St Paul's Institute

Balance for Better

by Vanessa Sanyauke

Posted: 08 Mar 2019

Fearless Girl is currently located in Paternoster Square, behind St Paul's Cathedral, to promote women in leadership in the City. 
Photo by Graham Lacdao 

The theme for this year's International Women's Day is "Balance for Better"; a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world. This theme has made me reflect on my journey over the past 6 years in championing gender equality in the workplace, business and society through my social enterprise, Girls Talk London.

My desire to start Girls Talk London in January 2013 was sparked by the Lord Davies report produced in 2011 at a time when women made up only 12.5% of Non-Director positions on the boards of FTSE 100 businesses. I feared that if young women and girls could not see equal representation in UK boardrooms they would loose hope to aspire for greater things for their own futures - you cannot be what you cannot see.

Since then there has been an influx of organisations, such as ours, that have worked tirelessly to address this gap and many more inequalities women have been facing in the UK for far too long. Through panel events, masterclasses, bespoke training programmes, mentoring, sponsoring, coaching and funding women owned businesses, the UK has made some progress in creating a better-balanced society and workplace for women.

And while today women make up 35.4% of non-director roles on FTSE 100 boards it is still not enough. The gender pay gap is still at 17.9%. (ONS 2018) and the recent Hampton-Alexander Review showed that the six female CEOs of FTSE 100 businesses are outnumbered by the number of CEOs called Steve or Stephen!

We still have a very long way to go to achieving Balance for Better, when women make up 47% of the UK workforce and 51% of the total UK population but are still paid less then men in the workplace and are under-represented in leadership.

We need to do better across other sectors too, including politics, where the percentage of female MPs in the House of Commons is at 32%, and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) where women make up 25% of all jobs.

We also must not forget the intersectionality women of colour experience by experiencing barriers in society and the workplace based both on their gender and their racial background.

So what can be done to really achieve Balance for Better?


Since 2015, Girls Talk London and St. Paul's Institute have collaborated on an annual speed mentoring evening to celebrate the UN's International Day of the Girl. This event brings 60 girls from local secondary schools in London to the Cathedral for mentoring with women working in City businesses, STEM, finance, media and many more. The impact on attendees has been long lasting with many expressing how invaluable the knowledge and advice received from mentors has been. Teachers have said these events have raised the morale and the work ethic of the students who have attended, motivating them to pursue further education and ambitious careers with no limitations.


Alongside mentoring, it is important for Senior Executives to sponsor and endorse female talent within their workplace. The only thing that really holds women back is opportunity.


Not all role models are famous or accessible so it is important to share the stories of everyday, inspirational, female role models who are doing amazing things. One example is 'The Female Lead' a campaign set up by Data Pioneer Edwina Dunn to showcase inspirational female role models across the world via their books, events and digital campaigns, profiling women with interesting careers such as photographers, Rock Climbers, engineers and architects.

About this author

Vanessa Sanyauke is the Founder and CEO of Girls Talk London, an organisation that connects young girls and women with senior women and in various professions.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.