Equal Power Equal Voice: My Highlights

Tuesday August 30th, 2022

by Sarah Hexter, Mentee on Equal Power Equal Voice 2021-22

‘It has taught me that no matter where you are in life you shouldn’t doubt yourself or your ability to achieve something that you’re passionate about.’

Within my initial application to the Equal Power, Equal Voice programme I set out that I wanted to build on the skills and experience I had gained as an Employment Lawyer in private legal practice to support me in finding a new role where I could go beyond applying the law and assisting clients on an individual basis in order to have a more widespread impact on society. I also said that I wanted to develop a better understanding of politics and public policy, having not previously studied either.

I remember the moment when I was first told that my mentor was Catherine Fookes – I was over the moon. As someone who has a real passion for women’s rights, having the Director of the Women’s Equality Network as my mentor was extremely exciting.

Through Catherine’s support and commitment at our regular mentor meetings, plus a mock interview or two, I was successful in securing my dream legal job. That was not, however, before a horrific interview where I had to do a presentation and endured the most intense panel interview which lasted two hours (although it felt like ten!). I then learned that I hadn’t quite understood the Civil Service job grading structure and had actually applied for a Head of Department role without having any managerial experience. I decided to look back on it as a positive learning experience and, with a number of other interviews lined up, felt confident that they couldn’t possibly go as bad as the first one.

I attended a handful of interviews after that which eventually led me to secure a position within the Enforcement team of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I had been actively looking for roles at the Commission since I had left University and had applied for several different roles during that time without success. I have been working at the Commission now for the past three months and have loved every minute of it. I am proud to say that I have achieved my main goal of leaving private legal practice and having a wider impact with my work. I am now taking legal enforcement action against organisations which breach equality legislation using the Commission’s unique statutory powers. I am also finding the culture within the Civil Service such a welcome change from private practice (hello flexitime!). With Catherine’s support and encouragement, I have arranged meetings with Senior Leaders at the Commission in order to build my network. This is something that I would not have previously felt comfortable doing.

I have thoroughly enjoyed dipping my toes into the world of politics – this is an area I had very little prior understanding of but thankfully now I do have a better idea of what is going on in the political sphere. I almost talked myself out of attending the Westminster trip, not only because of the 4am wake up call, but also because the idea of networking with MPs absolutely terrified me.

Despite that, I went and thoroughly enjoyed all parts of the day. One of the things that stood out for me was when Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, said “I shouldn’t be here” (referring to her being a Member of Parliament). Hearing what Carolyn had to say taught me that no matter where you are in life you shouldn’t doubt yourself or your ability to achieve something that you’re passionate about. On the Senedd trip I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to network with my fellow mentees and find out about some of the inspiring projects that they had been working on with the support of the programme.

Another aspect of the programme that I found really rewarding was attending the workshops and training sessions. My favourite was the Boards and Trustees event which has helped me understand the massive impact that you can have in the direction of a charity through becoming a trustee. I am now actively looking for a suitable trustee role.

I have also recently been in touch with the Fawcett Society, a UK charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, and am hoping to be involved in the set-up of a Cardiff group over the coming months – something that I’m really excited about.

I cannot express how thankful I am to WEN Wales, my mentor Catherine, the sponsors and organisers of the EPEV programme, and the other mentees on the scheme who have made my experience on the programme truly memorable. Thanks to the support I have received and the vast experience gained, I am confident that this is only the beginning of my venture into public life!