our own individuality and style too in how we tackle these issues. Some people challenge quietly with conviction, some stay in the shadows and some people speak louder with certainty - I'm definitely the latter! If I disagree, I will speak up but I do so by offering a different perspective, sharing alternatives and sometimes really creative solutions so we get the outcome we need in the best and most effective way possible. If you're going to challenge something, make sure you're really clear on why you're doing it, but also what options you can offer.
Strategically I challenge the status quo which has enabled some big opportunities locally. We secured PPE and 2000 vaccinations for our volunteers and were one of the few places across the UK to do this on such a mammoth scale. My challenge here was to protect the very people who are the front facing lifelines for so many of our vulnerable citizens in the district. That they don't all come under a predetermined category, doesn't mean they need any less protection. That's wrong.
I challenge all the time with different purposes and outcomes. With my team as an example, I challenge them to look after themselves; for them to think about their own wellbeing. This might sound a bit weak but my team are such a dedicated bunch, so much so that they often forget to step back from what are heavy and pressured workloads. I see how tired they are and I challenge them continually to stop, breathe, take time off. It's rare too that they disagree!
How did you get to be a leading figure in the Bradford District's voluntary sector?
I worked hard. I started my voluntary sector career in drug services, progressed to infrastructure and was asked to apply for my current job by a person who previously worked in the district. I managed the big merger a few years ago and have now cemented my place within the district due to a lot of hard work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Which women have inspired you and why?
My mum, she was a full time carer for my dad until he passed and she never complained.
Rosa parks too, the mother of the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks invigorated the struggle for racial equality when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery (it was law at the time). Her refusal started conversations and led to bigger and better things. She endured arrest, a court case, death threats and in spite of this, continued to work for civil rights.
My daughter and some of my close friends inspire me, they have overcome their own personal adversity and inspire me to be better every day too.
What are you most proud of?
My daughter. She is so independent of mind and focussed on exactly what she wants to do and be but she doesn't bulldoze people along the way. She is an incredible woman and such a role model for her generation. I'm beyond proud of her, she humbles me every day.
Why is it important for you and your organisation to recognise International Women's Day?
Women are the backbone of the world. We're often the hidden powerhouses and we need to be celebrated. We have multiple jobs, most of them unpaid and even today we struggle for that to be recognised by wider society. Our organisation is committed to equality and therefore it is important for us to celebrate IWD to show our commitment is real.
On International Women's Day, what is the most important message you want to give to women thinking about a career in the voluntary sector?
When you look at the voluntary sector for a career path, please know it isn't going to provide you with flashy cars and expensive holidays! It is, however, going to be something bigger than that - a sense of pride, knowing that when you get up that morning you'll make some kind of difference. Some days it's a huge difference and others it's a small, unnoticed difference but you can go to sleep at night knowing you have made a difference. If you're a woman, wanting to be part of this extraordinary world, do it, go for it and you will never look back.