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Meet... Penny Gane

Chair, Bristol Women’s Voice and Bristol Women’s Commission.

The road that led me to speak to Penny was a serendipitous one and she was unwittingly instrumental in my plan for these walks.

I was listening to Woman’s Hour one day in February and heard an interview with Penny about the Centenary Cities programme and the plans for Bristol. I thought it sounded brilliant and looked up which cities were involved. This resulted in the idea to structure my Walk in her Shoes activity around visiting a few of them. I then found myself sitting next to Hajira from the Government Equality Office at a Tatty Devine suffragette jewellery-making workshop. I explained I was off to Bristol the following week and she said ‘you’ll need to speak to Penny Gane’ and very kindly put me in touch. 

So, I was extremely happy to have a chat with Penny about the activities she had described and the work of Bristol Women’s Voice. I’ve been singing ‘Penny Gane’ to the tune of ‘Penny Lane’ ever since though. That probably happens to everyone.

Penny’s work in local government, board work with the NHS, with the Bristol Women’s Commission and Bristol Women’s Voice, championing women’s equality and inclusion, earned her an honorary Doctorate from UWE Bristol.

Q: Bristol Women’s Voice are running so many brilliant activities around the centenary – what do you hope they will achieve?

Well, they are all outcome-related and there are three categories. You might look at them and think they’re just celebrations but they’re not. All our activities fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Celebrating women’s role in achieving change
  • Making change happen: voting, campaigning, getting involved
  • Building the future

So our whole programme is very forward-looking and we’ve got quite a lot of emphasis on young women going forward and we’re working with a lot of young women. So if you look for example at the girls’ conferences that our head teachers are putting together, that’s very much about how you can change things in your school, how you can change things in your own life and we’ve done a model conference already that eight schools took part in and the feedback from that conference just blows your mind really. It’s extraordinary, really moving, how much difference that made to them and girls meeting girls from other communities that they wouldn’t normally meet, it was very powerful. Plus they heard from strong female role models doing all sorts of different jobs so that was about challenging stereotypes and thinking of different ways to go forward for themselves.

There are other projects like the UpFest one, the street art one, that’s about challenging stereotypes. They’ve now booked the artists and 29% of them are women which is a huge improvement on what it’s been in the past because it’s hugely male-dominated. it’s just about giving women choices basically.

Q: So it’s about nurturing talent and saying to girls and women well if you want to be a street artist then you…

You can! You can do that. And the same is true of the Landmark games where you go round with your phone and you have a QR code and you get through to a website where you play the games. The games are going to be designed by schoolgirls, 13-18. And there’s a bit of Suffragette information on each of these things so – we’re not letting them off that entirely but then this will primarily be for girls and young women. And at the end of it there’s a competitive element where the winners will get mentoring from the industry, the tech industry and this about supporting young women into those kind of technical industries where again they are very under-represented.

Q: Yes the tech industry is absolutely terrible for that and it’s surprising because when you look at the history, women have done a lot of computing – there was Dame Stephanie Shirley. Who had to call herself Steve in the 1960's to get work .. and she had all these women writing code from home … and coding the black box – and it’s incredible that there’s been such a decline even when coding is so much easier to do and it’s strange to me that it’s happened. And the gaming industry is particularly bad.

But that’s to do with perceptions. It’s perceptions of what’s a male area to study and female area to study and that’s why we’re doing the future Brunels project which will be hands on engineering. The Society of Women Engineers will be involved with it and both of our Universities with the S.S. Great Britain people so that will be the most fantastic day for schoolgirls. It’s sort of teamed up with the Sarah Guppy play that Show of Strength will be putting on because Sarah Guppy was an engineer and inventor and she did all this work around  suspension bridges etc.

Q: Did she bring Brunel to Bristol? I think I read that…

I also read that. There’s been a lot of work done recently, we did think at one point she actually designed the Clifton suspension bridge but apparently she didn’t but she could have done. She didn’t feel that women should be famous for their inventions so she kept herself rather in the background, sadly. But we’ve brought her out!

Q: So my final question – the next centenary is 2028, when all women got the vote. What would you hope to see happen before that ten years has elapsed, from this centenary to the next one?

I think that’s really hard but if nothing else we would want at least equal representation in Parliament wouldn’t we? So that was the normal thing and all councils had 50:50 representation on them. The gender pay gap; that has to be tackled now! What we would also hope for from this year going forwards, it’s been an extraordinary year with the whole #metoo movement about  sexual harassment and in Bristol we have a zero tolerance campaign which BWV runs to eliminate gender based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation. The hope would be that in ten year’s time we’re not having these conversations. That it’s dealt with and the culture has changed.


Find out more

Bristol Women's Voice - website

Bristol Women's Voice - Twitter

Bristol Women's Voice - Facebook

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