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Old black and white portrait photo of Dame Ethyl Smyth in front of a piano

History and Possibility - Personal Reflections of a Male Ally

Simon Eastwood
June 30, 2024

MF’s Head of Leadership Skills, Simon Eastwood, shares personal reflections of his great, great aunt Dame Ethyl Smyth and her role in shaping women’s place in the workplace for future generations.

I’ve always been a strong advocator of women’s rights. I find it difficult to know how someone could not be, if they have any sense of right and wrong, justice and fairness. However, I have often asked myself why I feel quite as strongly about this subject as I do, and I think part of the reason lies in my family history, and the stories I was exposed to as a child.

History – and the suffragettes

My great, great aunt, Dame Ethel Smyth, was a leading suffragette, trail blazer, establishment rebel and the most well-known female composer of her time.

In 1910, she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU), which agitated for women’s suffrage, giving up music for two years to devote herself to the cause. She accompanied the charismatic leader of the WPSU, Emily Pankhurst, on many occasions, and composed ‘The March of the Women’ which became the anthem of the Suffragette movement. In 1912 she was arrested for her part in the attack on the home of the Colonial Secretary, Lewis Harcourt, who had remarked that if his wife’s beauty and wisdom was present in all women, they would have won the right to vote! I sense this might have irritated my aunt. Whilst in Holloway Prison with her fellow female inmates, she would lean out of a window to conduct ‘The March of the Women’ anthem with a toothbrush.

Overall, critical reaction to her work was mixed. She was alternately praised and panned for writing music that was considered too masculine for a ‘lady composer’ - as critics called her. I wonder if those critics happened to be men?

On her 75th birthday in 1934, her work was celebrated in a festival, the final event of which was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in the presence of the Queen. Heartbreakingly, at this moment of long overdue recognition, my great, great aunt was already completely deaf and could neither hear her own music nor the adulation of the crowds.

There are many other stories my grandmother used to recount, that I don’t have the space and time here to share, but reading this back now, it seems obvious to me why her life and achievements made such an impression on me.

She was my hero.

Possibility – World of Women

Fast forward to 2021 and I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the idea of Web 3 and the possibilities of blockchain technology.  

For those less familiar with Web 3 and to understanding how empowering Web 3 could be for women there’s an interesting and objective article from Mckinsey about this emergent technology: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/mckinsey-explainers/what-is-web3

One pioneer organisation in this space is World of Women, a community centric brand celebrating art, representation, inclusivity & equal opportunities for all.  

WoW are championing the representation of women in this next era of the web. I believe my great, great Aunt would recognise them as kindred spirits in the wish to empower women and in late July I bought an NFT** from the World of Women art collection. Then many more afterwards!

World of Women’s vision feels aligned with our work at MF. We both want to equip and uplift women in the workplace; developing the confidence and skills to succeed and flourish as communicator and leaders.  

I believe it is critical that male colleagues in the workplace consciously act as allies of women in this endeavour.  

Simon Eastwood.


**NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique digital assets verified using blockchain technology, representing ownership of specific items such as art, music, or virtual real estate.

See latest developments from World of Women here: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7204391682505715712/

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