I challenge the stereotype of the WI

PR Wizard, mother, committee member, mentor… Claire Quansah is all this and more, as she explains to Lucy Collins from WI Life Magazine, December 2019.

I learnt the art of managing perceptions while taking part in debates at university. I liked the idea of changing people’s opinions. I found it interesting knowing how to delve into the less obvious side of the debate and find out how you construct an argument and persuade others.

I’m an operations director at a global PR agency. I lead on campaigns strategy and client relationships, and look at how we can improve our processes, from supplier relationships, talent development and management, to making sure that new starters feeel welcome and championing our diveristy agenda.

No two days are ever the same. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s actually true. I started my career on a graduate scheme at a big PR agency 14 years agao and then became an account director. My work was interesting and could vary from raising awareness of financial mis-selling to launching vegan products for high street brands.

You need to be adept at changing focus and to do well you have to be prepared to get under the skin of an industry and not be afraid to ask questions. People think PR is about spin and lies but I’m straight talking in a nice way. I’m honest with myself if something hasn’t gone well and I’ll look at what went wrong.

PR is misunderstood. People understand an advert, it’s explicit, but they don’t realise if it is PR-driven. Clients want to manage their reputation, sell more products and want people to understand their brand. The work is strategic: we have to do research and look at data and come up with creative ideas to develop PR campaigns and content that can help build and manage reputation. You can face a lot of pressure in meeting deadlines but I like that for the buzz. We have great parties and we love to socialise but we do work very hard.

I’m a mentor to young black and ethnic minority women in PR. I act as a sounding board. When you’re starting out, it can be hard to find people to trust and be honest with: sometimes you need to say “This is a challenge and I don’t know what to do”. Early on in your career you can be worried about how people jusge you, too. One of the women I mentor has become a councillor because there weren’t many people who looked like me doing that job. I think she should be mentoring me.

It’s important to show my two sons that women are both strong and capable. I want them to recognise the importance of being an ally. I’d like them to know it’s good to be proud of who you are and where you are from, even if you stand out. There’s nothing wrong with being different.

My first thought about the WI was “It’s not for me”. Had I not known the women who were setting up bee Moor WI, it wouldn’t have appealed to me because I viewed the organisation as old-fashioned – this was until someone explained the WI’s aims in empowering and educating women. I was one of the founding members of Bee Moor in 2017.

I challenge the stereotypes of the WI because I’m black and under 40. With that I can bring my own experiences and opinions that people might not be aware of. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, although I like to think that I’m good at seeing things from other people’s point of view. It’s eben great for developing friendships and I’d love to see more black and Asian women joining because there is the opportunity to make it what you want.

The WI has a voice and it is not afraid of doing things differently. It needs to show it’s aware of, and in tune with, the way the world is and what women want. With my PR head on I’d suggest that the WI should think about how it can listen to the voice of diverse groups of women and show diversity in the leadership team. Probably some people still see it as fairly dated and stuffy, and within our WI we’re trying to change that.

I’d like to see Bee Moor WI grow but maintain its diverse community feeling. We’ve got mums, pensioners and younger women, and what we have in common is that we’re all fun loving and like a laugh. I’m a meeter and greeter, a smiley face on the door to welcome newcomers, and I chair one of our many sub-groups -planning afternoon tea and cocktails at different venues around Manchester. Our groups range from crochet to walking, wine, cinema and book clubs. Bee Moor is a great example of what the WI is about. Women building friendships, supporting each other and learning new things.

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