My name is Seyi Akiwowo, I'm British Nigerian, Newham Labour Councillor and one of the first Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme graduates.
Last year at Labour Party Conference the party announced we will fund The Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme which the Labour Women's Network in association with the Jo Cox Foundation launched December 2017. I was heavily encouraged to apply by my Forest Gate North ward colleague, Cllr Rachel Tripp. The Vice-Chair of West Ham CLP at the time, Cllr Julianne Marriott wrote a beautiful reference for me. It was certainly a shock and privilege to be selected out of 1,100 women that applied as one of the 57 who made up the first cohort. I'm proud to say we are truly a diverse cohort of women representing our diverse Labour party, diversity in terms of race, politics, location, age, religion, sexuality, background and previous political experience.
Both being in politics and political events over the last two year, the election of President 45, internal selections and the EU Referendum (to name of few) had a huge impact on me. I grew up strongly believing that politics, democracy are powerful tools that can change lives and the world. Those beliefs were shaken, I lost confidence in myself and in politics and I lost my political voice.
The Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme came at the perfect time for me to work through this, find new hope and clarity. The programme, the JCP fellows and the learnings have exceeded my expectations. And it's important to say there are some successes for me and the JCP fellows that are internal, that can’t me quantified or measured. Cllr Jackie Taylor from Birmingham says the programme "reaffirmed what I know about myself, my strength of character and politics and I have the assurance that I can be myself". JCP Fellow Catorina Headley, a Lawyer from Edinburgh went through a powerful self-discovery of her mixed race heritage.
During the programme I faced an onslaught of online abuse and harassment. The programme and the JCP fellows gave me the key skills and confidence to set up @Glitch!UK a campaign and training organisation to end online violence against women and online hate speech. The programme helped me be a better CLP Women’s Officer and champion local women. The programme also gave the confidence and friends to successfully stand for Fabian Women’s Network Executive Committee. I also had the opportunity to shadow Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust and found the passion and commitment to read again!
During the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme you will also gain a network of Labour Women who support you, champion you because of your competence and not because of your politics. I think this is because we found, as the late Jo Cox MP said, “we have more in common”. We all ultimately want a fair and more equal society and we support each other in fighting the injustices each of us are passionate about. I think its fair to say that our politics has become about sisterhood and increasing the quality and diversity of women in all areas of politics and leadership.
It is important to emphasise that when we call for more women in leadership we are encouraging intersectional identities and the representation of our rich diversity of women in the party, that this Black, Asian, disabled women and women of different sexual orientations and faiths. This programme was an opportunity to build allies, to read from diverse political authors, discuss and inform others about intersectionality, contribute diverse thoughts and issues that affect diverse communities in an inclusive and safe space.
And this is I’m encouraging women of colour to apply for the Jo Cox Leadership programme.
We need more diverse women in leadership positions. Culture, policies and priorities change for the better when there are more women in leadership positions. JCP Fellow Preet Gill from Birmingham was the first ever female Sikh candidate to be elected as a Member of Parliament. And it is okay if being an MP is not your leadership ambition. The self-confidence and clarity gained as well as the skills and knowledge shared on this course will help you be a leader in your respective fields. For example, JCP Fellow University Student Sabrina Jamli from High Wycombe volunteered in Burkina Faso to support local women enter politics to change their communities. Kalwinder Sandhu stood and was selected selected a councillor for Earlsdon ward. Then there's Brenda Dacres who was the first woman to stand as Mayoral candidate for Lewisham. 24 year old Ruby Lyod-Shogbesan became a Trustee of Bristol Women’s Voices.
My top tip for applying: Sell yourself, we as women have a habit of underselling our achievements and our ambitions -this is not the time to hold back. Spell out your key personal and/ or professional successes thus far and demonstrate how this leadership course will help you fulfil your ambitions.
My top tip if you are selected on the course is to emerse yourself into the whole programme. Block time out in your diary to do the assignments, to meet up with other fellows and step out of your comfort zone.
I wish you all the best with you applications!
Applications for the 2017/2018 Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme close on 26 November 2017. Download an application form here: https://labour.org.uk/members/jo-cox-women-leadership/