Globally, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions, and although they represent almost half of all employed persons in the European Union (46%), they are still under-represented amongst managers (34%). To continue to reduce this gap, it is vital that women – and younger generations especially – envision themselves in leadership positions, know they can aspire to and be promoted to them.
This is the purpose of Birmingham’s ‘Young Women into Leadership’, a programme aimed at building broader gender participation, promote equality of opportunities, and offer a unique forum for cultural exchange.
Also known as You WIL, the event is an initiative of the Birmingham City Council in cooperation with Aston University and the support of the United States Embassy in London. In its second edition, the programme will run from 25 July to 1 August.
“I would have loved to participate in the ‘Young Women into Leadership’ as a 15-year-old and am proud to be part of it now. Participants have the chance to hear from some extraordinary, trailblazing women who have reached the top of their careers,” says Cllr Yvonne Mosquito, Lord Mayor’s Deputy of Birmingham, the woman who originally championed the programme.
Inspiration and practical skills
Inspired by a similar initiative in Chicago – Birmingham’s twin city -, You WIL addresses girls aged 14-16 years from Birmingham and other International Sister Cities. Participants join online sessions with inspirational women leaders in politics and public sector, business, sport, science, technology, engineering, math as well as media and culture.
“I have learned a lot about different possible paths and opportunities for my future, how there are many ways to change the world, how strong we are as girls and women,” said a young participant.
The girls also get an opportunity to be in the spotlight. Mentored by Aston University, participants are brought together into multicultural teams and are tasked with devising a presentation for US Embassy staff in London and senior political representatives from Birmingham.
“I have learned that we can all make a difference in the world and that there are many more girls all around the world working and striving for equality and rights,” said another You WIL participant.
The programme connects young leaders of the future, inspires them, gives them a sense of agency, resilience, and independence. It also helps these women to develop skills such as public speaking, team building and goal setting.
Working with cities from across the world
After a successful You WIL first edition 2021 online edition, Birmingham is ready to launch its second. As host of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the municipality will extend the invitation to other cities of this worldwide association.
Elsewhere in Europe, Milan – a previous participant and a sister city – pledged to continue to be part of the programme. “Milan strives to enable future generations to express their greatest potential through equal access to educational opportunities. You WIL is a city-to-city cooperation effort we are proud to be part of,” said Giuseppe Sala, the Mayor of Milan.
Eight other sister cities are involved in You WIL at different levels: Frankfurt, Lyon, Leipzig, Johannesburg, Chicago, Changchun, Nanjing and Guangzhou.
“I am delighted that dedicated students from Frankfurt can take part in the ‘Young Women Into Leadership’ programme,” said Peter Feldmann, Mayor of Frankfurt. “I am convinced that participants from Frankfurt will be an asset to the programme – just as the programme will enrich the lives of all the young women taking part in it.”
More than a one-off event
Although the 2022 You WIL schedule is still in the works, organisers have already secured the participation of Julie Walters – a renowned British actress playing the role of Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter series, among many other parts – and Olympic Gold Medallist, Jayne Torvill. They are also hoping to get confirmation from the winner of the BBC tv programme ‘Astronauts – do you have what it takes?’.
“I am delighted to support ‘Young Women Into Leadership’ as I am a passionate advocate of equality and am keen to support initiatives helping girls and women achieve their full potential,” Cllr Yvonne Mosquito remarks.
The programme has even greater ambitions. Its long-term objective is to build a legacy and a platform for future global leaders along with an alumni network who will keep on inspiring future generations.