The Circle is a London based charity that works with women who want to develop their careers. They give clothing to women who cannot afford an outfit they need for a job interview, internship, placement or the first few weeks of work. They also run skills development workshops with experts on public speaking, influence, personal branding, networking, communication, etc. So I sat down with founders – mother and daughter – Mina and Maryam to find out more.
Danielle: How do you describe The Circle and the work that you do?
Maryam: Sometimes you see people and you feel – oh they’re so lucky – they get the chance to do great things or things seem to work out – they’re at the right place at the right time. But they’re not lucky, they’ve spent a lot of time preparing to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they come across them. You know – having the right skills, having confidence in yourself, being prepared to take advantage of that moment, being known by the right people, being in the right place at the right time – all of that comes together and looks like luck. Basically, The Circle helps women create their own luck.
Mina: For me, The Circle is where you can come and get inspired to do what you’ve always wanted. We help you achieve what you want without pushing you around or judging you.
The main thing is that women should believe in themselves. What the women we work with want to do is – they’re already motivated to change their lives, but they’re lacking a certain something: practical stuff like the right clothes, more confidence, certain skills, contacts – there’s something that’s missing. We aim to fill that gap.
Maryam: We developed our tag line “confidence, skills, access” after talking to a lot of women to find out what was missing and everything we do is really built around these three things.
Danielle: So why did you two decide to create The Circle – it’s not often that you find mother and daughter working together like this?
Mina: True! Well, we wanted to do something together, something we believed in and we knew no one else was doing it in this way.
Maryam: There are lots of things going on in London that are fantastic – training, support – but it always felt like it wasn’t really inclusive, didn’t reach certain groups we know need and want this.
My mum has lived and worked in six countries and I’ve lived and worked in a few, and the common thing is that women are always the ones who create change – in their families, communities, companies; investing in women and helping them succeed adds to a more equal and fairer society.
Mina: We believe that women are change agents. I have seen this all around the world, even though women are often the most disadvantaged group.
Maryam: London is a great place to be, there is a lot here, people from all over the world – diversity – but there’s lots of need too. And lots of resources – companies, individuals and businesses who are willing to support what we’re doing.
Danielle: There are other services out there aimed at women looking for work; what is different about The Circle?
Mina: Some services out there are too bureaucratic or make you jump through hoops We wanted to design something that didn’t do that – that would be an empowering experience.
Maryam: There are certain things that aren’t really done – and we’re working out how to do it. For example, we want to develop a service aimed at trans* women who are looking to develop their careers and doing this in collaboration with other organisations in that community.
Mina: We wanted to create a space that is high quality and is a welcoming environment. Often that’s a trade-off but it doesn’t have to be. For example, training is often a very formal environment which some people feel they can’t just walk into.
Danielle: How can people support what you’re doing?
Maryam: They can get involved on all levels – clothes, time, expertise, contacts or equally a cash donation.
Work-appropriate clothing – particularly stuff over size 16 is what we’re always lacking. The full range of work clothes – casual, fun, to more traditional business attire.
Mina: You can use your own contacts to promote what we do. If you’re a trainer or a coach you can donate your expertise. If you work with a business see if they can give space or funding. Or if you have time to give we need volunteers to run clothing drives or help with marketing, outreach, evaluation etc.
It would be great to get more women involved in what we’re doing – e.g. trainers and coaches and outreach – but lots of men help us too.
Danielle: What are some of the successes you’ve had?
Mina: I remember the first woman we gave clothes to – she was an ex-offender and had an internship in a large company but needed some clothes and hadn’t been able to find support anywhere else. She wanted to go somewhere that was friendly and safe. She went on to successfully complete the internship and then got in touch because she wanted to give back by organising a clothing drive at her office. It felt like we were doing something right.
Maryam: We get a lot of feedback from women who attended our skills development workshops that are the best they’ve attended – that they’re treated as capable people. We don’t make the assumption that you’re not capable or in some way lacking because you’re going through a difficult period or a transition in your life.
Mina: We also realise that we are just a step along the way – that a woman doesn’t transform her life by just coming to one of our sessions or picking up an item of clothing. But we think we can help. We’ve worked with women who have moved here from another country and are trying to get back into their career, students who were feeling really discouraged with the fact that there seems to be no opportunities for them, women who have been made redundant and have to start over 20 years later, women who have been in the home their whole lives and now need to work – they need a place to start. We get lots of these women saying that our workshops very useful but also they feel comfortable and safe coming to our sessions – it is really lovely!