When I was asked at age four, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said: "Superman". I pursued this career choice with conviction. I wore the costume everywhere, to the shops, to friends' parties and under my school uniform, conflating expectations of my physical prowess and resulting in a very sore knee and a badly bruised ego.
To my mother's relief, I stopped wearing the Superman outfit aged 6. I had moved onto Batman.
Childhood addictions to fancy-dress aside, I vividly remember the moment when I was explicitly told that I had to decide "what to do". I wasn't the student who had the compulsion to become a doctor. I was yet to have that epiphany where my career, husband and two delightful children appeared in my mind's eye. I was clueless. I liked lots of things. Including superheroes.
It is September 2011. I have just started sixth form. I am less than focused and am reliving memories of my notable 'post - GCSE summer'. My Head of Sixth Form is giving a presentation on the university application process. The question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is still the same, it has merely evolved. "Where do you want to go to university?" "Which subject do you want to study?" and "Why?".
What can you do when you are 16 and STILL can't answer THAT question?
Author Zadie Smith recently featured on an episode of Desert Island Discs. When asked, "Did you always think you were going to go to Cambridge?" Smith replied "No, I didn't even know what it was originally". As a student myself, I identify with that sentiment of feeling unknowledgeable. How can a young person make a decision about their future when they are unaware of the breadth of opportunities available to them?
During my gap year I worked for IBM and was the first pupil from my school to go directly into industry post A Level. It strikes me that there is a severe lack of understanding amongst students about post A Level options other than university. Perhaps this contributes to students starting university courses they are not wholly enamoured on. Perhaps, if corporations increased their activity within schools, students would be better informed about the realities of working life. Perhaps, if properly informed about careers, students would be better equipped to make that life changing decision.
Whilst working for IBM, I devised and launched a diversity initiative called 'Dare to be Different'. 'Dare to be Different' engages with schools and dispels the myths of the workplace amongst young people from a diverse range of backgrounds whilst informing them about opportunities within the IT and business sector.
The aims of 'Dare to be Different' are as follows:
1.To inform and inspire
2. To eliminate the perception that the IT and business sectors are reserved for elite males who have an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek
IBM graduates, apprentices and placement students actively signed-up to deliver the initiative at their former schools or colleges. They returned as role models, just a few years older than the students in the school hall and without the corporate finish. They used their personal experiences of the world of work to inspire their audience.
And inspire they did.
Within the first 10 months of the launch, 'Dare to be Different' reached 185 schools. That's a lot of young people who are now aware of the opportunities open to them within business and IT. But it isn't enough; 'Dare to be Different' has just started its second wave of outreach and will continue to be part of IBM's diversity programme.
Due to the successes of 'Dare to be Different', I am honoured to have been shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards in association with Shell, Young Star Award, amongst a group of real life super women.
See the full shortlist here: http://awards.womenofthefuture.co.uk/2013-shortlist.
The Women of the Future awards is a celebration of high potential women, their achievements and future successes. As 'Dare to be Different' strives to highlight the successes of alumni, to inspire students, Women of the Future provides society with strong, successful FEMALE role models. Ones who aren't necessarily physically impinged by skin tight Lycra and are entirely fictional.
So, Helena, what do you want to be when you grow up?
I'm not sure yet. I am inspired by the careers and achievements of these formidable, female role models that the Women of the Future Awards has provided me and I no longer wear a Superman costume under my clothes. Except for birthdays and Bank Holidays.
Helena Eccles has been shortlisted for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.