Pip Jamieson, founder and CEO of The Dots
Location: London, UK
In London, just 12% of creative directors are female, and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women make up less than two percent of that figure. Entrepreneur Pip Jamieson founded The Dots, a professional network that connects employees and businesses via creative projects rather than CVs, to actively challenge that status quo.
With diversity at the core of her platform, Jamieson promotes underrepresented talent – The Dots’ algorithm promotes diverse talent at the top of search results, and features like the Bias Blocker allow hiring managers to hide applicants’ personal data such as name, photo, education and other information that could unfairly impact their hiring decisions.
“It’s not about promoting certain people over others, it’s about creating inclusive teams,” says Jamieson. “People should be judged on what they do, not [things like sex, race, or] where they went to university. The creative and tech industries are already more pronounced in terms of their homogenous nature than other industries, and the reason I’m really passionate about correcting that is because we all unconsciously build products for ourselves. If you’re trying to build products for everyone, we need teams that reflect society.”
By Claire Lancaster
Meenu Vadera, social entrepreneur and founder of Women on Wheels
Location: New Delhi, India
Meenu Vadera, who has been campaigning for women’s rights in India for over 30 years, first launched female-only taxis in Delhi in 2008. Delhi, and India as a whole, has frequently been challenged by women’s rights advocates in regards to women’s safety. According to the annual crime data released by the Delhi police, at least five women were raped every day on an average in the Indian capital in 2018, and a national family survey from 2015-2016 shows that 2 out of 5 rapes go unreported.
Apart from ensuring safe transport for women living in or visiting India, Vadera is using her platform, Women on Wheels, to provide job opportunities to women from marginalised communities who lack the resources to improve their economic standing. According to a report by the International Labour Organisation, India’s female labour force participation (LFPR) rate plummeted from 35.8% to 20.2% between 1994 and 2012. By comparison, Sweden is leaps ahead with an LFPR of 88%. Women from the slums and bastis (shantytowns) in India are frequently given jobs that fall under stereotypical ‘women’s work,’ and Vadera hopes to change public perception through her project. “The glass ceiling is so much stronger for these resource-poor women and the livelihood opportunities available to them in the informal sector are mostly gender-stereotypical roles such as cooking, cleaning, working as helpers in homes and now, doing factory-based work such as embroidery,” explains Vadera. “Although many of these women come in because they’ve had dreams and aspirations to do something different, majority of the times it’s because there’s financial distress.”
Women on Wheels is a hybrid enterprise model delivered by two institutions: Azad, a non-profit training organisation, creates and nurtures a pool of professional women drivers who can then be employed by a for-profit social enterprise, Sakha. So far, the initiative has employed over 600 women in their fleet. Since its inception, the business model has expanded to Jaipur, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Indore, and Vadera’s aim for 2019 is to create further partnerships and bring the concept to other cities across India. “You have to take initiative from different points so that the concept becomes more visible and more powerful and the idea takes a larger than life kind of a space.”
By Mariam Gabaji
Corrina Antrobus, founder of the Bechdel Test Fest
Location: London, UK
Before the #MeToo and #TimesUp hashtags landed on the internet and fundamentally changed the conversation about women in the film industry, Corrina Antrobus was helping to raise awareness of gender equality in film.
The freelance journalist and communications manager set up the Bechdel Test Fest in 2014 to highlight films that champion autonomous portrayals of women on the big screen. The festival celebrates Alison Bechdel’s rule set out in her classic 1985 comic strip that measures the representation of women in cinema, commonly known as the Bechdel test.
There are only three requirements for a film to pass the test:
Doesn’t sound so hard, right? But a study in 2017 found that over 40 percent of Hollywood movies were failing to pass the test, even though research has shown that films that do pass end up making more money at the box office.
Antrobus’s festival is ongoing throughout the year with screenings, debates and shorts from upcoming filmmakers. It’s held anniversary screenings of classics like Thelma & Louise (1991), the London premiere of indie romance Beyond the Lights (2014) and discussions on the history of female neurosis.
It’s also attracted big name stars like Appropriate Behavior director Desiree Akhavan, Belle actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Suffragette star Natalie Press, who have all taken part in Q&A sessions.
The Bechdel Test Fest places women were they belong – firmly centre stage.
By Ann Lee
Ailbhe Smyth, convenor of Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment
Location: Dublin, Ireland
“It was absolutely tremendous. My very first feeling was just a huge sense of relief.” They’re the words of Ailbhe Smyth, but they echo the sentiment felt by thousands of women across the nation on the 26th of May, 2018 when the 8th amendment in the Irish constitution was officially repealed. Jubilant, tearful crowds gathered outside Dublin Castle to celebrate the success of a long and bitter fight against a society heavily influenced by the Catholic Church for a woman’s right to choose.
The 8th amendment had long since restricted the reproductive choices of women in Ireland by making it almost impossible to access safe and legal abortion. The movement to repeal this legislation rose to national prominence in 2012, when Savita Halappanavar died in Galway of a septic miscarriage after being denied a termination that could have saved her life. Smyth had been campaigning on the issue for decades and was the convenor for the coalition to repeal the eighth when the referendum succeeded by a two-third majority.
Even after this history-making victory for women in Ireland, Smyth is not content to rest on her laurels. Issues – including doctors opting out, further restrictions on abortion after the twelfth week of pregnancy, and a dearth of facilities – means that many women still have to travel to England to have an abortion. One of her priorities for 2019 is to continue to fight to make abortion more widely accessible for women in Ireland, including those in Northern Ireland where there is no legal access to abortion. “We can’t take our foot off the pedal at this stage,” Smyth says.
By Cassie Doney
Nazeen Baloch, film director
Location: Lyari Town, Pakistan
Filmmaker Nazeen Baloch is presenting her short film, Lyari: Prison without Wall, in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. The film tells the story of a family torn apart by a disillusioned father and his football-obsessed son. It was shot on the streets of Baloch’s hometown of Lyari Town, a former no-go district of the region, and has gone on to win awards, but arguably Baloch’s forthright opinions and forward-thinking attitude are garnering her even more acclaim.
“If I’m a girl then I should have an entire team of females [with me] and it shouldn’t be the case that I’m the only woman standing among a group of 20 men,” Baloch says.
Baloch’s position on women in the film industry makes her stand out as an important voice in Pakistani cinema, a woman who is making it in a male-dominated industry, and keen on taking other women with her.
The director is working on a number of projects for 2019, yet despite her desire to move away from traditional musical romances, popular in Pakistan, still considers herself a part of “Lollywood.”
By Cassam Looch
Mandkhai Jargalsaikhan, fashion designer
Location: London and Mongolia
“About 80% of our employees are female,” says cashmere designer Mandkhai Jargalsaikhan. She designs in London but her premium MANDKHAI collections are crafted in Mongolia where her family’s factory is based. It was one of the first businesses to open in post-Communist Mongolia in 1993 and it provided local women with work.
Giving back to the community remains a priority for Jargalsaikhan. “We train women in the art of hand embroidery,” she says. “Some have worked with us since the factory launch so they have decades of experience but we share a knowledge of western fashion to encourage and inspire a younger generation of local designers and artists.”
The wool itself is sourced sustainably and locally from free-roaming goats who, because of the unique climate in which they live, provide some of the most resilient yarns in the world. A commitment to ethical production combined with a trend-focused approach to silhouette makes Jargalsaikhan and MANDKHAI one of the most globally appealing knitwear labels of 2019.
By Sarah Bannerman
Aria Welsh, Miss Transgender UK
Location: Perth, Scotland
Aria Welsh gave up everything to be who she always truly was. In 2015, she decided to begin the transition process from male to female, which she says cost her a lovely home, her fiancé, job, dog, and circle of friends. Aria says this was a struggle that had to happen in order for her to be her “authentic self.” From devastating loss comes wonderful gain, as Aria believes that what has come since “has been so much more rewarding.”
Part of that rewarding experience was her decision to be “brave” and tell her story publicly. She didn’t just post a status on Facebook, or even film a video for YouTube. She decided to enter the Miss Transgender beauty contest, a pageant in the traditional sense except all competitors must be transgender. In addition, in order to be eligible for the grand final, all contestants must compete to raise funds for a charity of their choice; Aria campaigned on behalf of SANDS, the stillbirth charity. The final took place in November, with the winner receiving £10,000 worth of surgery. Aria finally scooped her crown.
“I will be the last ever Miss Transgender UK so I fully intend to make the most of the title and responsibilities that come along with it,” she says of her ‘title-for-life’, due to the founder of the competition giving it up in order to focus on her design business. “During my reign I plan to further solidify myself as a figure in the transgender and LGBT+ communities and help in any way I can.”
By Darren Scott