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Arrive in Politics: How women and girls can pursue their passion in politics

Emily Balcombe is a political gender expert and director of communications and content at Arrive in Politics.

The goal of Arrive in Politics is to encourage young women to pursue their passions in politics by giving them the tools they need to succeed in the field.

We are a cross-party mentorship programme with wellbeing and collaboration at the heart, and our aim is to build a network of women who can support each other in the pursuit of a more equitable future.

There’s a long way to go before the UK reaches political gender parity – only 34 per cent of MPs in the House of Commons are women, and only 5.7 per cent are ethnic minority women. This extends to the local level as well – only 36 per cent of local authority councillors in England are women – and female staffers face the same historical discrimination that impact women in most major industries.

We need to work harder to counteract centuries of exclusion and one way to do that is through tailored mentorship and support programmes like Arrive.

What’s the story behind Arrive in Politics?

Arrive in Politics was born from a shared passion for gender equality in politics.

Our founders bring together three key areas of expertise that have shaped our mission. Fay Sharpe runs the hugely successful Fast Forward 15 programme for women’s mentorship in hospitality, Abi Wright specialises in wellbeing and confidence in women and girls and co-Founded the Festival of the Girl, and Emily Balcombe is our political gender expert with a background in US politics and an MSc in Gender, Policy & Inequalities.

Each of us saw a need for change, and we spent most of 2021 connecting with women MPs, councillors, and staffers to learn more about why gender equality may be lagging behind before officially launching Arrive.

READ MORE: Why I got into politics and became a city councillor

Tell us about key factors which contribute to the gender gap in politics.

The gender gap in politics is similar to that of other industries in that much if it is informed by historical exclusions and strict gender stereotypes.

Even today, some people think women are too emotional, too compassionate, too weak for the traditionally masculine field. Recently, Emily was invited on GB News to speak about her contribution to this year’s Festival of the Girl, and she was asked whether positive gender discrimination can do more harm than good as we end up with unqualified women in positions of power. To that, Emily pointed out that we’ve had mediocre and incompetent men in power since the dawn of politics – and no one ever suggests that their failures can be chalked up to gender.

How can we close the gender gap in politics?

Women in politics do face some unique challenges that contribute to the gender gap. As we’ve spoken to women throughout the field this year, we’ve identified four needs that aren’t being met: there is a clear lack of long-term membership, lack of accessibility, lack of cross-party support, and lack of training to manage wellbeing and digital self-care. Male-dominated industries can be difficult to break into under the best circumstances, but politics often comes with intense personal scrutiny and a lifestyle that can be difficult to manage with caring responsibilities (which overwhelmingly fall on women). Female MPs received 25,688 abusive tweets during the 2017 election, and there are countless anecdotes from women who have faced harassment by the press, colleagues, senior MPs, and the public.

And as for why we need to close the political gender gap? That’s a much simpler answer – diversity at any level of an industry contributes to a wider range of thoughts, perspectives, experiences, and opinions that inform decisions. Political representation should be reflective of society, and that includes women from all backgrounds.

Why should young women look to a career in politics?

There’s a misconception that you need to be elected to be successful in politics. That’s simply not true. If you have a passion for making change, there are endless paths to success.

Many women are inspired to become an MP or councillor because they are tired of the lack of progress in their communities and they want to make a direct difference, but that does come with a public spotlight and it’s understandable if you’re not comfortable with that level of scrutiny. If you love to dive into the weeds of specific policies you can become a policy analyst, if you like solving problems for people directly, you can become a caseworker in your local authority. For those who love to research and write, you can become a speechwriter or political journalist. And if you don’t want to work in particular party you can work for non-partisan political agencies.

Are there certain traits, strengths or passions which people have that suit a career in politics?

The beauty of politics is that we need people with all different skills and traits to contribute. You don’t even need to have a specific degree in politics – many elected officials move into politics after a career in an entirely different industry.

The most important thing is to be passionate enough about something. You don’t need to be an expert in every policy area as long as you care about making a difference in an area that you’re passionate about.

If you are interested in a political career and are wondering what you can do to prepare early, we recommend getting comfortable with public speaking and doing some research into areas that you’re interested in (what are the different sides to the issue, what is the current legislation, what can be changed, who else is invested in the issue, etc).

READ MORE: What it’s like to work in politics – as a mayor and in European Parliament

How does the mentor scheme work? 

The Arrive in Politics mentorship structure is based on the award-winning Fast Forward 15 programme. The women who participate as mentees will come from all parties, ethnicities, and locations throughout the UK. We are seeking women who are passionate about politics and we welcome participants who may not know what path is right for them yet. During the 12-month programme, mentees and mentors work together during 10 one-on-one sessions to achieve breakthrough goals and objectives. There will be two in-person Education Days for mentees to learn valuable skills through workshops.

How can people get involved?

We are inviting mentors of all genders to participate, and we hope to have a mentor cohort that represents all aspects of politics. We already have quite a few MPs who will take part but we are also looking for councillors, high-level staffers, political journalists, civil servants, and beyond.

Mentors and mentees will be paired through a careful matching process facilitated by our Director of Business & Mentorship, Fay, and all mentors complete a training programme to learn how to maximise the mentor relationship for both parties.

While this is a cross-party programme and the cohort will be affiliated with a range of parties, we do aim to place mentees with mentors in their political party because there are unique logistical differences between parties. Mentees will leave with relationships to sustain future connections and tools to claim their collective space in politics.

Find out more

Check out our website and follow us on social media! You can also join our mailing list on our website to be contacted when applications open up in the coming months. We’re on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook – that’s the best way to keep up with what we’re doing!

We do want to note that Arrive in Politics is a trans-inclusive programme and we are inviting female participants from all backgrounds.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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