Thursday 20 February, 2020
women in public affairs

Jodie Hedley, Senior Public Affairs Manager at WS Edinburgh reflects on WiPA Scotland’s second event – In Conversations with Kezia Dugdale, sponsored by Weber Shandwick. 

We’ve opened up all the meeting rooms at Weber Shandwick’s Edinburgh office and the space is packed. There’s a brilliant buzz about the place and I don’t know about the other WiPA members who I’ve been working with to setup our Scotland branch but it’s safe to say I’m feeling a mix of nerves and excitement as we get ready to start.

How incredible it is to see so many women from all parts of our industry together, getting the chance to know one another before the main event begins.

As we move from networking into the event space, I can’t quite believe the room has filled to pretty much standing room only, particularly remarkable given the terrible weather tonight. As in most industries, women are under-represented as senior leaders within the world of public affairs and having seen the great work WiPA has done south of the border, we wanted to create a group in Scotland where women can network, build friendships and provide support, advice and training for all levels in our industry.

Our event begins with Kezia Dugdale, Director of the John Smith Centre for Politics & Public Service, discussing her recent work to make “a positive case for politics”. The John Smith Centre’s recent research has explored trust in public servants and found that public distrust of politicians is not only nothing new but is a view shared regardless of income, education, class or what side of the Brexit argument you’re on.

However, one emerging trend is an increasing involvement in “direct action politics” from young people, such as Extinction Rebellion, where there is a growing sentiment that politicians and our political institutions can’t be trusted to address key policy issues. Kezia questioned what this would mean for the future of politics and stressed the importance of defending representative politics.

The discussion then moved on to reflections of why women and other groups are underrepresented in politics and how we can ensure women want to enter and stay in politics in the future. Kezia stated she “still believes in the power of politics” and emphasised the importance of supporting women in politics and “defending the power of the sisterhood” regardless of political party alliances or opposing views.

As we moved on to the main Q&A part of the event, there were so many questions from the audience including on Kezia’s experience as an MSP, the Labour leadership election, UK female political party leaders, treatment of female politicians online and in the media, the future of democracy and how to deal with environments where women are underrepresented. I’m sure the questions could have gone on all night and as we brought the Q&A to a close, everyone filtered back out to the networking area to continue the discussion.

When I first got in touch with an old colleague of mine on the WiPA board at the beginning of last year to see if there was an opportunity to set up a Scotland branch, I was delighted to find out that News Direct UK had the exact same ambition. WiPA’s first networking drinks event in Scotland, sponsored by News Direct UK, was a huge success and from there we’ve become a group of seven women, ranging from Scottish Government agencies (Sarah Collier at Skills Development Scotland), charities (Ellie Wagstaff at Marie Curie), political monitoring (Catriona Melville, Sara Cowie and Kimberley Somerside at News Direct UK) to Izzy Gaughan and I here at Weber Shandwick and we hope this is just the start.

It’s now well after our suggested close (always a sign of a great event!) and as we say goodbye to our final guests and clear away the glasses, the seven of us take a moment to toast to a great night and about how excited we are for the future of WiPA in Scotland.

WiPA Scotland are currently looking for new supporters and sponsors willing to host events. If you have any ideas for events, have a great speaker in mind or a convenient venue space, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch.

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