“Truly transformational” – Mary Ann’s journey through the WEN Mentoring scheme

Wednesday January 20th, 2021

by Mary Ann Brocklesby

“It’s about time, Mary Ann, you stopped ranting about injustice and put yourself out there to make a real difference.  You know you can do it”.

This chance remark in the women’s changing rooms after a morning swim triggered a series of events which changed my life. The thing is, I didn’t know I could do it and I had no idea where to start. The idea seemed farcical.  My work schedule was hectic. Most of my time was spent outside of the UK. I wasn’t that active politically and had few networks in Wales. I knew more about Parliament in Pakistan than I did about the Welsh Senedd.  And after years in International Development I was burnt out, uncertain about what direction I wanted to take next, and totally lacking in confidence to step out into a public role.

A few weeks later, egged on by one of my swimming sisters who force-fed me coffee and biscuits while pushing me to apply to the Women’s Equality Network Wales mentoring scheme, I filled in the application form. Getting accepted back in March last year was astonishing and absolutely transformational. In a year of uncertainty, anxiety and oftentimes anger, the WEN scheme was one constant beacon of hope, support and possibility.

Being in lockdown, meeting through Zoom, strangely helped. The scheme connected me to an incredible group of  impressive, diverse and powerful women from across Wales.  I wasn’t travelling, life had slowed down. I had the time to properly listen, learn from the lived experiences and soak up the new information, ideas and skills. The influence of WEN mentees and mentors has been hugely positive.

Covid-19 unleashed a terrible anger in me that has been simmering for years. Its impact threw into stark relief what was already obvious: the structural inequalities, deep divisions and injustices in Wales and the UK . My work as a community facilitator and policy analyst for human rights, gender, and income equality internationally has enabled me to build  skills in developing  diverse and inclusive coalitions for tackling inequality. How to make that experience relevant to public life in Wales was the challenge. More than anything WEN created a safe, respectful space to work through the intersectional and gendered impacts of Covid-19 and climate change, racism in public life, white privilege and the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. I have been given the tools and networks to harness my anger, reconfigure and take action . My sister mentees and mentor challenged me without judgement and provoked me to reflect on important, challenging questions about my values, priorities and political convictions.

Nine months after the first mentees’ meeting, I had been selected as one of the Labour Party candidates on the South East regional list for the Senedd elections. This year, I was co-opted on to the Town Council where I live and appointed as a local authority school governor. None of which could happened without WEN and the mentoring scheme. I have been empowered with a strong understanding of how local and national politics works, the self-confidence, and all the support I needed to define my political goals and put myself forward. Most importantly, was the knowledge that I had the formidable women of the WEN network at my back spurring me on to make my voice count.

Ultimately, WEN’s mentoring scheme demystified politics for me. Being effective is being authentic, connected, and willing to work across political divides in networks and coalitions to get things done. Not so different from my day job, yet miles apart. I have been more politically active in the last 10 months than I have been in the last 10 years. I am not going to stop. I am finding my political voice. What has been truly transformational, has been being held and lifted up by the collective power of determined women. Progress follows fast when we collaborate. Without that, I could not have stepped into this new world with understanding and conviction that championing diversity and more women into leadership is WEN’s legacy and my responsibility. My voice will count when tackling inequality is at the centre of all I do.