Meet the three amazing women shortlisted in the Inspiration of the Year category for Stylist’s first Remarkable Women Awards in partnership with Philosophy, then vote for your winner.
Sonia, 42, is the founder of Inspirational YOU, a social enterprise that delivers classes, workshops and conferences to women, young people and BAME professionals
“Inspirational YOU started off the back of me doing live events at the weekend. I would look out across venues and see people having a great time but come Monday, I’d be on the train to central London with everyone looking miserable again. I wanted to find a way to help people bring the energy and joy they felt at the weekend into their everyday working lives.
We’ve done more than 100 events over the past 10 years, including a yearly conference called Women At The Top that takes place in the House of Commons and connects women in senior positions with other women who are entering competitive industries or starting their own business. Another standout event is Letter To My 15-Year-Old Self where teenage girls visit the House of Commons to meet successful female leaders. It reminds young girls that there are no barriers to their professional choices.
Inspirational YOU is for all women but 80% of the audience are black or of colour and that’s because there’s not enough visibility for women of colour (WOC) in any sector. As a result, you’ll see a lot of WOC leaving the workplace or going freelance because it gives them control of their careers and how they are treated. But it’s incredible to see people attend our events and through them secure jobs, get mentors or connect with people they would otherwise struggle to. The feedback always reminds me of why it’s so important – I have mums of teenagers emailing me to say their daughters have decided to pursue careers they had never previously considered or women telling me that attending a seminar gave them the strength to quit their job and set up their own business.
My job can be hard; a lot of what I do is self-financed and I can feel quite isolated. But I always reach out and there will be someone to say ‘keep going’ or give me advice.
I will always remember one panel we did. One of the speakers talked about her career in TV production but also her cancer diagnosis; she wanted the audience to know that your work is important but so is your health. At the end, she came and thanked me because an audience member had approached her and said: ‘Thank you for that talk, you’ve given me the will to live because I found out I was HIV positive today.’ I was in tears; you never know who needs the inspiration – or what form it will take.”
To vote for Sonia email firstname.lastname@example.org with her name in the subject line
Tobi, 23, founded Black Ticket Project (@btproject_) – a non-profit platform that provides free theatre tickets for young black people in London – in 2017. Since launching, they have given away over 1,500 tickets and partnered with venues such as the National Theatre and The Old Vic
“The idea for Black Ticket Project started when I went to see Barber Shop Chronicles by Inua Ellams [a play about the cultural tradition of black barbershops] at the National Theatre in 2017. I used to sit in barbers all the time with my dad and brothers; it was a familiar story. But I felt that the content on stage wasn’t reflected back in the audience. So I bought 30 tickets and posted a tweet asking if anyone worked with young black men who might like to see the show. Then Nine Night [a play about traditional Caribbean funeral wakes] by Natasha Gordon began a run at the National so I got in contact with them and asked if they’d like to collaborate on getting young black people to see the show. They provided 50 tickets and I crowdfunded the rest of the costs – in three days I’d raised enough for 250 people to go and see it; the project has evolved from there.
It’s been difficult trying to explain to people why this is the demographic I work with but young black people are a group that find it very hard to gain access to spaces like the theatre. There are financial barriers – theatre is expensive – but it’s also a very elitist, insular industry. When people think about theatre, they think of Shakespeare or old white men on stage. It’s evolved so much over the past few years yet the audiences have stayed the same. You’ve got all these stories that are representative of a wider demographic but that demographic can’t access the work. I want young black people to know they are allowed to be in this space; they should have access to theatre the same way they would to music or film.
I allocate tickets in several ways; I have a database of organisations that work with young black people from low-income backgrounds with little access to the arts but I also do social media call-outs or get individual messages from people. Everyone who sees a show through Black Ticket Project sees more than one; otherwise it feels like a one-off event rather than regular access. I would love to expand the project but it’s just me running it alongside my full-time job so I don’t have the time. I also don’t want it to exist forever; I want the need for it to become obsolete.”
To vote for Tobi email email@example.com with her name in the subject line
Laura, 39, is the founder and CEO of Mums in Need, which provides support for mothers who have suffered emotionally abusive relationships
“I didn’t intend Mums in Need to be a charity. But when I moved to Sheffield five years ago, I wanted to find out if any other women had been in my shoes because my abuse hadn’t been physical – it was far more subtle and I didn’t really understand what I had been through. I had hundreds of responses to my initial website from across the country and realised that I wasn’t on my own. Eventually, we were able to secure premises in Sheffield and Mums in Need became a registered charity that supports women locally.
Emotional abuse is a grey area because it’s not black and white; there’s often no physical evidence of it. When you have a child, the UK’s legal system says the child must have a relationship with both parents, so even if you leave an emotionally abusive relationship, you aren’t really free until the child is 18.
Mums in Need offers support to the women deemed lower risk – because they’re no longer in the abusive relationship or under direct threat of violence – but who are still suffering the fallout from mental abuse. We provide one-to-one support, coffee mornings, yoga and mindfulness sessions alongside access to counselling. There are also funds available to support the women through the family court process which is lengthy, draining and expensive – I’ve been going through it myself for a decade.
Right now we’re helping 33 women. We get so many referrals from other services but until we get more funding, we just can’t help more because we’re so short-staffed. But it’s the best feeling in the world seeing the difference Mums in Need makes to these women. They come to us and realise they’re not alone and they are believed. The intimidation, the bullying, the isolation – we see it and understand.”
To vote for Laura email firstname.lastname@example.org with her name in the subject line.
Find more information about the RWAs here
Moya Lothian-McLean is a freelance writer with an excessive amount of opinions. She tweets @moya_lm.