In 2012, I started working with young women who wanted to start their own businesses, through my company The Juno Project. It came purely by chance, it wasn’t something I set out to do – I loved working with anyone who had a passion for entrepreneurship – but the more young people I worked with, the more I realised that I could make the biggest difference supporting women; particularly those who were vulnerable and/or hard to reach. It’s when you’ve been there, that you really understand the challenges.
Publishing How To Be Your Own Boss As A Single Mum in 2014 was the starting point for my specialist business development coaching, and I’ve since worked with women across the world who have sought me out for advice and support relevant to their lives as single mums or young founders. I’ve developed programmes especially for women, StartUP and PowerUP, and also run specific bizdev workshops for female founders.
At the beginning of this year, I was introduced to the Assistant Head of a group of pupil referral units (PRU) in Sussex at a training event, and she asked for my advice on engaging young people who didn’t want to be in school. Now I’ve coached a lot of young entrepreneurs who didn’t think that school was for them – and taught a lot of young people who didn’t think that college was for them either! – so I told her what had worked for me: telling them my story. Telling them where I was when I was 15, and comparing it to where I am today. Exploring the challenges and problems I faced at home and at school, and how I overcame them. Picking apart the strategies I used to survive on a day to day basis when I was younger, and how I embedded them into my daily life to rebuild what I was left with as an adult. Examining what had worked – and doing more of that; and being honest about what didn’t – and not doing that anymore.
I was invited to speak about my journey to the Year 11 girls in one of her schools but I knew I couldn’t just go in once and walk away. This is exactly what these young people are used to – people being parachuted in and then leaving again – so I offered to go in for 8 consecutive weeks, and deliver a range of workshops on enterprise and employability, as well as self-esteem, confidence, and other related skills.
I started with one school, and three girls, and then moved on to work with two girls in another school, and finally an education centre in a hospital, for young people with serious mental health.
We started from a place of understanding that life isn’t fair, and we’re not all equal; and that the quicker you can accept that, the quicker you’ll succeed. We shared stories, worries, and concerns; the girls told me about things that had happened to them that no person should ever experience, let alone an innocent child, and between us all we resolved to ensure that these things didn’t impinge on them moving forwards. I told them that they may have been involved in bad situations but that didn’t make them a bad person, and that life held all that they wished for if they wanted to reach for it. We looked at employability skills, improved interview and presentation skills, spoke to recruiters, and networked.
The impact that the sessions had on the girls in those few weeks was extraordinary. Their confidence rocketed, one of the girls completely changed her friendship group to those who were supportive rather than negative, one took herself – voluntarily – to drug and alcohol counselling, and one went off for an interview without telling us (and got the job!). All of the girls are going to college in September, and they all have a mentor – a woman who is investing a couple of hours a month for the next two years of her life in these wonderful girls, to help them develop and grow into the extraordinary young women that we can all see but they are still finding.
The teachers were astonished. One jokingly demanded to know what I had done with the girls she gave me, these were definitely not them. The girls? They told me that I’d just talked to them in a different way, in a way that they’d never been spoken to before. That I didn’t judge, didn’t assume and only wanted to listen.
One told me I’d saved her…
I saw the impact, I saw the smiles, and I witnessed the changes – and was determined to carry on with the programme to reach as many girls as I could. I’m delighted, and humbled therefore, that the pilot This Is Me programme is now a three year programme – one year in school, and two years with a mentor – and that we already have 16 schools signed up for September (PRU and mainstream), with a further 11 signing this week, and more in the wings. We’ll be working in 4 counties, and more schools are contacting me every day to get on board. I’ve set a target of reaching 100 girls next year (we’ll smash that), and within 5 years we’ll be in every school in the UK.
Of course, to do that, I need more mentors. More women who would like to give something back to help young women who’ve experienced more in their short lives than anyone should in 10 lifetimes. More women who would like to support, share with, and encourage vibrant and vital teenagers who just need a helping hand to navigate leaving school, starting college, and then going into work, university, or whatever else they might like to do. More women who see the potential in these wonderful girls, and want to bring it out.
I’d be so very grateful if you could please share this with anyone who you think might be interested; we are growing at a rapid rate, and I need all the, suitable, mentors I can get. If you, or a friend/colleague, are interested in knowing more please click here.