This week in the week that is important to women everywhere we are celebrating our home grown role models and introducing our Tees Valley #ThisNorthernGirlCan ambassadors. Today we have pleasure in introducing the #ThisNorthernGirlCan interview with Linda Edworthy.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself.
A. I’m Linda Edworthy and I’m the Strategy Director at Tees Valley Combined Authority. The Combined Authority is one of six new local authorities in England with elected Mayors. Our purpose is to drive economic growth in the area and my role is to develop and oversee the implementation of our strategy for doing this. I’m also responsible for the governance arrangements and HR for the authority.
Q. What have you loved about growing up in the North?
A. I’m a Northern girl (less of a girl now!!) in that I was born and lived in Northern Ireland until I was 18 and then I moved to Liverpool to go to university before moving to the North East for my first job. I’ve been here ever since. One of the things I love about the North, and the North East in particular, is the easy access to beaches and countryside. I grew up in a small seaside town and we were a year-round picnicking family, regularly visiting country parks or beaches. I think that’s why the North East is now home to me because it has the same outdoor opportunities all within easy reach. The other thing that I love is the people. I’m the sort of person who will talk to anyone anywhere and Northern people do that.
Q. Did you have any challenges growing up in the North?
A. I had a great childhood growing up in Northern Ireland but there was something quite liberating for me moving to the north of England. I had grown up during “the Troubles”, where one of the first things that people wanted to know, or figure out about you, was whether you were protestant or catholic. When I moved to Liverpool it was so refreshing that no one cared what I was. My main challenge growing up was that as a teenager I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a career. At that time the career choices that were promoted to girls were teaching, banking, nursing or medicine and I didn’t want to do any of those. At one stage I wanted to play the violin in an orchestra and travel the world, but my violin teacher (a man) told me that it wasn’t a ‘suitable career for a girl’, so I gave up the violin to spend more time at my weekend and holiday job. I enjoyed having my own money and knew that I wanted to be financially independent.
Q. Have you or do you face any challenges being female?
A. Maybe it’s because of where I grew up – where the main issue was what religion you were, that I didn’t really think about challenges faced by women until I entered the world of work. I’m a qualified town and country planner and I came to County Durham to work for a council planning department. The majority of the people who worked there were men, and the senior managers and councillors were predominantly men as well. Most of the challenges I’ve faced have probably been those that I’ve put on myself. I think that because I started my career in a very male dominated workplace, I felt that I had to work harder than my male colleagues to get on.
It was my own perception as opposed to anyone else’s, but I particularly felt like that when I was having my children. I had a very supportive boss, but I still felt that I needed to be back at work as soon as possible and that I always needed to be available. I didn’t want to be seen as the person who couldn’t do things in the organisation because she had children. I really don’t know why I felt this way, as it definitely was not something that others in the organisation made me feel.
I’ve had some interesting experiences as a woman working in a male dominated environment, from the councillors who thought I was there to hand round the sandwiches, to the South Korean (male) visitors who couldn’t get to grips with a woman being in my role. They asked me if I was married with children (I wasn’t at the time but they clearly thought I should be) and looked at me as if I was a strange creature with two heads.
Q. What or who inspired your journey to where you are now?
A. That’s easy – my dad. He was a great inspiration for me. He was an adventurer, he’d been at sea as a young man, travelled the world, lived in Australia and would generally try his hand at anything, whether he could do it or not. He instilled in me the desire to be the best I could be and to try new things and not to worry about whether I would succeed in them or not. I knew that at times my dad didn’t always enjoy his job (he was in charge of a power station in Belfast and during the Troubles that could be quite challenging), but he always worked very hard and taught me the importance of hard work. Perversely, I’d probably also say that my violin teacher inspired me. Since he discouraged me from pursuing a career as a violinist I have been even more determined to show people that I can do whatever I want to do.
Q. What advice would you to give to girls growing up in the North?
A. I think this is relevant where ever you grow up and whether you are a girl or a boy – find out as much as possible about the different jobs that are available and try to get work experience as soon as possible. From my Saturday and holiday job I found out that I might have enjoyed being a pharmacist. But it was too late. I’d given up sciences at ‘O’ level (at that stage you could totally give up sciences) and was already part way through my ‘A’ levels on other subjects. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the career that I have pursued, but I wish that I’d understood all of my options at an earlier stage. Also don’t listen to anyone who tells you that certain jobs aren’t suitable for a woman – if it’s something that you might want to do, go for it and if it doesn’t work out, don’t let anyone – particularly yourself – make you feel that you are a failure.
This bit might be a bit controversial for people who think we should be trying to keep people in the North – I would also say don’t ever limit your horizons. The North is a great place to be a woman, but there is a whole world out there and I think we should be encouraging girls and boys to explore opportunities everywhere.
Q. How do you think we can encourage more young people about the importance of gender equality?
A. I do think it is a generational thing and with each generation it is becoming less of an issue. What’s happening at present in the world of film and TV around equal pay and abuse of power is helpful as young people relate to the personalities involved and it gives a very strong message that it’s right to challenge inequality. I do think it needs to start early in the home and at school, but in a way that isn’t focused around inequalities, but by treating young people as gender equals with the same opportunities available to them – let’s not try to make it an issue, let’s just do it right from the outset.
Q. Tell us some of your favourite Northern places.
A.I love the coast and walking along our beautiful beaches, particularly on blustery days. It makes you feel truly alive. I also enjoy shopping and eating out, so our great Northern cities are some of my favourite places, particularly when I am enjoying some ‘me time’.
Q. Who are your favourite Northern people (alive or dead?)
A. Those that are no longer with us include: particularly this year, Emmeline Pankhurst for all that she achieved for women; as a planner, I’ve got to say Capability Brown for planning some of the world’s most magnificent gardens; father-of- the-railways George Stephenson, although we’ve some work to do to get us back to leading the way on rail travel; and Gertrude Bell, probably one of the least well known women in the North and definitely the UK. She led a fascinating life in the late 1800s, and even though she lived in very male dominated times, she became an archaeologist, adventurer and spy, and helped to draw up the modern Iraqi state. She came from Redcar but how many young people (or older people) in the North have heard of her?
In the here and now, there are too many Northern people that I admire to pick out individuals. Through my job I have had the pleasure of judging business awards and the one I particularly enjoy is the WIN Award for start-up businesses. Each year I’m inspired by the stories and the genuine modesty of the women that have established businesses in the region. Most have experienced some very challenging personal situations that have shaped their journey to and through starting-up their business. It’s their modesty that amazes me – we struggle to get women to apply for awards as they don’t think that they’ve done ‘anything special’.
For some reason men don’t think like that and there’s something very different about the male and female ego that needs to change.
Q. Explain your love of the North in one sentence.
A. It’s down to earth, grounded in a long history of industry and invention with great people and fantastic work and leisure opportunities and potential.
Q. What would you like to see the #ThisNorthernGirlCan movement do?
A. I’d like the movement to provide a wide variety of visible role models for girls in the area so that they see what fabulous opportunities there are for girls in the North. I’d like the area to really be a great place to grow up, whether you are a girl or a boy, and I think that the movement can really play a part in making this happen. I also think that it should encourage women to ‘blow their own trumpet’ more, as men seem more than happy to do.
We have lots of fabulous women in business, in the public and voluntary sectors, but they are generally reluctant to put themselves forward for recognition or to be involved in activities that historically have been the preserve of ‘men of a certain age in grey suits’. That’s changing and the movement can provide a supportive environment for women to step up and do more.
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