Wowed by WOW: the 2017 Women of the World festival

Catriona Morrison and Verónica Méndez, both Senior Research Associates in BIO at UEA, reflect on their visit to the WOW festival in March 2017 …

The weekend after International Women’s Day, we travelled down to London’s Southbank Centre to attend the Women of the World (WOW) festival. This is our second time visiting the festival, and after last year’s triumph we didn’t want to miss out in 2017.

Established six years ago, the WOW festival is a celebration of women around the world. Last year WOW festivals were held in 40 countries, from Somaliland to Finland, giving women a platform to share and discuss the events and emerging issues of the last year.

Topics covered during this three-day festival were very diverse, ranging from intersectional feminism to funny women in comedy. This year’s theme was Power, highlighting where the majority of power lies in our society and how we can act to redress this balance. Central to this was the notion that it is not enough to simply replace high-powered men with women, but to work towards a more equal distribution of power across all sectors of society. Discussions around how this could be achieved were repeated across many of the weekend’s sessions.

Catriona said:

“The format of WOW is very refreshing, involving a simple conversation between a panel of expert women (and some men) focused around a particular issue. The conversation flows and we sit back and watch where it goes.

For me, a highlight of this year’s festival was surprisingly from businesswoman and TV personality Mary Portas. She described her career trajectory, a very high-flying and successful one, but also said that when she went to work, despite her success, it didn’t make her heart sing.

Mary, of course, is very well off and was able to address this problem by changing her business partner, moulding the new business around her and her partner’s personal needs (they both had babies at the time), and only taking on work that she was inspired by. She now measures her success and that of her employees by their level of enjoyment and their outputs, rather than the amount of time they physically spend at work.

I think I found this discussion interesting as it is very easy to just continue on a work trajectory without consciously thinking about whether you are enjoying the process, or whether the balance between work and the rest of your life is right. It’s also very likely that if women designed the workplace, it wouldn’t look like it does now, and the fact that Mary had and took the power to do something about this was very inspiring.

Another interesting discussion in this session was around the issue of likeability and how, often, we as women are taught to people-please and make ourselves likeable, often to our own detriment. From this point of view, it becomes very interesting to think about how we approach and build relationships with people in a way that is best for ourselves as well as others.”

Verónica said:

“Two of my favourite ‘wow bits’ were Sandi Toksvig’s review of the year, which opened WOW on the Friday morning, and the newspaper review. With a hint of humour, Toksvig covered many of the latest (disastrous) political events, whilst also highlighting some of the significant achievements made by women in the past year.

Saturday and Sunday morning both started with a panel discussion of the day’s newspaper headlines. It was surprising to see how male-dominated our everyday news still is, and how prejudiced the public’s reactions can be. We all laughed at the now famous BBC News interview in which the interviewee got interrupted by his kids and an Asian woman rushed into the room to hurry them away – but the fact that so viewers many assumed, wrongly, that the woman was a nanny or maid (she is actually the interviewee’s wife and the kids’ mum) illustrated beautifully many of the issues this festival was created to address.”

Podcasts and highlights of the festival are available on the Southbank Centre website. We 100% recommend the WOW festival and can’t wait for 2018!


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