It’s a typical Monday morning at Workhubs Euston as we begin our challenge of interviewing everyone in the hub… Sitting at the rounded table in the Workhubs meeting room, Langley – who has agreed to dive in as first interviewee – opens up about her journey to The Girls Network. Langley is a great conversationalist, a constant learner and most certainly a do-er. In this interview she tells me about the sources of her inspiration and motivation to make a difference in the lives of young people. It was a pleasure to interview Langley and, perhaps, you too will be inspired by her drive to do real, on-the-ground work and her take on ‘finding your passion’.
What do you do, that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?
I think it’s two-fold… One – just at a very basic level – I try to manage my time very well. I think it’s easy to lose support from people and efficiency if you don’t have a handle on what you’re doing with your time.
Also, I love to constantly be learning, whether that’s listening to podcasts or reading books. I view a role that I’m in as a constant opportunity to learn and if a role isn’t challenging me and teaching me something, then it’s not necessarily good use of my time right now.
So I think part of that is reflecting. It’s this constant internal conversation and talking to your manager about whether there are places of growth.
Can you tell me about a time in your life, that led you to do what you’re doing now?
There was an experience that I had just before university, where I spent a summer working for a programme run by Dartmouth university.
Dartmouth has this programme, where over the course of three years they work with high school students to provide them support throughout the year and bring them to Dartmouth every summer. The students spend about two months there doing all kinds of enrichment, community building and gaining exposure to a world beyond which they lived.
The students were from high-needs areas from across the U.S. so I’d say that that experience was the first time that I not only saw issues that I was really passionate about but actually started to see a solution and a way to work on it.
This was actual people doing things with their time, energy and work, where they could actually impact these things.
I knew about race, inequality – I knew about these things that I felt drawn to and wanted to work with. But this was actual people doing things with their time, energy and work, where they could actually impact these things. It wasn’t just people writing books and talking about these issues – it was actually people doing stuff on the ground. So that was definitely really significant.
What are some other influences that you’ve had in your life?
A lot of my growth has come from interactions with certain individuals. So for instance, I had the wonderful opportunity to work under a principal at my teaching job back in the U.S.
She was 29 when she became principal – very young – and I had never quite experienced the type of leadership that she was able to demonstrate, the quality of work that she was able to put through, and how she was able to motivate, inspire and get things done on the ground. So seeing her in action was such an inspiration.
I think of her as an example, when I think “Why I am doing this?” or “Where am I going?”.
To the other degree, I also often think of students, young people, or girls we work with and the relationships with them, over many years. Conversations about how it went well, how it went poorly. And so those were the motivators for me to know, “This is where I need to be going” or “This is what I need to be doing”.
What would you say is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I think there’s a lot of pressure put on people around this idea of finding your passion. I think there’s some real truth in that, and personally I think I’m very close to knowing what that might me for myself.
But when you think about deciding what you might want to do as your career or your job, and you add this layer of ‘it needs to be your passion’, I’ve seen friends of mine who are really stressed out, because you know, “I go to a job and I’m fine with what I do there, I’m not conflicted about it… but is it what I’m passionate about?”.
Rather than ‘finding your passion’, instead as you experience things … really pay attention to what produces a spark in you.
So I think that the idea of what you’re doing as your job needs to be your passion can sometimes be quite debilitating. I was once told that rather than ‘finding your passion’, instead as you experience things, to really pay attention to what produces a spark in you.
What would you say produces that ‘spark’ for you?
So for me, I definitely feel that spark when working with young people.
To just follow that spark is really important. Now that spark might be working with young people, but if, for example, it becomes that it’s writing policy then… that’s fine! Instead of it being “I’m changing my passion”, I’d just be following whatever is pulling me at that time in my life.
What’s a habit that you are trying to adopt into your life?
One of my friends at university actually described me as a creature of habit, so I do have a lot of habits!
One of them that I recently dropped off from – that I’m trying to bring back – is keeping a journal. I’ve kept a journal since I was eleven, which is sometimes ridiculous to go back and read! I kept it up through university, but for the past year and half I just haven’t kept up with it as much.
For me it’s a really good place to reflect and organise my thoughts. So I’m trying to kick that back up again.
So, how did you come to join The Girls Network?
I was working as a teacher in the US for a couple of years and my husband was transferred to London for his work. He came in December 2014 and then in January 2016 it became a more permanent transfer, so I moved over then. I wasn’t working for a few months, which I actually did struggle with – there were some things I loved, but I was ready to be doing something.
I was personally ready to step out of the classroom for a bit, because my entire professional career had been in schools and I wanted to see if that was what I really wanted to do. I loved schools, and I think I’m coming to see that long-term, that is where I want to be, but I’m wanting to make sure that it’s an active choice.
So, anyway, I was looking for things outside of traditional school, but really still wanted to be involved in schools and with young people. I was speaking to someone who had done TeachFirst with Becca and Charly, and she was really generous with her time and recommended The Girls Network to me.
Don’t apply for the role, apply to the organisation.
I went online, and they had a part-time administrator role and some good advice I once got was ‘Don’t apply for the role, apply to the organisation’, so I felt that The Girls Network seemed amazing – which they are – so I applied to that role. I got that role, and was very quickly able to make that full time and eventually shift into a different role.
What is your role at The Girls Network at the moment?
My technical name is Ambassador, Engagement and Impact Manager.
So our girls go through this year-long mentoring programme, where they’re matched with a female one-to-one mentor. When they finish, they become part of our life-long ambassador programme, so I manage that.
A really big part of that is work experience and job opportunities – connecting girls to opportunities that they might not otherwise have. We also have workshops and events, which try and build skills at the same time.
I also monitor all of the data that we collect from all the girls going through the programme, in terms of what the impact we’ve made is.
So after the year-long mentoring programme, you take over?
It’s kind of like an alumni network – is how I try to explain it. Similar to an alumni network, we are always available to the girls, even if they haven’t been interested for a few years. They can always jump back in and catch up with what we’re doing.
It’s been interesting – we’ve had girls who finished the programme two years ago, who we’ve been catching up with. We’ve been finding out that a lot of them are in university and all sorts of great stuff.
In the future, what are you looking forward to?
I think it’s a really cool time to be interested in issues of equality. I think it can either be really daunting or really exciting, but I think we can all recognise that the world is going through this shift.
I do think that the younger generation is more socially minded, so I see hope in that I think the momentum is moving towards this atmosphere of change. So, I’m excited not only because I think this is where the world is heading but I’m also really excited to be in this space.
It really gives me joy to work in this kind of environment. I’d like to say I contributed in some degree. I don’t know yet if that’s because I had a student who did something wonderful, a girl we worked with did something wonderful or because I influenced policy but I’d like to be a part of it.