Powering up Teesside girls and women

Professor Jane Turner with her Lifelong Inspiration award. Picture by Tom Banks

In a week that celebrated International Women’s Day, Professor Jane Turner OBE has announced more detail about The Power of Women, a new initiative set to shine a light on the region’s incredible women to inspire a generation of girls to achieve their dreams.

The Power of Women will initially launch as a website but will be supported by a social media campaign, schools education and eventually a high-quality book.

“The idea for the campaign took shape a year ago on International Women’s Day,” said Jane, pro vice chancellor for enterprise and business engagement as well as gender champion at Teesside University.

Jane, winner of the Lifelong Inspiration gong at the Tees Businesswomen Awards, was speaking on the weekly PD Ports-sponsored Tees Business Leaders online Q&A in a special episode focused on International Women’s Day.

“I’d hosted a dinner at the university and invited a number of local business leaders. Earlier that day we’d had 70 girls in from a local secondary school who’d spoken about the challenges they faced.

“These girls felt they didn’t have a voice or an identity, they were treated stereotypically by boys at school and not encouraged to follow certain careers. It was shocking.

“I decided then to launch a crowdfunding campaign in order to publish a really inspirational coffee table book with the life stories of women from the region who had achieved against adversity.

“When Covid hit, plans were put on hold but the idea and the passion for the Power of Women campaign never went away.”

Joining Jane to discuss the initiative was Irish-born adopted Teessider Frances Connolly, Euro Millions lottery winner and philanthropist.

Frances was so impressed by Jane’s project that she agreed to fund its initial stages.

“Young people are the future and, being a woman myself, the idea for this campaign really touched me,” said Frances.

“There is such a big gap in the expectations and the capacity for young girls to grow and flourish and the limitations here in the North-East are almost as harsh as the climate.

“I’m conscious, of course, that my money can’t do everything, so I’m strict about the criteria for the projects I give to.

“Jane and her team have worked so hard on The Power of Women. They know what they want to achieve and that enthused me from the start. I know my donation and involvement will make a difference.”

What has morphed from the Tees Business-organised meeting between Frances and Jane is now a three-pronged approach to the campaign.

“Our first goal is the creation of an engaging website populated with inspiring content, with themes running through on a bi-monthly basis that girls can buy into,” explained Guisborough-raised Jane.

“The second is to engage with schools and colleges, make educational resources available and create an ambassadorial network of girls in the region.

“The third and final goal is to produce that coffee table book by 2024.

“It’s amazing that Francis’s money will allow this and I still can’t speak about her donation without getting emotional. It means so much.”

Also supporting the initiative is Jane Armitage, managing partner at Stockton-based Jacksons Law Firm and reigning Tees Businesswoman of the Year.

Jane was also a guest at that dinner 12 months ago.

“I am still haunted by that dinner,” admits Jane. “At one point during the evening, Jane said that some of the girls she’d spoken to were called ‘washing machines’ by boys at school because that’s what their role in life was going to be.

“It’s horrendous to think that is still the attitude some people have of our girls in 2021. This campaign is so desperately needed for us to challenge these perceptions.”

A young Jacksons Law Firm solicitor is setting up a company for The Power of Women to register as a charity.

“It feels quite fitting that’s there’s a young Teesside solicitor who is doing her part for what is a fantastic project,” said Jane.

“However, the challenges facing our region’s girls have been noted nationally and it makes for worrying reading, so there is much to do.”

Professor Turner added: “A Plan International report back in 2015 said that Middlesbrough was the worst place to grow up if you were a girl. In 2020, Hartlepool also featured in the bottom ten areas, and this time the report shared some of the voices of local girls.

“They spoke of assumptions being made about the way they dress, that people saw them as not academically able and being without ambition.

“At the heart of these damning words, however, was their belief in the importance of working and having a professional identity.

“The Power of Women wants to find these girls before it’s too late, to give them self-confidence, higher expectations and ultimately better job prospects.”