For Kingston mayor Julie Pickering, it has not been an easy road to the top. But the Coombe Vale resident is a strong believer that women should aim high.
In an interview in her Guildhall office, she urged women to take charge of their lives and manifest their potential. “My mantra is if you think you can, you can,” she said.
“All the powerful women you see challenge norms…Women need to know that they themselves carve the path they tread on.”
Until 2011, Pickering had never been involved in politics. Previously employed for 18 years by Marks and Spencer, her life changed after the death of her 12-year-old son in 2009.
“I was at a crossroad when my son passed away due to a neurodegenerative illness in 2009. It made me change my perspective about my priorities,” she added.
She got involved in a charity, eventually became chair and it was then that she realized she was passionate about making the community a better place.
Before Pickering was elected as a councillor there were only two other Conservative women on the council. Now there are five, who sit alongside 12 women from other parties.
The number of men however remains much higher – 31 in total, which is 65 per cent of the council.
Pickering said that while there was still a considerable gender imbalance, there was a positive trend towards gender equality and diversity with many young women getting involved.
“It’s a long way from equality, as politics still doesn’t represent the gender balance of the population.
“But I do see traction in terms of moving forward.
“In my seven years of being councillor, the awareness about gender inequality has increased,” she said.
Pickering is hopeful that after the elections this year, there will be more diversity.
Pickering said that in the wake of sexual harassment cases and gender pay gap scandals, campaigns such as Time’s Up have ignited women’s spirits and made them stronger.
“It is vital that we continue to call out inequality in order make a positive change to the way society functions in both 2018 and the future,” said the mayor.
The mayor, who was appointed for a one-year term last May, said the #metoo and feminism movement has made her look at her own journey.
She said she had never experienced sexism directly, adding that in her eyes, attitude was key.
“It’s not only about how you present yourself but also how you perceive yourself.
“I have never walked into a room with the thought of being a woman or feeling vulnerable due to my gender. In business, in my career, it was more important whether I am equipped to do that job,” said Pickering.
“The problem arises when a woman gets entangled in her complexes.”
Pickering not only lives that ideology but also has taught the same to her daughter, Anna, whom she appointed as mayoress.
It has to do with both women and men uniting to protest against exploitation and to promote change, Pickering said.
“When I speak I expect to be treated the same way as anyone else.
The more confidence and assertion a woman exudes, people around listen,” she said.
Pickering added that while there is a lot of noise around the #metoo campaign, petitions need to be translated to action.
She said: “Get the policy makers on the street so they can triangulate what needs to change! Not sit, but get out of their ivory tower.”