A gender-equal world is a world that we can create together

By Vanessa Anderson, Photographs and Interviews: Rachel Bradley

It may not always feel that creating a gender-equal world is possible. We may not always feel that we have the power that we need to make it happen. We may all have experienced times when our gender has made us feel particularly challenged.

What we, each and every one of us, can do in our day-to-day lives is call out inequality and we can remind ourselves that times continue to change for the better. We can walk our walk, be seen in a selfie, share our story. Sunday 8th March is International Women’s Day #IWD2020 and the theme for 2020 is #EachforEqual.

This International Women’s Day, Smart Works Reading #smartworksrdg invites you to share a time when your gender has challenged and/or empowered you, along with a selfie (with equals-sign arms) that shows your support for #EachforEqual.

Our stories have power, women’s words can change our world, one share at a time.

Smart Works Reading is proud to be #EachforEqual this International Women’s Day.

Anna Fowler, Development and Fundraising Manager at Smart Works Reading


So says Anna Fowler, our Development and Fundraising Manager at Smart Works Reading,

“I’m blown away when I see what is possible when women support women: there is nowhere more empowering than Smart Works! Having joined the team back in November 2019, I am learning something new every day. Everyone involved is striving toward the same goal; to believe in an equal future.”

Julie Metelko, Smart Works Reading Volunteer Interview Coach


Julie Metelko is a Smart Works Reading Volunteer Interview Coach who has shared how, when she was a management consultancy partner, her team secured a major project with an investment bank in Canary Wharf. She recalls how they were invited to present their recommendations.

“I knew that they would give us a really rough ride. I so clearly remember putting on my stunning red M&S suit and going into that room full of investment bankers, taking control of the meeting and feeling so confident. Yes, I could feel them looking me up and down a few times, but I didn’t care. I had the confidence to meet their challenges head-on and to convince the client that we really knew what we were doing. Feeling empowered in the way I looked and dressing in a power colour gave me self-belief and carried me through.”

Claire Lawley, Service Delivery Manager at Smart Works Reading



“I’ve certainly been challenged as a woman working in male-dominated environments in the past,” Claire Lawley is our Service Delivery Manager at Smart Works Reading. “I quickly realised that being one of a few women in that space was actually an advantage and turned what could’ve been an intimidating and negative experience into a positive one. I was bold enough to believe that I could bring something different to the team and by changing my mindset. I’m now inspired through the work I do at Smart Works Reading and I feel empowered on a daily basis. I get to help women overcome their personal challenges and see our wonderful volunteers help clients to reach their full potential every single day. What could be more empowering?”

Helen Francis, Smart Works Reading Volunteer Dresser and Interview Coach



Helen Francis, a volunteer Dresser and Interview Coach for Smart Works Reading talks about what it was like to arrive at male-dominated offices overseas as Global Head of Professional Services for a large IT consultancy.

“I was often confronted with environments which, as a senior ranking officer with no women in senior roles around me, were certainly a challenge. Female employees tended to hold more junior roles, even though they were as qualified as their co-workers. Some of my male colleagues made it clear that they didn’t think I was up to the task of setting up offshore service centres. Our next business aim was to then introduce women in senior roles to these centres, ensuring that employees, whether male or female, received equal pay and benefits. It was certainly a challenge, but a mission that I am proud to say I was able to achieve.”

Sarah Burns MBE, Chair and Founder of Smart Works Reading


Our Chair and Founder of Smart Works Reading, Sarah Burns MBE, once led team training at an HR and Payroll Software company, in a public-sector environment she describes as “very male”.

“It was very much an ‘old boys’ network’ which was quite a shock as I was coming from a very proactive and inclusive environment. During those first meetings, I was even asked to make tea and take notes! I was a senior manager, but my nature is very open and accommodating and I just got on with it. Having made the tea on a number of occasions, it struck me that they totally weren’t seeing me in an equal light. From that point on, I had to find ways to challenge their behaviour, continuing to achieve our shared business goals, whilst remaining true to my values and beliefs.

I spoke to other senior female managers within professional services to make sure that I was clear on my business goals and targets and to have confidence in knowing what was required. I went on to create a sub-culture of people around me, all committed to ensuring that, together, we were conducting ourselves fairly and inclusively, whilst constantly staying on top of the ambitions of the business. Where necessary, I challenged certain behaviours within my team and focused on building positive working relationships, one male employee at a time. I showed an interest in each person, their skills and experience. Over time, they began to mirror these behaviours back to me. It was a slow process, but, through hard work, I eventually came to realise that most of the people around me were on board and I had gained their respect.

The House of Commons’ event that we hosted for Smart Work’s Reading’s 4th birthday was a stand-out empowerment moment for me. It was just wonderful to see men, women, volunteers and clients — such a diverse group of amazing people — all come together in one room. Together, all those people had brought us to where we now are; it was a hugely powerful moment.”

We’ll leave the last word to a fantastic Smart Works Reading client, whose feedback after her interview-dressing and coaching session was unequivocal:

“I feel empowered.

I didn’t know it was going to be like this.

It’s life-changing.”

Smart Works Reading is part of the Smart Works UK network and provides free, high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need. We harness the power of clothes and confidence to allow a woman to be her best at a crucial moment in her life, giving her the confidence, the self-belief and the practical tools required to succeed at interview and transform her life.

We are a charity who provide work appropriate outfits, styling advice and interview coaching to women in the Thames Valley area to help them get back to work.