I got a fascinating insight into some important topics on International Women’s Day (8 March) when my colleague Sue Westhead and I attended law firm DWF’s IWD2018 Lunch.
The theme this year was #PressforProgress and with recent events pushing gender disparities to the forefront, it was great to hear from four inspirational women who had pressed for progress within their careers. They showcased and celebrated not only their achievements, but also the advancement of women. My mother worked full-time while I was growing up and although she was always calm, organised and beautifully turned out, I can’t imagine how she maintained such composure, holding down her career whilst caring for four children at home and making it all appear effortless. This meant the strong and independent beginnings of the female speakers at the DWF lunch truly resonated with me. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in a time where it’s never really crossed my mind that, as a woman, I might be at a disadvantage. Their messages echoed the sentiments of both mother and I: that all women are equal and we can do whatever it is we put our mind to if we work hard. The first speaker was Sally Cheshire CBE – Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), who provide free, clear and impartial information to those affected by fertility treatment. She spoke about topical IVF issues that arise not only within her career, but also overlap with many lives. She’s an advocate for supporting one another and never judging women who choose to pursue motherhood, or indeed those who don’t. She also gave a poignant example of when she spoke to some outstanding female graduates, who were focused on the 10% they didn’t know, rather than male graduates who focused on the 10% they did know. She encouraged the women in the room never to undersell themselves: “Please don’t tell people or focus on what you can’t do, but rather tell people what you CAN do!” Rachel Clacher was the next speaker. She set up Moneypenny, the largest employer in Wrexham (with its own pub and treehouse!), and employs people based on attitude, not aptitude. A self-confessed activist, Rachel also set up the ‘Wemindthegap’ foundation, which addresses the gap in provision and support for young women in her community who deserve new opportunities. Referred by agencies such as Women’s Aid or local homeless hostels, this successful model works with employer partners to provide work experience to disadvantaged people and will be rolled out in other locations across the UK soon. Fiona Gunnion is the Manager of Smart Works in Manchester and has a passion for helping women with interview clothes and confidence-building. While her dressing service has an undeniably immediate impact, she explained how it’s the one-to-one interview preparation training that goes alongside the transformation of women that allows them to leave her ‘boutique-like’ store feeling confident and believing in their ability to succeed. Last (but certainly not least) was the turn of Julie Gaskell, Head of Partnerships at Wild in Art. Having met her over a cup of tea before the speakers began, I was looking forward to hearing her speak. Her personality is infectious and she urged the women present never to be afraid to be themselves or to bring energy and personality to their jobs. She filled the room with smiles and laughter as she shared witty anecdotes about the highs and lows of her career with real humility, before explaining how her current role oversees the ‘Bee in the City’ public art event in Manchester. This involves more than 80 individually designed 3D bee sculptures that form a free art trail to the public while raising funds for the We Love MCR Charity. The session ended with a Q&A session where the ladies answered topical questions around confidence, women holding themselves back and the choices and opportunities women both have and must take. They also spoke about the importance of believing in yourself - “feel the fear and do it anyway!” was one of my favourite quotes – and showing emotional intelligence and integrity. With their words ringing in our ears, Sue and I left feeling positive and motivated by these strong women who had really struck a chord with us; not only because they are making a real difference in their careers, but also in the communities in which we live. I only hope that one day, I will be able to look back on my life’s work with such fond memories and be able to say that I too have made such a positive impact.
Leanne Shackleton is a Corporate Account Manager at MOL