Pro-women Breakfast: Trailblazing Women #pressforprogress

Thursday, 15th March 2018

As part of international Womens Day, pro-women brought together over 100 people from a wide range of industries to help celebrate and promote women in different sectors.

Delegates were welcomed to the event held at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer by the event Chair, Alison Bull, managing partner of Mills and Reeve. Alison began the session by discussing the importance of diversity in the workplace and the retention and recruitment of women in business.

Alison then asked each panel to introduce themselves.

Sarah Martin– Head of Programmes at Cisco. Women representation in business and technology is a passion of Sarah’s, she currently sits on the Board of Trustees for Women’s Charity Smart Works having previously volunteered for the charity as an interview coach and mentor.

Anna Smith– Software engineer at BBC. Formally a criminal defence lawyer, Anna is committed to addressing important social issues. She is a member of Women Hack for Non-Profits and a volunteer with Code4000, a non-profit seeking to break the cycle of reoffending by teaching prisoners how to code. Anna is also an instructor at Code First: Girls Manchester, one of the organisers behind Codebar Manchester  (a workshop series for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community who wish to learn how to code) and is the Manchester lead behind CodeYourFuture (a coding school for refugees and asylum seekers).

Amanda Wilkinson– Head Coach at Wigan Warriors. With a key passion for Rugby League Amanda is the first ever female level 3 rugby league coach in the world, creating history and she has used this qualification to continue developing has a coach and supporting the performance of rugby league players.

Caroline, real estate partner at Mills and Reeve. Caroline has been a property lawyer in Manchester for 25 years. She specialises in property development work, in particular in the hotel and residential sectors.

What challenges/barriers have you faced as you’ve progressed in your career and what inspired you to enter into your industry?

Sarah opened the discussion by noting that having entered the industry through a sales role at the age of 22, Sarah’s passion for the industry and women in tech grew as she developed more of an understanding of the sector. Although gender stereotypes do exist within the tech industry, through the guidance of mentors valuing the diversity of gender in tech she’s experienced more positive than negative experiences.

As the panel discussion continued the assumptions of females in the workplace, was a key theme amongst the speakers.

Similar to Sarah, Anna also shared some personal stories on gender stereotype assumptions in the tech industry. Mirroring Sarah, Anna stated that there are defiantly more positives then negatives being a female in the industry. Through her high tech role she is able to be an advocate for other women and use her position to create a powerful platform to help enforce and promote change in the sector.

Amanda commented further on the discussion “why try to fit in when your born to stand out”. All women have values that can bring something different to any organisation or industry. It’s important for everyone to focus on the challenges of their job as this is what will make you stronger.

Flexible working was another topic discussed amongst the panel. Caroline shared her own experiences of maternity leave and the discrimination she faced when returning back to work. Determined to succeed not only as a mother but also as a successful business woman, not only did Caroline return back to work part-time, but with time she also got promoted to partner. Thus, inspiring all women and men that you can succeed with family and career.


What are you doing in your organisation to help the talent pool progress?

The focus of tech skills for girls and boys in STEM was discussed by both Anna and Sarah to ensure equality long term. Training, initiatives and programmes around resilience and negotiations are important for change and to help young people speak up. Anna passionately stated that there needs to be less company dialogue and ticking of boxes and more action. Changes in all careers are important to help create an environment to promote diversion and inclusion.

What is your motivation/inner drive?

Key motivators on the panel were family related. One of Caroline’s career motos taken from her mother was ‘if a job is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well’, which is something Caroline has adhered to throughout her career.

Caroline also went on to say that everyone in their lives experiences barriers, but it’s how you deal with those barriers and negative experiences that help push/drive yourself forward. Everyone should use their own experiences to help support younger people at the start of their careers to encourage retention and quality of talent.

Amanda finished the discussion by advising everyone that they should surround themselves with more positives than the negatives in their lives. Through her surroundings Amanda found her niche and confidence as a female trainer in a male dominated industry.

The event finished with closing remarks from event sponsor Quilter Cheviot. Kate Baldwin thanked everyone for attending and stressed how events such as this are important not just for achieving equality in the workplace but to also help inspire women.