Justine Greening is a British Conservative Party politician who has been listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. She has been the Member of Parliament for Putney since 2005, and this year has served as Secretary of State for Education in Theresa May’s first government. Today we are chatting with her about politics, her highs and lows, childhood and her personal ambitions.
How did you get into politics and why?
I never actually planned to be a Member of Parliament, but I have always believed in democracy and giving people a choice. It was through this that I steadily got involved with my local Conservative party and then went on to become a councillor and then an MP.
I was the first person in my family to go to university, so I understand first-hand the Prime Minister’s ambition to make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. I am passionate about using my voice and influence to ensure everyone is heard when it comes to the issues that really matter to them.
I really care about making a difference in my community and to my country. This applies to my role as a local MP for Putney and also as the Secretary of State for Education.
What did you do before you became involved in politics?
I’ve had a number of jobs and they’ve all been quite different. My first ever job, like lots of young people, was working in a supermarket. Then, after graduating, I trained in accounting and went on to become a finance manager and worked for Price Waterhouse Coopers, GlaxoSmithKline and Centrica. I feel very lucky to have had such interesting and demanding roles; they’ve taken me all over the world.
As a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
I always wanted to set up and run my own business. Being my own boss was the biggest driver for me. I was really fond of the idea of being in charge of my own time and trying to make my hobby my livelihood. For me, going into business after university was about providing me with some of the skills I would need to be able to do that, but in the end my life took a very different direction. I ended up becoming a Member of Parliament and getting the chance to do this amazing job of running the Department for Education.
Thanks to the support of my family and teachers, I have always been extremely ambitious and truly believed that I could succeed from a young age. That’s why I take my role as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities so seriously.
What or who has been your greatest influence and why?
My parents have been without a doubt the greatest influence in my life. My dad was always very aspirational and taught me to aim high, he also taught me about knuckling down and always persevering with things.
I used to do lots of sport when I was a small girl. I would go swimming all the time and training sessions used to be quite tough but through my dad’s guidance, I learnt the benefit of training hard which lead to great swimming results.
Growing up in a working class family from Rotherham, I saw my family go through some difficult times. My father and grandfather both worked tirelessly in the steel industry and strived every day to provide the very best for their families. That was really inspiring. But my experience of the steel industry’s decline, and the difficulties this caused my family, are what really compelled me to go on to university to try and make a difference. My parents’ overwhelming support when I became the first member of the family to go to university will remain with me forever. They instilled a fantastic work ethic in me and taught me to never give up on my dreams because anything is possible.
What challenges do you face in your day to day life?
Along with thousands of people across the country, I think the biggest challenge I face is not having enough hours in the day. It is always a perennial challenge trying to juggle my constituency responsibilities with ministerial priorities, as well as making the time to spend time with my friends and family. However, I feel privileged to be a member of our government. Even when I feel overwhelmed or exhausted, I know I would never change the incredible position I am in.
We all make mistakes, what was your most memorable mistake and what did you do about it?.
I think my most memorable mistake was taking Physics A Level. At the time I carried on regardless and unfortunately came out with a really bad grade.
I absolutely loved Geography and should have done that instead!
What do you do for fun?
First of all I love going out and meeting up with friends and just switching off. I also adore running on Wimbledon Common, I live in Putney and it is always glorious and beautiful on the common. I find it really helps me wind down after a busy day and also helps me to clear my head.
At the weekend you will often find me pottering about in my garden. I find gardening really therapeutic. Spending so much of my day inside in Parliament or in the office means I love to get outdoors when I can.
What do you love about your current role?
I love both of my positions as an MP and Secretary of State and the diversity that comes with each means that no two days are the same.
It is a great privilege to represent my community and it’s why it’s really important to me that I stand up for the issues that matter to them. I now have the chance to improve our education system for young people relying on it today, as I did myself.
As Secretary of State, I can make a difference to all the young people and children who are coming through the state education system and are like me. I was educated in a state school and I feel honoured to help build and improve the very education system that helped set me on course to where I’ve ended up today. I have been given the most amazing opportunity so I am going to do the best I can for them.
Do you have any advice for women considering a career in politics?
Go for it!
Parliament and politics has space for everyone and we really do need to have a 50:50 Parliament sooner rather than later. In the meantime, this is an exciting time for young women who are interested in a career in politics, as we now have our second female Prime Minister in office and more female MPs than ever before. It takes a lot of hard work and you need plenty of persistence, but it is 100% worth it.
Do you have any dreams for your future that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?
I have been very lucky that education opened up such huge opportunities for me that it didn’t actually matter where I started. My dream would be to create a Britain where that is the rule not the exception and that everyone can go as far as their talents can take them.
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