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Inspiring Women Series: Scarlett McCabe

In celebration of International Women's Day, we've been spotlighting some inspiring Debate Mate women across the month of March. We simply couldn't conclude this series without celebrating our very own CEO and Founder, Scarlett McCabe...

1) Briefly introduce yourself, your career background and what led you to follow in your Mum's footsteps at Debate Mate!

I'm Scarlett, the CEO and co-founder of Debate Mate Limited!

My mum Margaret founded the charity, Debate Mate Schools, back in 2007 so I have been a part of Debate Mate since the very beginning! While at university, I was heavily involved in the charity and had lots of amazing opportunities to mentor all over the world. Having graduated, I was offered a training contract with the law firm Slaughter & May which I consequently accepted and started. However, an incredible opportunity to set up and run the Debate Mate programme in Jamaica arose and led me to defer my place at the law firm by 6 months. 4 deferrals later, I finally decided against pursuing my legal career to lead Debate Mate's newly formed corporate training programme, which has since become the business Debate Mate Limited!

I simply couldn't turn down the chance to follow in my Mum's footsteps at Debate Mate. Not only was it a great business opportunity, it was a chance to be part of a mission from the beginning - a mission I massively believe in and hugely invest in to this day.

2) Your Mum is undoubtedly a formidable business woman and an incredible female role model. In what ways has she inspired you in your career?

Above all, my mum taught me that nothing is impossible and you can do anything that you set your mind to! She showed me first hand that confidence and advocating for yourself are the most important skills. You should always call things out when you see it, you should always be your own cheerleader and you should always bring other people with you. 

As a single mum, she was undoubtedly the biggest influence I had in my life. Because of her, it never even occurred to me that being a woman could hold me back in my career. It was only when we ran Women's Leadership programmes with Debate Mate that I fully appreciated the challenges women face in the workplace.

Ultimately, she instilled in me a complete belief that nothing would ever stop me. That still carries me to this day.

3) From your experience, what do you feel is the most pressing issue facing women in the workplace today?

Whilst I'm always hesitant to gender workplace issues, it's undeniable that many of these problems typically affect women much more than they affect men. This is particularly prevalent in terms of career progression - in general, men are much more comfortable advocating for themselves than women are. 

However, I think the major issue affecting women in the workplace today is parental leave. Whilst this affects both mothers and fathers, for a number of reasons, having a child usually impacts the careers of women far more than it does their male counterparts. The fact that women typically take more time off to look after their babies in this country coupled with the eye-watering cost of full time childcare means that inevitably, women are the ones that end up taking a step back in their careers. The government has gone some way in their most recent budget to address this but there's a lot more that still needs to be done, particularly more flexible, affordable childcare. I think that's the key to helping women get back into the workplace and progressing their careers after having children.

4) At Debate Mate, our clubs aim to empower girls to think critically, speak their ideas with confidence and take up space in the same way as their male counterparts. Why do you think this is so important in our 21st Century world?

The future skills we teach are hugely important for everyone in the face of increased automation. These skills will be the differentiator between those who succeed and those who don't - the differentiator between us and robots. This means that they're especially important skills for young women, who traditionally aren't encouraged to speak up and advocate for themselves.

5) What is the most important piece of advice you want to give to young women thinking about their careers?

Be your own cheerleader and always be the one to speak up for yourself - if you're not willing to do it, no one else will! I would also encourage young women to support one another - there is a huge amount of power in collective support. Personally, I get a lot of support from my wider female community - our team, my mum, but also lots of different networks I'm part of. It's so empowering having lots of amazing women around you pushing you forward. With their support, the sky's the limit!