To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’ve decided to shine a weekly spotlight throughout March onto inspirational women who are helping change the world by challenging the patriarchy and eradicating gender bias.
We wanted to kick off this spotlight series on International Women’s Day with an interview with Athina Summerbell from Chwarae Teg, a wonderful charity who we’ve partnered up with for our International Women’s Day coffee morning.
Athina is one of Chwarae Teg’s Engagement Partners; given her warmth, intelligence and passion about her work, it was a no-brainer to ask her to come in and sit down for a chat with us.
Can you give me a bit of background on what Chwarae Teg does?So, Chwarae Teg does a couple of different things. Our main three goals for our mission are: Women in the Economy, so, a fairer wales where women achieve and prosper across all sectors and at all levels of the economy; Women Represented, a fairer wales where women are visible and influential across all sectors of the economy, society and in public life; and the last one is Women at Risk, a fairer wales where women are empowered to achieve their potential regardless of their background, social status or geographic location.
What’s your role in the charity?I’m an Engagement Partner, which means I’m a little bit like the handshake of the organisation. A lot of the time my team and I will be the first people you talk to when entering Chwarae Teg. We’re relationship builders and we help guide people through the organisation to get the right support and be with the right people.
For me, it was a very natural progression. I’ve been very fortunate that my previous roles have always had a community-focussed aspect, which sparked my joy and made me consider moving more into the third sector full time.
What made you personally get into your role, or what attracted you to Chwarae Teg?
I think it’s an amalgamation of both of those things; for me, it’s definitely been seeing firsthand the difference Chwarae Teg makes to the life of women. Seeing them flourish, seeing their journeys and seeing their efforts and strengths come to fruition, and that they’re achieving their goals as well.
What’s been your greatest achievement in your time working with Chwarae Teg, or Chwarae Teg’s greatest achievement?
100%. And we get to see them at different stages, as well. So we’re the first point of call when they come, but also we get to see the end results and we also get to see where they go from there, and that’s been one of the best things for me. I’m part of that front line, so I get to see it every day.
So you’re able to see those individual success stories?
It’s definitely not just fixing the symptoms but also thinking, how did they get there in the first place? So Chwarae Teg does a lot of work around policy and research, and we work directly with Welsh Government. We produce a report yearly called State of the Nation, so it’s identifying what those barriers are and what can we do to eliminate them so they’re not put in those dire strait positions to start off with.
That’s wonderful. Such a big part of empowering women is not only seeing the problem and fixing it, but also seeing the potential and nurturing that.
It would have to be going bigger and better. It’s been a hard time for charities across Wales. Brexit has played such a detrimental part in why a lot of charities are struggling, especially with the fundraising aspects of it.
What are some of your goals or aspirations for Chwarae Teg?
So it would be, for me, that more people recognise the vital work Chwarae Teg does in fighting inequality, and therefore choose to support us and invest in that to be part of the solution. Because, ultimately, our goal is to not need to exist anymore. That’s the ultimate goal. We’re celebrating 30 years of Chwarae Teg being around, and we don’t want to be here in 30 years’ time. We don’t want gender equality to be something that we have to continue to fight for. It’ll be 100 years since women got the vote in 1928 in a few years’ time. 100 years and we’re still saying the same things, asking for the same rights.
A conversation I have a lot is with people who say we don’t need feminism anymore, or that we need to focus on equality rather than feminism. I always say it’s a matter of having to lift someone up so you’re at an equal footing.
I think a lot of it has to do with publicity, as well. For example, people don’t want to talk about the gender pay gap, and some of the time it’s because they feel like they can’t do anything to change it; they feel that they’re not in a position of power to be able to make those changes.
Exactly. Equity not equality. I really like that distinction. But also people are very insular about it, saying, well, women can vote and can get jobs, but they’re not thinking about microaggressions, or bigger picture issues outside of their own country or perspective.
It’s at 12.3% as of this year in Wales, and it’s risen since the pandemic, so it’s actually increased by 0.5%.
Or there’s always someone going “Um, actually, the gender pay gap doesn’t exist, and here’s why”. And it does. And, regardless, we need to work on the ‘why’.
Yes, and the fact that there was a disproportionate amount of extra responsibilities put onto the shoulders of women through the pandemic. Insufficient childcare is a massive one—it just wasn’t there.
Am I right in saying that women were disproportionately affected by furlough and layoffs?
For me, it’s working with people and seeing change. I know I mentioned before that it’s really exciting being on the front lines, but you get to see the progress we’re making in gender equality and the vital role we’re playing in that bigger picture of creating a Wales which is fairer for everybody, where everybody can achieve and prosper. For me that’s the best part about my job. Being there, seeing it happen and playing a part in it. I may only have a very small role in it, but I’m still there.
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
Who are three women who inspire you?
So I have a little bit of a cop out answer for this, because it’s literally impossible to choose three. I’ve been very very fortunate that my entire life has been filled with phenomenal women at every stage, from the standout teachers in my primary school, like a lady called Mrs Davies who sparked my love of reading. She used to read Harry Potter to us, and she inspired me to want to learn more and explore the world of literature and take it further.
Another one was seeing my mum working full time; both my parents worked full time, but my mum started a career in a very male-dominated industry, and she had to fight tooth and nail to get to where she was. She was doing all of this while being able to juggle being a fantastic parent.
Like I say, I’ve been in the very fortunate position that every job that I’ve had, I’ve been surrounded by amazing female role models. People who show crazy resilience in the face of adversity—being able to push through those barriers, being able to see them smash through that glass ceiling and be the standout person in their areas.
And down to things like, I’ve been part of the girl guides since I was seven. Now I help run a girl guide unit, and the women that run those units are phenomenal human beings and they give their time for free to create environments where young girls can thrive, come into their own, have new experiences, make friends and all of those things that are so important, especially for young girls.
So yes, it would be impossible to choose just three, but I’ve been very fortunate with the people I’ve been given. And my friends as well—I’ve had the most amazing friends and family and they do inspire me every single day to do better and be better.
I think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day for a number of reasons. There is still so much work left to do, but also there has not been that opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements in the way they should have in history. It’s important to be able to use this day to magnify the voices of women across the world, challenge biases, raise awareness and smash stereotypes.
Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
For me, breaking the bias is about, similar to the last question, challenging stereotypes, smashing through that glass ceiling, but also being proactive, launching initiatives, shouting from the rooftops about your commitment to gender equality and being able to say we want to live in a world where people are treated fairly regardless of any of their protected characteristics.
What does the theme of International Women’s Day 2022, #BreakTheBias, mean to you?
This was a really hard question to answer. It makes you dig down a little deeper. The best piece of advice I would give is, “You are enough”.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?
Your worth doesn’t lie in anybody else’s opinion and you hold worth just as you are. I think I spent a lot of my younger years always using the lines, “I wish I was like so and so, I wish I was more XYZ”. Whether that is academic achievements, like, “I wish I was smarter and could do this”, which drew away from the things that I was actually really good at, or, “I wish I looked a certain way” because this is what society has told me I need to look like. Self worth doesn’t come from others, it comes from yourself.
I still struggle with it today and I think that’s something I will always have in the back of my mind. But I feel much more comfortable now in myself than I ever did growing up. I think that’s a learning journey a lot of people go through. I wish I had not cared so much about external influences, and just known that I was enough.
This is a difficult question to answer because I have experience working in the coffee industry and I count myself as very lucky that I had the experiences that I did.
What do you want to see more of in the coffee industry?
For me, I’d love to see more coffee companies, especially in the UK, shining a spotlight on the inclusivity of the coffee industry. Because a lot of places don’t recognise how amazing they are, so they need to shout about it.
I think the second thing would be being quite public about your long-term commitments not just to the communities in which you operate, but also to your front line workers—what are your commitments in terms of creating an inclusive, diverse workforce that’s representative of the communities that you operate in? It’s important to create initiatives that draw in more diverse workforces.
I always use the phrase “It’s really hard to be what you can’t see”. So it’s about creating those opportunities, like you’re doing with your spotlight month of shining a light on these amazing women, that could mean a young girl who is currently doing her A Levels reads one of these blog posts and goes; I love coffee, I love the science behind it, and now I’m going to amalgamate my two passions of coffee/hospitality and STEM. Being able to spark that interest and go, well, actually, there is someone who is like me already doing it, whereas I thought maybe I couldn’t in the first place.
I’ve always felt that, from my experience, the coffee industry loved challenging bias and breaking boundaries, and that it’s a place where anyone can achieve as long as they’re given the opportunity. And I’d love to see more of it in the media because I think it happens, but people may not necessarily hear about it, or if it’s happening, is it on a small scale? I’d love to see it brought into the limelight a little bit more.
It brings me back to ‘It’s hard to be what you can’t see’—just being able to make space for those stories to be told, because they’re there, they just need a space to be seen. And again, we’re very fortunate especially with Coaltown; you’ve got a female roaster, female baristas, a female CEO…
It’s over half of us, actually. There are more women working here now.
Which is amazing, and you’re representative of your community.
Thanks so much to Athina for coming in and shedding a light on the important work she does with Chwarae Teg. If you’d like to find out more about them, head over to their website. If you enjoyed this article, then why not check out our International Women’s Day fundraiser for Chwarae Teg on our JustGiving page?