Behind the scenes our Board of Trustees bring a variety of experience and insight from different sectors, to ensure everything we do is the best it can be. Ahead of International Women's Day, we're highlighting the important role of our Trustees, while asking: what does break the bias mean to them?

Meet Hannah Essex, Vice-Chair and Founding Trustee of The Girls' Network. Here, Hannah tells us about championing a new way of working to enhance flexibility, her career journey so far, and hopes for the future.

Can you tell us abour your career so far and experience in the working world as a woman?

The start of my career was a bit unusual. I got involved in my Students' Union at university and spent three years as an elected student officer; first at my local students' union and then for two years with the National Union of Students (NUS), this included one year as National Women's Officer. Since then I have held a number of policy and communications roles and I am currently Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce where I co-lead all of our advocacy, communications and membership activity.

A turning point in my career can when I had my first son in 2014. The person who covered my role while I was on maternity leave, Claire Walker, suggested we job share when I returned to work and I jumped at the chance. It felt like the only way I could balance my new family responisbility and still maintain a successful career.

We have been working in partnership for seven years now and moved into our latest role together in 2018. Since then we have made it our mission to support more people to job share and to champion all types of flexible working to give people more options for balancing all of the different priorities in their lives.

Can you tell us about your day-to-day as a Trustee at The Girls' Network?

As a Trustee, outside of the formal meetings, I make myself available to the team and share my experience and expertise where I can be helpful. In the early days of the charity I did a lot of work around developing The Girls' Network brand and over the last six months or so I have been part of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion working group, looking at how we can make our programme and our organisation more inclusive and reflective of the communities that we work with. I'm also working with the Chair to see how we can strengthen our Board and governance.

I'm a big advocate for The Girls' network and champion what we do wherever possible. That includes trying to recruit as many friends as possible to sign up as a mentor!

Who has been a mentor to you, and what was the value of that?

When I had my first Head of Comms role I had the most incredible coach and mentor called Fiona. I learnt loads from her and really felt empowered by having someone who championed and believed in me. She was particularly good at challenging my imposter syndorme and helping me believe more in myself.

What do you hope to see change for women and girls in the future?

As a life-long feminist, I want to see an end to the misogyny and discrimination that women and girls still face. Amongst other things, that means an end to the gender pay gap, more equal opportunities in the world of work, and crucially an end to violence against women. Sadly, I don't think these issues will all be overcome in my life time but we all need to keep working together to make progress.

Who is an inspiration or mentor to you now?

Part of the joy of being in a job share partnership is that I work closely with someone who both inspires and challenges me (in a good way) on a daily basis. Through our partnership, we have learnt a lot from each other, challenged and championed each other, and coached each other through tricky situations.

I'm also really inspired by the women who are the first to do something. Women like Alison Rose, the first woman to lead one of the UK's big high street banks, and Kamala Harris as the first woman to be Vice-President of the United States. It reinforces my belief that change is possible and that there will be more equal opportunities for future generations of women and girls.

Since becoming a Trustee, what has been a highlight?

I have been involved since the very early days when The Girls' Network was little more than a brilliant idea. To see what it has now become, and to know that we are making a real difference to the girls we work with, is a constant joy and I feel very priviledged to be part of it.

Ahead of International Women's Day, what does break the bias mean to you?

We all have biases. Stereotpyes about men and women are endemic and filter into everyone's subconscious. To break the bias, we need to acknowledge that the bias exists and dismantle the outdated stereotypes that drive this.

Being open and talking about bias, challenging each other and systematically removing opportunities for bias in our systems and processes, can start to create a more equal environment.

Check back soon for another Q&A with a member of our Board. To get involved in our International Women's Day campaign, find out all about it here.