Dr Pearl Jarrett is an entrepreneur, an inventor and an actor, who will soon be speaking at the WeAreTechWomen One Tech World conference about her squiggly career. Here she speaks to Johanna Hamilton about diversity and the role of International Women’s Day.

The theme for IWD 2023 is Embracing Equity. I talk to Dr Pearl about her views on the celebration of women on March 8th – a day that has only been adopted by the UN since 1975 – and what we need to do outside of that 24 hours to make life better for all women.

How do you feel about International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day as a concept of celebrating women, I have no issue with at all. I think that women do a marvellous job in so many areas and sometimes they are hidden, unappreciated and side-lined. So, it’s a nice opportunity to pull everything forward and put it on a pedestal that day.

People may say why is International Woman’s Day only one day? Or why is Black History Month only celebrated for one month? Honestly, I don’t care about the themes. It’s like Valentine’s Day – on 14th Feb lots of people feel very loved and lots of people feel very unloved.  You must know that you are loved and appreciated every single day and don’t let that day come around, and you’re so fixated on that day, that it wrecks your life.

I feel the same about International Women’s Day when they have their themes. I mean, great have your theme, but when the day is over, stand up and be counted and still be proud and still be amazing and still be fabulous. We need to learn how to make our celebrations happen, irrespective of a theme, an official day or month.

International Women’s Day showcases all the brilliant breakthroughs that women are working on in international projects, engineering and inventing. Each year we go a bit further and a bit further… but what about the barriers?

There are so many barriers, there are always barriers when other people feel intimidated by you. Those main barriers are like the glass ceilings – whoever is above the glass ceiling are often intimidated by those below the glass ceiling. There’s an attitude “we’ll keep those lot out”. So whether it’s women, ethnic minorities, they can even be men, people put up the barriers to keep other people out.

What we’ve got to be better at is, if they close a door, we climb through the window, and if they bar the windows, we dig a tunnel into the basement and come up that way.  If they don’t invite us to the table, we bring our own chair and sit at the table. I mean, these are the things that we have to get much, much better at.

So it’s a case of, I’m not going to let you dictate to me what I can and cannot do and how much I can progress and how far I can go – no, I’ll decide that and if you don’t like it, then I’m really sorry but the problem is with you, not with me.

Selfishness, is a human character, so how do we overcome and give back?

Entitlement is a real thing. It means I am entitled to it and I have determined that you are not entitled to it. Therefore, we have to find ways to make the playing field a lot more equal. We have to find a way that everybody gets a seat at the table. And that means being creative and creating your own thing. Make up your own job title, make it as flamboyant as you want. Start your own company, call yourself what you like. Go and get your own funders and have the freedom to dream and create. That’s how you level the playing field. Because, if you sit and wait for someone to judge that you are now worthy to be brought up a peg or two, you will be waiting a very long time.

How important is it to have accountability – both personally and in the data we use?

Data is good. Data is proof. Sometimes, you can bang on a door and say,  “this is my experience”, but when you show up with the data showing that only 1% of women get funding for their new businesses – and only 0.1% of black women Founders get funding – then, it’s no longer an opinion, it’s evidence.

Also, that awful term ‘BAME’ just threw everyone who wasn’t white into one big pot. So, on the face of it, the data says, “we give this much to the BAME community and that’s i.e. 20% of the funding”, or whatever the figure is, that’s not bad at all. But when you strip it down to individual ethnicities and then to black people, then black female founders, the figures are shocking – that’s if you can even get funding.

Diversity’s getting better though – right?

In the last 10 years there are more women founders.  When I look around the room, I think OK, there are more women – it’s not just white men anymore. However, when you look closely, you’ll see they’re all white women. I often see diversity drives, the progress is the inclusion of different types of white women, i.e. from different parts of the country, so that everything isn’t London centric.  Then black women are asked to celebrate that fact.  That’s like inviting us to the party, but we’re outside on the street, in the rain, in the dark, and you’re waving at us through the window at the party.

Diversity isn’t just about giving more women a seat at the table, it’s about giving every type of woman an opportunity to be there. That’s the only way everyone can be invited to the party.

How can we make it better?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And sometimes it’s about shining the light on an experience, on a lived view, on an uncomfortable truth. We don’t need another George Floyd in order to get some empathy. We need people to listen to each other. To take on another’s viewpoint and say I’m actually going to consider this rather than make it a tick box.

So, we need more black speakers – in STEM, it’s very unusual. I’m in solar and water and I haven’t come across any other black women, yet, but they must be out there.

Start bringing people out of the woodwork. Show young black women what’s possible, because so many are looking for avenues of how they can make their mark and create an impact in the world. Rather than just thinking they want to be a stereotypical influencer, or singer or dancer, we show young girls more role models in STEM, including solar or water, or any sort of renewable energy. We need to open up a door to let others come in.

As a sisterhood, how can we make things better?

Everybody needs to put their weapons down and let’s just talk. This isn’t about me waiting for you to put your head above the parapet so I can shoot you down – let’s continue to have these conversations, because sometimes, we don’t know what we don’t know. Talking honestly about these issues leads to those moments when you think “oh my goodness, I never knew.” And that’s powerful, because if enough people have those moments, and they have the authority to do something about it, that’s when you get the dial to move. That’s when we all get to see change.

How will you be spending International Women’s Day?

On International Women’s Day, I will be doing what I always do – looking for ways that I can create an impact and a legacy that I can leave behind. That’s what makes things better. You have to be able to help somebody, you have to be able to impact somebody, you have to be able to pull up somebody, or do something, or was what was the point of you being here. Impact is very important to me – because if I can help somebody else, I feel it has made my life worthwhile.