In this blog, we speak with Meggan Watson, Community Engagement Lead for RISE. An organisation based around offering practical help ranging from direct advice to refuge accommodation to those in urgent need.
Meggan talks about a typical day-in-the-life and how she got to where she is now…
Can you tell us a bit about you and your career:
After hearing the statistic that 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse, I started volunteering for Women’s Aid in Belfast around 11 years ago. Shortly afterwards I moved to Oxford for university, and got in touch with the local domestic abuse service, ODAS, to see if I could continue my volunteering work with them. I volunteered with them for around 3 years on their helpline, and eventually also picked up some bank shifts supporting women in their local refuges, and offering outreach support to women in the Oxfordshire area. I then worked in refuges across East Sussex before eventually getting a caseworker role with RISE in Brighton and Hove. I worked in this role for six months before becoming a team leader. At the start of this year I decided that I would like to use my skills in a different way than offering frontline services, and successfully got a maternity cover post in our community team as the community engagement lead.
After hearing the statistic that 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse, I started volunteering for Women’s Aid in Belfast around 11 years ago.
A typical day in your career:
It’s really varied – no two days are the same! Some days I am meeting survivors of domestic abuse in their community to have a coffee with them and chat through ways they could become involved in our community work. Some days I am working with our community connectors – survivors of domestic abuse who are setting up their own community projects in their local communities. Some days I am working with our community researchers – survivors of domestic abuse who are supporting our research project by completing “walk together” research with other survivors. I also facilitate Women’s Aid Ask Me training which is free training for members of the local community on how to break the silence and reduce myths, misconceptions and victim-blaming around domestic abuse. If you want to know more about the community work we’re doing please have a look here.
What made you choose this career/industry?
The statistic 1 in 4 women really shocked me when I first heard it. At that time I was in a group of four close female friends and knew that if one of us was experiencing abuse I would want them to be able to get support – and so I decided I wanted to be part of the movement of support.
The Violence against Women and Girls is a sector I’m really passionate about – no one should experience abuse!
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I feel like I was able to get where I am today because I did so much volunteering work when I was at university – as well as volunteering for the local domestic abuse service I was also doing shifts working at a local homeless hostel, working part-time in retail and completing my degree. I really feel if I hadn’t had the time to be so flexible with doing lots of volunteering I wouldn’t have been so lucky in finding a job post-uni.
The work can be challenging. I have supported women and children in some very difficult situations and it’s difficult not to take it home with you, or to start to have a very negative world view. It’s also a sector facing lots of cuts, and often there is much more work to do than what we have the resource for.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
At the moment I am really excited about bringing the community in as much as possible to join us in the fight against domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is something that is not talked about a lot in communities and also is something that thrives in secrecy. The more open communities are to speaking to domestic abuse and tackling myths, misconceptions and victim-blaming the more we will be able to reduce it. And communities are really passionate about getting involved! The community training we offer is always full months ahead because so many people want to attend and start breaking the silence around domestic abuse. People come to the training very passionate and eager – it’s great to see! If you want to find an Ask Me to scheme local to you can have a look at the women’s aid website here.
Domestic abuse is something that is not talked about a lot in communities and also is something that thrives in secrecy.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
A strong belief that no one should experience abuse, and that everyone has the right to feel safe and happy in their relationships. Having a wonderful team and colleagues around me also has helped me push through the difficult times – I’m so lucky to work with a wonderful bunch of people who are always there to offer cups of tea, space to offload or words of kindness and motivations for when I become overwhelmed.
The more open communities are to speaking to domestic abuse and tackling myths, misconceptions and victim-blaming the more we will be able to reduce it.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
I feel really lucky that I’m able to work for feminist organisations – I definitely consider myself a feminist and am lucky to work with a bunch of people who also consider themselves feminists and are passionate about feminist issues. Not all feminists are female – but working with feminist organisations means that issues related to being a woman aren’t pushed to one side – rather they’re at the centre of the work that you do.
What is your biggest achievement in life?
That’s a hard question! I am really proud of the work that I do, and that I’ve found my way to where I am now because I feel like I am completely the right place for me career-wise for me! However, it’s really difficult to pin it to one exact achievement.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
The importance of constantly being self-reflective in the ways that you are working, and what you’re working towards. For instance, being as intersectional as I can be in the work that I am doing is really important for me, but this requires being open to constructive criticism and self-reflective around my own privileges. And that’s a constant lesson I’m always working on!
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Domestic abuse costs the UK taxpayer £66 billion pounds per year. However, in the new domestic abuse bill has been costed to cost only £4-43 million. This is a signifier of just how underfunded this sector is! There is a direct link between domestic abuse being seen as a “women’s issue” and this sector not receiving the support and funding it requires. When you’re working in a sector that is critically underfunded it means that vital work that needs to be done often cannot be done in a timely manner, or at all. It also means that often the work that you do is very prescriptive as decided by funders, rather than survivors themselves being able to lead the work that they feel needs to be done to ensure they receive appropriate support. As someone working in the sector, funding is a constant pressure, and often it means working in temporary posts and uncertainty about the future of your role.
There is a direct link between domestic abuse being seen as a “women’s issue” and this sector not receiving the support and funding it requires.
Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
Exercise is a really important part of my self-care, and currently running is my favourite way to get some cardio time in. I ran the RISE undercliff 8k in October with some of my colleagues in October and this was a great event which I felt very proud to complete.
I love reading and make sure that I wake up early enough to have time in the mornings to drink my coffee and read some of my books. It makes sure that I feel relaxed and have had some “me time” before I get to work.
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
Two mantras – you can’t pour from an empty cup. This reminds me to take care of myself first, and not to feel guilty when I need to prioritise self-care before taking on more work. And - you can only do what you can do. This reminds me to not get overwhelmed, despite working in a sector where there is more need than we have the resource to meet.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
Unfortunately, a qualification alone won’t guarantee you will get a job in a sector you’re passionate about. If you have the resources to be able to spend some hours volunteering in this sector you’re much more likely to be able to secure a paid role when they come up. Practice making your voice heard – there will be times when you’re not consulted on, or spoken over, on an issue that relates to your work. Practice how you will want to deal with this – whether it’s speaking up at the time, or bringing someone to one side and letting them know assertively and clearly that it isn’t ok. Your voice is important and you have a right to be heard! You will always be surprised at how many women in your sector or your workplace will take the time to help you out. I am eternally grateful to the women around me who have given me the time and space to offer me advice and opportunities in my career. There’s no harm in asking for help!
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
You can’t control everything. When I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed it can be very tempting for me to try and do ALL of the work, and make sure everything turns out how I think it should turn out. I work much better when I give the idea of having control up, ask for help from my colleagues and know that I can trust myself that if things don’t go how I expect them to I can deal with it.
What are your key motivators? My passion for ending the injustices around violence against women and girls, and the enthusiasm of my local community!
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
No – we’re a long way off from all genders having equality in the workplace. One thing businesses can do is ensure they have robust policies and strategies to end sexual harassment in the workplace. The local rape crisis centre Survivors Network has developed a kitemark to support local business in addressing this.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
Practising assertiveness, knowing your own limits and needs whilst allowing others to be the expert in their own limits and needs will ensure that you come across as a natural leader.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Talk to other leaders in the field you’re considering just to check in that the work they’re doing is what you’re envisioning for yourself. I have found that what I assumed leaders in my sector were doing in their day to day work was much different from what they were actually doing – and this leads me to rethink the direction I wanted to head in.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
You don’t actually need to know everything now, despite what you’re being told. Things will unfold slowly, and you’re going to end up exactly where you were meant to be. Be kind to yourself.
If you found Meggan’s story as fascinating as we did, you’ll love our other blogs. Read all about Lottie Watson, a 23-year-old Director of Construction & Real Estate Ltd.