What a difference an hour makes!

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Writes Ruth Shaw, Chief Executive, Sports Grounds Safety Authority and Board Member, Women in Football.

The New Year is a great time to look to the future. This year, instead of making the usual resolutions to eat less, get fit, find love, or land that promotion, I’d encourage you to pledge an hour to Inspiring the Future and their Inspiring Women campaign. If you do, you might find that those 60 minutes could result in a change that lasts a lifetime for a girl or young woman. Inspiring the Future connects teachers with volunteers from the world of work, and invites them to commit an hour a year to talk about their jobs. The programme is a great way to expose young people to a range of careers and opportunities, and to encourage them to think big, or think differently, about their own futures.

I signed up to the programme and in December I was invited to attend a Career’s Day at a girls’ secondary school in Brent. Having attended a single sex grammar school in Lancashire in the 1990s I thought I was prepared for what lay ahead, but as I arrived at the school gates I felt myself shrinking back to the eleven year old me. Was this the right way in? Who should I ask for when I arrived? What if I needed the toilet? As I walked into the reception area the memories came flooding back of school dinners, navy gym knickers, and the chatter of the form room.

These thoughts were interrupted by the piercing trill of the school bell, and I was guided down the corridor into the main hall where a series of desks had been set up for the universities and companies who had been invited to take part. The aim of the morning was to raise students’ aspirations by enabling them to find out about the wide variety of careers available to them within the world of work. Small groups of pupils trooped around the tables to ask about the roles on offer from Deloittes to Network Rail and the NHS to independent entrepreneurs. The school had done a great job bringing in speakers from all walks of life so there was something for everyone, and a broad range of participants.

Most of the young people I spoke to didn’t yet know what they wanted to be, although I met a high number of aspiring fashion designers. Whether or not they’ll all make it to the catwalk I don’t know, although I was able to encourage them that growth in the creative industries was outperforming all other sectors of UK industry, and accounted for 1.68 million jobs in 2012.

Statistics aside, the best advice I was able to give was about the importance of doing something you enjoy. I didn’t know what I wanted to be at their age, and with a career that is likely to span another thirty years I expect I might be in for a change or two myself, but I am lucky to have a job I love, and we spoke about the importance of doing something that motivates you.

A number of students asked about how I ended up working in the world of sport, and I explained that my background was in working for central government, which had led me into roles on the Olympics and Paralympics, and more recently sports grounds safety. My role can take me to any of the 92 professional football clubs in the country, and as far afield as Brazil for the World Cup preparations. One week I could be in the Houses of Parliament advising on legislation, and another week I could be giving a presentation in Europe on the dangers of pyrotechnics at sports grounds. My job is really varied and interesting, and part of the point I made was that you didn’t have to be sporty, or ‘into sport’, to find an interesting and meaningful career in the industry.

I spoke to girls who wanted to be architects, broadcasters, medics and accountants. While sport might not have seemed an obvious choice for them, I explained that we need a future generation with the talent and skills to design sports stadia; we could benefit from more women on Match of the Day or Sky Sports; every professional sports team needs a doctor, a physio, a sports scientist, and others; and sport can be one of the most exciting and competitive businesses to manage from a financial or commercial point of view. Working in sport is not only for the ‘sporty’ and it is certainly not only for boys.

The world I work in is fairly male dominated. At a dinner I attended recently with senior figures from the world of football my place was set for ‘Mr Ruth Shaw’. I don’t take it personally! I’m often in the minority – the only woman round the meeting table for example – and while I can deal with that, it does worry me. Sport needs to attract the best of our future talent, male and female, in order to thrive. Part of the reason I wanted to speak to the girls at the Convent of Jesus and Mary language college in Brent was to encourage them that the possibilities within sport are limitless and extend across a broad range of careers. If just one of the young women I met is encouraged to think differently about working in sport as a result of that morning – if just one begins to question or challenge what other opportunities are open to her – then that was an hour well spent.

Inspiring the Future is not about channelling young people down specific routes, it’s about opening up new pathways. It’s about exposing young people to ideas and opportunities, and encouraging them to think big about their futures. It’s about giving pupils a map and encouraging them to explore. Pledge an hour and you might just change a career.

Register here to volunteer: http://www.inspiringthefuture.org/about-inspiring-women/

Inspiring Women in Sport launches next week!

On the 20th January the BT Tower in London hosts the launch event of the Inspiring Women in Sport campaign. Watch this space to hear more about how to get involved and events happening in schools and colleges near you. BT Sport is our principal partner for this event.

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