In the World: The Mentor Helping Girls Reach Their Potential

Sep 21, 2017 8:35 AM ET

Rachel Scandling, Strategy and Optimisation Lead, left a career in the Royal Navy to join Barclays two years ago. She tells us about volunteering as a mentor to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds – and why she’s passionate about helping people achieve “incredible transformations”.

I joined Barclays two years ago, after a career in the Royal Navy, and I now work as a Strategy and Optimisation Lead for the bank. My role is to make all processes across the business more organised and efficient.

When working as part of the Royal Navy, I became acutely aware of the gender imbalance, at a senior level, in the armed forces. A colleague and I decided we wanted to make a difference, so we founded the Women’s Network, an organisation dedicated to both inspiring and empowering female employees within the military. We ran a lot of different workshops, which equipped women with the skills to take control of their careers.

Three hours a month isn’t much to me, but it can mean so much to someone who doesn’t have many opportunities. 

Through my voluntary work in the Navy I became acquainted with The Girls’ Network, which works with girls from the least advantaged communities, pairing them with experienced, successful businesswomen as female mentors. Although it started off as a small venture, the Network has grown substantially, now employing several full-time members of staff.

I chose to team up with The Girls’ Network as I believe that, to ensure a talented pipeline of women in the UK, we have to start influencing girls as young as five or six. We need to educate them about the variety of different careers available to them, and break down the gender stereotypes that exist in schools. One of the founders of The Girls’ Network used to be a teacher, and remembers one of the girls in her class seeing a smartly dressed woman while they were on a school trip in central London, and asking: “Why is that lady wearing a suit?”. These students had no concept of a woman working in a corporate environment. That is the sort of thing we are challenging. We want to inspire girls to reach their full potential and use our professional network to help them find opportunities.

The thing I love most about volunteering is seeing the incredible transformations of the girls throughout the project. Recently I worked with a young lady from a difficult background, who had experienced many challenges at school. Through her own hard work, she began to develop her confidence and skill set, and was invited to develop and create a video about the effects of bullying. The results were amazing: she won an award from the Lord Mayor, and was invited to Buckingham Palace for afternoon tea. To see such a positive result after all of her hard work was truly touching. Three hours a month isn’t much to me, but it can mean so much to someone who doesn’t have many opportunities.

I think volunteering has given me a greater sense of awareness, and acted as an important reminder that not everyone has had the same support system as myself. I’ve worked extremely hard in my career, but have been lucky enough to receive a lot of encouragement, both at home and at school. My work has shown me that there are a lot of young people struggling for direction, and led me to ask: ‘How can I give more to help?’

I think the most challenging aspect of the project is making connections with the girls. Some of them start off as quite untrusting, as often the majority of interactions they have had with adults are negative ones. At the project we work hard to win the trust of these girls, making connections so that we help them fulfil their potential.

Barclays has always been supportive of my volunteering, allowing me to work from home on the days I have my mentor sessions. That flexibility has allowed me to plan for my sessions and ensure that the girls have a productive hour. Barclays also helps The Girls’ Network by offering CV writing classes. We have an important citizenship agenda here and are always encouraged to try and give something back.

This year I was hugely honoured to be awarded a WeAreTheCity Rising Star 2017 award. It’s an award recognising women who have been proactive in business – growing reputations, delivering results and genuinely going the extra mile. It’s funny because, having had a career in the Navy, I actually consider myself as a bit of an oldie rather than a rising star!