Life & Culture

The woman who wants to change politics

Interview: Jacquelyn Guderley


Women should have the same opportunities as men. The idea is hardly radical. But, as Jacquelyn Guderley points out, there is a big difference between what "should" be a reality, and what actually is – and she plans to do something about it.

As co-founder of Stemettes, an organisation that runs events and activities encouraging girls to get involved in stem subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths - at school and university, she dedicates her time to empowering young women, disproving sexist clichés and breaking down gender barriers.

Her commitment to the cause has led to her selection as one of 11 candidates for the Women's Equality Party (WE) in next month's London Assembly elections.

Politics is not her chosen career path, but the 28-year-old says feminism is the driving force behind everything she does.

Ms Guderley explains: "It is important for a female to believe that there is nothing holding her back because of her gender."

Born and raised in Cockfosters, north London, Ms Guderley was educated at Dame Alice Owen's School and Durham University, where she studied history and Spanish. She describes herself as a "cultural Jew" with a "techy, geeky" father, who loved taking apart and then re-building computers. Technology came to be seen as "a normal part of my life", she says.

But it was not until she began a graduate scheme in the technology division of consultancy firm Accenture that she found a vocation for stem subjects. Ms Guderley realised that they could open the door to an array of creative jobs.

Simultaneously, she discovered that women working in tech were few and far between.

"Women face challenges in the workplace all the time," she says. "The way companies are run tends to be more suited to men, with a focus on self-promotion and talking about your worth.

"If you go into a meeting and are the only woman there, you feel singled out. That is why in many companies you see numbers of women start to decline as they work their way up the ladder."

Unhappy with the misconceptions she encountered, Ms Guderley joined an Accenture programme which aimed to encourage female engagement. It was then that she discovered Stemettes.

"I went to its first event and immediately knew I wanted to get involved,"she remembers. The founder, Anne-Marie Imafidon, set up the group because the number of women pursuing stem subjects was decreasing.

"People were talking about it, but no one was doing anything about it. Anne-Marie decided to get girls together."

Within a year, Ms Guderley had left Accenture to work full-time at Stemettes, becoming a co-founder.

Mostly funded by corporate sponsorship and partnerships, the group now employs six people and works worldwide to banish stereotypes about what girls can and cannot do.

Ms Guderley says: "I suppose it was then that I became an active feminist. I always knew I was a feminist - my mum taught me that I could do anything I wanted. But I realised I could actually do something to change things."

In Britain, Stemettes teaches girls from the age of five how to code computers. It also runs weekend "hackathons", where girls engage in stem activities. There are also networking events for female students to meet role models in their industries.

Providing a "gendered space" is crucial to the group's success, Ms Guderley says. "You hear cases where girls don't want to study physics because they will be the only girl in the class. Our events allow them to do what they love by taking away the pressures of a classroom, because gender becomes a non-factor."

But that is not to say that she believes in removing men from the conversation - far from it. "We find it harder to engage men than women, so we want to understand what the barriers are that stop men getting involved in feminist movements.

"Their voice is crucial. We often find men understand where we are coming from if they can relate it to the women in their lives - to their daughters, sisters and wives. Dads come to us because their daughters like physics."

Ms Guderley says "third-wave feminism" and its efforts towards gender equality, has opened a "more nuanced discussion" on the topic. It has done some good in banishing the stereotype of feminists as "bra-burning, strident and angry", moving the discussion on to practical matters such as removing pay gaps and ending violence against women.

After meeting WE through Stemettes, Ms Guderley was hooked. Although previously unaligned to a political party she liked the way WE was "completely non-partisan".

Only after applying to be a candidate did she realise "just how much I wanted it. It is about doing politics differently. By just being here, political parties have to acknowledge our issues. Even if we don't get in, we don't mind. You can steal our policies, you can emulate us, we just want to see change because is it taking too long".

She rubbishes claims that by naming it the "Women's" Equality Party, WE is drawing a division between women and men in its own campaign.

"Our outcome is a gender equal society, which is going to make society prosperous and fairer. There is nothing to be sorry or ashamed about the fact that we have called it the 'Women's' Equality Party, because it is about raising awareness of inequalities as much as anything."

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