Hannah Shergold is a Lynx helicopter pilot in the Army. She’s also a successful artist. Hannah studied at Cambridge University before serving as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, Kenya and other locations. Her Kenyan surroundings inspired her to draw, and her commander saw her work and decided they should host an exhibition in Kenya, which was a sell-out; the rest is history. Here, Hannah answers our ‘what it means to be a woman in 2018’ Q&A, to mark 100 years of suffrage; the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed on 6 February 1918.
Hannah Shergold Army Helicopter Pilot and Artist
It’s been 100 years since women were granted the right to vote in the UK – how far do you think women have come in the last century?
I work in an industry that has seen immense progress over the past century. The year 2017 marked 100 years since women have been allowed to perform roles in the Armed Forces other than nursing, a milestone that was celebrated widely. These days we not only see women like myself flying helicopters around the battlefield for the Army Air Corps, but we now accept women into the other two ‘combat’ arms – the infantry and the cavalry.
This has taken immense courage from trail blazers throughout the decades. Although there is still a way to go for completely equal opportunities, we have come a very long way.
What does it mean to be a woman in 2018?
For me, being a woman is about taking the skills and talents you have (and have had to work for), and using them to make the most of every single opportunity that presents itself. Be tough, but feminine. Hold your ground for the things you believe in and don’t be bullied. Negotiate.
What do women still need to achieve?
We’re getting there with equal opportunities, but I think there’s a way to go with really being accepted within certain roles. I think the continuous education to spread the word to men AND to women is key, but I really hope that this can be achieved without coming across as ‘crusaders’. Are all women physically on a par with the male counterparts? No. But those that are should be given the opportunity to use that blessing to its fullest capacity. Are all women blessed with the ability to be an astronaut? No. But then neither are all men!
Your personal proudest achievement?
Much as my Cambridge degree was the hardest thing I’ve done intellectually, and standing on the parade square of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, was the grandest, I’m most proud of achieving my flying brevet, my ‘Wings’. The Army Pilots’ Course was an 18-month continuous slog which was mentally and emotionally draining, but it made it all the more satisfying to make it to the end.
If you could teach young women one thing about being it woman it would be…
You can learn anything if you put your mind to it. Self-belief is worth its weight in gold; aim high, and remember that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn!
And if you could teach young men one thing…
Women don’t need looking after, but both men and women need looking out for! Look out for those in the minority, speak out against poor behaviour, and don’t underestimate the impact of being a good role model.
Complete the following: In the next 100 years, I hope women will…
…Be satisfied when we achieve true equality of opportunity, and not push to extend this to primacy or superiority. I hope we continue to recognise that the problems fought by women today are also fought by men, and that we continue to look out for each other.
Find out more about Hannah Shergold’s work here: hannahshergold.com