Being a woman isn’t always easy. There are obstacles that may hold us back and sometimes we get little support from those around us. Being a black woman maybe even less easy. Executive Coach, author and long-standing fighter for social justice, Claudia Crawley knows this well. Member of the Women’s Equality Party, founder and director of ‘Winning Pathways Coaching’, with a background in criminal justice and social care, she has concentrated her battle on challenging social injustices and tackling the barriers that prevent women and people of colour from achieving equality. For her, midlife is a pivotal period in which we grow in confidence and wisdom, and finally, allow ourselves to stop caring about what other people think.
2020 has been an extraordinary year for everyone. Apart from the global pandemic, in what other ways has this year been notable for you?
Well, in just 2 words, somebody’s name actually: George Floyd. I mean, that man had to die on video for people to realize what was going on in America and in other parts of the world. For me personally, his death reignited my sense of Blackness. I’m feeling much more grounded and aware of who I am, now. I’ve chopped off my straight hair and went back to wearing my hair in its natural state, which makes me feel totally liberated. Also, the Black Lives Matter Movement has reawakened my passion for anti-racist action, because I put it to one side for a while. Not that I wasn’t dealing with it at all, but I wasn’t putting in as much effort, because of the pain and the stress it engenders. As a member of the Women’s Equality Party, I am now leading their Race Equality Allies group, an incredible bunch of white women who are members of the party and want to do things to counter racism. Everyone will benefit from eradicating racism from the world. Hatred does no good for anyone, even less for the haters. And when we reach a balanced and equal world, when we have diversity within companies and organisations, including at the top, everyone will be better off because we will be drawing on the best of all people.
As an anti-racist and feminist activist, is ageism also on your battle-radar?
Yes, ageism is on my radar because I’m passionate about justice and fairness. I’ve seen too many older women overlooked and put aside in favour of younger women and men. Take a look at who’s reading the news on the television. You might see an older man as a news anchor but older women are very rare. Older women bring experience, knowledge, wisdom and creativity to the table and we’re missing out on that purely because we don’t like the way they look. Because that’s what it comes down to ‘lookism’. Many people dislike wrinkles on women, but men get away with them. It’s crazy.
Do you believe that ageism and racism are linked in some way?
Absolutely, older white women do experience ageism, but older black women tend to be truly at the bottom of the pile; they are valued even less than women of other races. When race, gender and age intersect, you’ll find few opportunities out there for older black women. For example, Diane Abbott, one of the longest-serving MP’s in the House of Commons, was the first black woman MP elected in the late ’80s. She’s in her sixties now. She’s achieved so much for her constituents and has been re-elected numerous times. She is a remarkable example of an older black woman who does a magnificent job and yet she gets vilified every time she makes a little mistake. The press really goes to town on trying to destroy her.
How are you experiencing midlife?
Without a shadow of a doubt, it has been the most exciting part of my life! When you hit midlife, my advice would be to own it, even with the menopause and other challenges that come with ageing; I have made it a truly exciting phase in my life and you can, too. When I was younger I used to care about what other people thought of me. I was sometimes reluctant to stand up for myself or for my rights. Now, in midlife, I challenge people more than I used to when it comes to anti-racism and anti-sexism work. Obviously, I think carefully about the battles I’m fighting and evaluate whether it’s worth a fight with a particular person. But if I see an injustice now, I don’t care what people think of me, I just go ahead and take action, thanks to the confidence I’ve gained from my life experience. That’s not to say I’m aggressive, far from it. It’s just that my priority values include justice and fairness. Midlife is the most exciting phase of my life: I’ve discovered a skill I didn’t know I had through quitting my job and setting up my own business. Until then I had always been a public sector employee and I realised that one can be a socialist and also run a business, providing that it’s ethical. My mission as a coach is to change the world, one woman at a time.
After you found your passion for coaching, you began interviewing and writing about extraordinary women. What inspired you to do that?
I started to come across some amazing women who had overcome challenges and were very successful. I wanted to tell the stories of these everyday women who might not be celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kate Moss or Rhianna. Also, many of these women, despite their success, didn’t see themselves as leaders, or as extraordinary. So the goal of my project ‘Page 1 Women‘ was not only to inspire my readers but also to enable the women I was writing about to see how amazing they are and receive a big confidence boost.
Did you aspire to be a writer before you started your own business?
I had thought about writing, but to be honest, I didn’t think I was capable. At school, I wrote some great stories and then I lost the habit of writing. When I set up my own business I started to write blogs. I used to ask my partner – a writer, a published poet and an author – to read the drafts. But since his style is very different from mine, he was overly critical. So I learned quickly that he was not the right person to proofread my stuff. But I didn’t have enough confidence as a writer to just create something and publish it without it being proofread. Nowadays, I know I’m not the world’s best writer, but I don’t care. I am a middle-aged woman with something to say and who wants to use her voice. Thanks to my confidence and wisdom, I don’t give a damn what other people think anymore, and that’s one of the huge pluses of midlife!
Could you tell me about a hobby that you recently took up that may come as a surprise to some readers?
One of my greatest hobbies is stand-up comedy, which I got into by accident as I never ever saw myself on stage making people laugh. Quite the contrary, I thought I was the world’s most serious woman. But I’ve discovered I’m not; I can actually make a lot of people laugh. Back in 2015, I lost my mum which had quite an impact. For almost two years I couldn’t focus and my business was going down the drain. I remember having a conversation with a friend who said: “Do a stand-up comedy course, and make yourself laugh!” Of course, I said “No way”. But when my partner paid for the course I had to do it. I did the course at the Comedy School and was the oldest person in a group of millennials! But we all got along just fine. My first performance, at a comedy club in the East End, was before an audience of around a hundred people. I made them laugh – a lot and I got the bug.
You are a strong woman who empowers other women to be the best they can. What would you suggest to a middle-aged woman who might feel stuck in a rut?
Without a shadow of a doubt the first thing I would say: ‘Get a coach’. A good one will enable you to get yourself unstuck and find pathways that you didn’t know existed. Get a good coach and the sky is your limit.