This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge, with an emphasis on everyone to ‘actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.’
I'm Agata Faro, Insolvency Examiner and the Chair for the Insolvency Service Women's Network Group (WNG). The WNG recently held a virtual ‘tea & biscuits’ event, and we received many requests asking me to share more stories about my life, career journey and other achievements.
I do have a story to share, and I am not afraid to share it with you.
The Baltic Way
I was born and raised in Vilnius, Lithuania - a small country that some of you may have not even heard of. Back then, Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union (USSR) and was a Russian-speaking country.
Like many Soviet republics, there were times when life was quite hard and challenging. Simple things such as getting goods proved to be very difficult. It was not until my 13th birthday I got my very first pair of jeans.
At times, my parents would ask me to queue for many hours for basic essentials, such as bread and milk. In the late 1980s, events such as the ‘Baltic Way’ brought changes in our lives. This event referred to a time when people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania lined up in a living chain, hundreds of kilometres long, and demanded independence in our countries.
Back then, I was young and didn’t understand everything that was happening around me. But I did witness, and still remember, many horrible things. Tanks rolled in and troops marched through my city, near my home. Hearing shots outside is something I will never forget.
After those upheavals, Lithuanians began to speak their own language and consequently looked down on those who spoke Russian and had Russian names and surnames - just like mine. I remember being in back in school but feeling like an outsider. I was called names and humiliated and school life was very difficult.
But I never gave up. I wanted to prove that I was someone who could stand up for herself and achieve things in life, no matter what. Despite all the heartache, I finished school and went to university, achieving a degree in linguistics and one in law.
Choosing a new life
Going through a rough divorce, I became a single mum. Not wanting to be a burden to my parents, especially during a time where Lithuania faced instability and socio-economic issues, I made the biggest decision in my life and moved with my child to the UK.
With one suitcase, a two-day bus journey ahead of me and one phone number to contact on arrival – my new journey began.
When I arrived England, I could not speak much of the language. The language barrier had a big impact on me and made it harder to find a job. Nevertheless, I studied each day as I wanted to succeed and be accepted into my new local community.
Joining the Insolvency Service
In my youth, I was a stranger amongst friends, and now I was a stranger again. But then one day fortune smiled on me as I met some good people who believed in me and offered me a job at the Insolvency Service.
That was just over 15 years ago and once I secured a permanent contract, I've had the opportunities to work in different areas across the business, and last October, I became a new trainee examiner.
I feel at home now, I feel well settled and respected in my community, and at work.
So how do I reflect on my life experiences? Well, remember that wherever you were born, wherever your parents came from, the colour of your skin, your sex, age, or your accent you have right to be treated fairly. I know how it feels to be different!
Finally, although I worked really hard all my life trying to fit in, I always believed that there always will be a ray of sunshine after a cloudy rainy day.