This week I had the honour of being invited to mentor schoolgirls on the London Eye as part of the Southbank Centre's Women of the World Festival and the UN's International Day of the Girl celebrations. I have long admired Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre's Artistic Director, and the work she does to champion women in the arts and fight for equality on a global scale, so I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in such an important initiative.
At the same time, I couldn't help but feel a bit of a fraud. Arriving at the London Eye I saw that the other mentors participating included MPs, celebrities, activists, authors, award-winning journalists... all manner of highly impressive women. I spotted Cherie Blair, Lily Cole, Jo Brand, Kerry McCarthy and numerous other recognisable faces of extremely successful women.
Among all of those, some poor girls were going to have to talk to me! Still, if all else failed, I could tell them about how I once sat next to Adele at an awards ceremony, or impress them with a photo of me and Stormzy... Oh god, I was out of my depth wasn't I?
Of course, this wasn't the case, and what followed was an incredibly inspiring morning. The girls I mentored were intelligent, passionate and funny, and I came away feeling as if I was the one who had been mentored, not the other way around. I got to thinking about what advice I would give to my younger self, as I entered the music industry aged 20 with a shelf packed with Hanson CDs and a wardrobe full of crop tops. It would be the following...
1. You ARE smart/experienced/beautiful/qualified [delete as applicable] enough
At age 32 that quiet self-confidence and don't-give-a-monkeys-what-people-think-of-me attitude that everyone says women get in their thirties IS beginning to creep in, thank god. During my first few years in the music industry I regularly said barely a word in meetings for fear of my contribution being deemed silly, uninformed or simply unwelcome. I wish I had realised that the things I was thinking and the ideas I had were just as valid as those of the more senior, more male people sat across from me, and just piped up. Why wait to show what you're capable of? It can be daunting starting out in an industry or workplace where people seemingly have so much more experience and authority than you, but your contributions are valid. Whatever the situation, you ARE smart/experienced/beautiful/qualified enough. Speak up.
2. Your female support network is everything
In my early 20s the only relationship I invested significant energy in was the one with my boyfriend. Nowadays I have developed a network of friends who are other young women in the music industry and it has transformed my life and career in every possible way. It is so important to champion other women, and to have a support network. The music industry is notoriously dominated by older white men, but I am inspired daily by the achievements of the young women I know. They challenge, encourage and empower me to pursue my goals and remind me to laugh when it all goes pear shaped! Other women are not competition; they are your greatest allies.
3. Trust your instincts
This follows on from the first point. There were countless times in my first few years in music when I felt something we were doing should be done differently, that something wouldn't work, when I had an alternative view or idea. But I assumed other people knew better. They were more experienced, more senior, more confident, so they must know better than me, right? Sure enough time and time again my gut instinct turned out to be right. Now I know to trust it. To speak up when I disagree. To pursue my ideas. Listen to other perspectives, work as a team player, but don't ignore your gut instincts.
4. Things get really interesting when you stop playing so SAFE
As a relatively introverted 20-something a lot of things scared me. So I didn't do them. Public speaking? No thanks! Living abroad? But I don't know anyone! Blogging on the Huffington Post? But I don't have anything to say! You get the gist.
At some point a few years a go a quiet little voice in my head said perhaps this is no way to live. Perhaps it would be more fulfilling and I could get more of a sense of achievement by challenging myself, by doing some of these things that scared me. I moved to New York for three months last year and it was the most transformative thing I have ever done. I hate it when people put inspirational quotes on Instagram and this sounds just like one of those, but yes, you should definitely do the things that scare you.
I started out planning to write some tips for young women entering the music industry, but really these four points apply to all young women, regardless of career path. At the Women of the World festival on Tuesday Jude Kelly spoke about how women are entitled to dream as big as they want to. If the girls I mentored that morning are anything to go by, the next generation are going to blow us away.
Mentors and schoolgirls on the London Eye during the Southbank Centre's Women of the World festival