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The Girls’ Network: Supporting girls from disadvantaged communities to follow their dreams

Claire Hill-Dixon is a senior network manager in London for The Girls' Network.

Some of us grow up knowing what we want to do. Maybe because it’s what someone around you is doing, your mum, brother, aunty. Perhaps because someone is telling you it’s the right path for you. Sometimes we come into contact with a professional that inspires us or we read something that resonates.

But some of us grow up having no idea. Partly because picking a ‘career’ or a ‘passion’ to guide you through the rest of your life is a really big and overwhelming decision to make at age 16.

Building self-belief and confidence

What we don’t get to talk about enough is the importance of first building your own self-belief and confidence; skills that we all need to carry us through life, through the ups and the downs, that help us grow those passions into careers once we find them.

Read more: How to decide what to do with your life

How to travel the world through work

I found AS levels hard. Instead of getting my head down and enjoying that year, I got a part-time job at the weekend working nine to five Saturday and Sunday which made me exhausted for school during the week.

My attendance dropped to 70 per cent and my grades suffered. I was a classic avoid-the-stress-and-I-wont-get-stressed kind of teenager. That didn’t turn out well when I had to take my exams, because it meant I didn’t care enough to revise.

That meant in A2 I had to change gears completely, bringing grades up from Ds, Es and even Us to Bs and Cs.

University or a year out?

Instead of applying to universities, I focussed on taking a year out after school. I worked three jobs to save enough money to travel to South America, which I did for six months; it was an incredible experience. I made lifelong friends and started what’s now a never-ending love for travel.

I am lucky enough to have a very supportive sister who is four years older than me; she had already journeyed through the path I would later be travelling on. She mentioned one day that I might enjoy studying anthropology at university. What on earth is that, I thought.

Well, it turns out it’s the study of people and cultures. As a curious person who liked travel, this seemed like a good fit for me. A friend’s dad was an academic so he helped me to write my personal statement and look it over. It’s always great to get other people to check these things.

Studying anthropology

I ended up going to university to study anthropology at Goldsmiths.

I loved every part of it. It suited me perfectly, opening up whole other ways of viewing how people live in different places around the world. I also met some incredible people who I am still very close with.

And in the end, I graduated with a first-class degree. I used my summers at university to get experience as well as enjoy the new city I lived in.

Sometimes it seems off-putting, but I learned the value of putting myself out there. I got my first internship by ringing up a social enterprise, asking if they needed any volunteers or interns’ and later I got a job with them.

Getting a job abroad 

Then came the ‘what next’; how could I apply this study to work?

It’s not a degree that has a clear pathway, and even though it was difficult at the time, five years on I am thankful for that. Again I fell back into my go-to area, travel. I focussed on trying to find an internship abroad.

Through extensive research, talking to career advisors at university and asking people in my own network, I managed to get an interview for a placement in Amsterdam working for a photography fair.

It was a hard adjustment arriving in a city where I didn’t speak the language or have any friends but it was a brilliant learning experience that built my resilience and confidence.

Internships as stepping stones

When I moved back home, I again pushed to find work but ended up applying for more internships. I had heard from people time and time again that they would provide a brilliant stepping stone into the world of work.

They were right but the big challenge is that most are unpaid. Instead of moving to London to take an unpaid internship there I stayed at home and lived with my mum while I worked at Oxfam.

That internship turned into my first proper job as an admin assistant for the Middle East and Commonwealth of Independent States.

I realised working in admin wasn’t the right kind of role for me. I loved working with my colleagues but wasn’t having any interaction with the people we were was supporting.

From Oxfam, I moved over to InsightShare and then to a wonderful charity called Global Girl Media.

Looking back I can see that I was always exploring, getting involved with new projects, putting myself out there and following what I found exciting.

The Girls’ Network

In 2017 all the exploring I had done since graduating in 2014 came into perspective when I landed at The Girls’ Network, It’s an incredible charity supporting girls from the least advantaged communities by matching them with professional female mentors.

As the senior network manager for London, I am responsible for ensuring the 300 girls that take part each year have the best possible experience, and that the mentors who volunteer their time are well supported.

Looking back ten years to that teenage me, I understand why I was so overwhelmed and shut the future me out.

However, I think I already knew how to navigate my next steps, with curiosity, exploration, and connecting with as many people as I could along the way.

Be bold and try new things

I learned that being a bit bold here and there never hurts because it shows others you are confident (even if you aren’t feeling like it). I definitely used the support I had around me too and made sure I asked for their help.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to do, you will gain momentum as you keep trying new things.

If you end up somewhere doing something you don’t like; well then, you know that’s not for you, but what are the bits you do enjoy? What does that say about you and think about all the places it could take you?

Claire Hill-Dixon is a senior network manager in London for The Girls’ Network, which links up girls with mentors in a diverse range of industries.

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