To celebrate International Women’s Day we’ve invited Rebecca Bunger, Head of Youth Work at The Way, Wolverhampton Youth Zone to share her experience of being a woman working in the youth sector, and what she’s learnt from the Youth Zone’s female members about what it’s like to be a young woman today.
My journey in the youth sector has been quite accidental. I was asked to lead a youth group for six months whilst doing children’s work at a church, which I ended up running for four years as I enjoyed working with young people. I became passionate about the fact that in any given room, the teenager is the most important person there. I then moved to universal delivery, which I fell in love with because of the freedom it gave to support young people in the way they need it. Last year I joined The Way, Wolverhampton Youth Zone as Head of Youth Work. My path to this role was unintentional, as I originally applied for a different, less senior position. The team invited me to try for Head of Youth Work as they felt I was better suited for it. I had seen the role, but I didn’t apply for it as I felt I was under qualified. I think that may be an inherently female thing, as women we sometimes don’t always apply for jobs we don’t see ourselves as completely qualified for. The people who interviewed me saw something I didn’t see in myself, and I’m very grateful to them for that.
Leading a delivery team and working alongside youth workers who are mothers has shown me the challenges that exist for women in youth work. We work primarily in the evenings, so finding childcare can be difficult. It’s generally a barrier for women in the workforce, not just in youth work, and I don’t know how you fix that. At The Way, we have some staff who bring their young people on session because they are of sessional age, and that has never caused us a problem.
What I’m seeing from our members is it’s hard to be a young woman today. I grew up in a time without social media, in comparison to our members who experience their teenage years not only comparing themselves to the girls at school, but to 16-year-old celebrities they see on their phones daily. Comparison is the thief of joy, so it’s unsurprising that young women’s self-esteem takes a knock.
As a result, we’re seeing young people struggling with their confidence and self-esteem, which is creating a sense of hopelessness in them. One way we support our members is to regularly talk about build confidence and self-esteem from within. I find the Youth Zone’s ‘try, train, team’ model lends itself so well to supporting young people with developing their confidence. Each night, the Youth Zone offers a minimum of 20 different activities for our members to try, when they find something they enjoy they can train in that activity, and when they want to progress further they can join a team. As Head of Youth Work my hope is those values transcend every activity that we have, so quality youth work conversations happen everywhere. We are seeing this approach make a real difference and for this I have to give credit to our excellent delivery staff for their passion in engaging young people and boosting their self-belief.
To best meet our member’s needs, our staff team must be good mix of ethnicities, ages, and genders, and I’m passionate about ensuring our delivery team reflects the diversity of the young people we work with. Of course, girls can have meaningful conversations with male youth workers, and vice versa. But for our young people who want to talk about contraception or pregnancy tests, having the choice to speak to a woman is crucial.
The most significant learning point and my message to women and girls is to appreciate the knowledge and skills you know you have – don’t underestimate yourself. As women, we must be much less scared to fail because we never move forward and grow without the risk of failure. If I had been too frightened of failing a year ago when I had the opportunity to apply for my role at The Way, how different that could have been for my career.