To mark International Women’s Day 2022, our’s Gender Parenting and Carers Inclusion Focus Group asked individuals in our London and Leeds offices to tell us about women who have inspired them during their life.
We hope you enjoy reading these inspiring stories celebrating women.
Alison Goldney on her nan
“When I was asked to write about an inspirational woman, the first thing that sprung to mind was Erin Brokovich, tacky I know, but as a 20 year old law undergraduate I was captivated when I saw the film at the cinema and the sense of wanting to fight injustice & help others struck a chord.
However, my real inspiration is someone far closer to home, my nan. To the outside world it might not be a particularly extraordinary life, but at almost 93 she’s a strong, resilient woman who’s been a constant throughout my life. Growing up in the 1930s life wasn’t always easy but she was bright and her determination led her to secure a place at secretarial college. This led to a career in the NHS which spanned 4 decades, most of which was spent working in obs/gyanae and for over 25 years with a consultant at the Watford General, where she recalls her boss delivered the offspring of one or two famous footballers (John Barnes being her favourite – well she is a lifelong Watford supporter!).
After having children, she managed to balance work and home life, helped not least by a pretty forward-thinking husband for the time. It was a 60-year-marriage which never lost its spark with plenty of holding hands and laughter.
My grandad died 10 years ago and in the aftermath I have seen my nan grow in strength & character, initially forcing herself to get out and join local clubs, where even in her 80s she forged new friendships whilst maintaining to this day the strong bonds that come from school friends. That sense of comradeship of women widowed in their 80s was heart-warming and inspirational to see.
She continued to work in her local charity shop up until the start of the pandemic, and could still be found navigating the M25 in her 20-year-old Fiesta to visit her beloved SavaVentre in London Colney until she finally heeded our advice & gave up driving last year! The pandemic, like for so many elderly people, has taken its toll, but throughout she remained ever positive, finding comfort in the simple things like escaping into a good book. If I had to sum up my nan it would be caring, stubborn, positive & the most wicked sense of humour which has seen her through the hardships that life has thrown at her.”
Kate Pollock on reporter Kate Aide
“Best known for her extraordinary work as the Chief News Correspondent for the BBC, I have been obsessed with her since I was a little girl. Whilst Kate wasn’t the first female war correspondent (for that see the remarkable work of Clare Hollingworth, Gerda Taro and Martha Gellhorn), she was one of the most prolific, reporting from conflicts all around the world.”
She covered both Gulf Wars, four years of war in the Balkans, the Rwandan Genocide, the war in Sierra Leone and multiple skirmishes in Libya to name but a few. In 1989, she and her cameraman were the only foreign journalists out in Tiananmen Square to witness first-hand the massacre by the Chinese army of its own people. She is tough, brave, cool under pressure and (as she always said) relentless in the pursuit of facts so as to relay clearly to the wider world what was actually happening on the ground. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her twice.
“Sadly, despite my fond delusions that we’d instantly become BFFs, that didn’t happen – no doubt in part because both times I turned into a gibbering twit. She is always my go-to whenever I’m feeling under pressure. A brisk reminder to myself that if Kate can make it across Tiananmen Square, under gunfire and being chased by soldiers, in order to get her footage broadcast to the world, I can certainly deal with a difficult issue on a case works wonders.”
David Savage on musician Dame Evelyn Glennie
“I remember being about 14-years-old when my Mum first took me to see Dame Evelyn Glennie at the Derngate Theatre in Northampton. For those who haven’t heard of her, she’s a Scottish percussionist and a multiple award winner. She’s also deaf. I remember at the time being amazed that someone unable to hear could play such incredible music and capture the attention of not only those listening in the theatre but the entire world. I wanted to know more, so I went on down to the local library and did some research. It turns out that as Glennie lost her hearing she began to teach herself to hear with other parts of her body, which explained why, at the concert, she performed in her bare feet. Ever since I saw her perform, I have always been inspired by what she represents, because Glennie always chose not to be a victim, she chose to take her life and her skills and become the best version of herself. She’s done that as both a women and someone suffering from hearing loss and she serves as a reminder to us all that it is only our individual self-doubt that can bring us down.”
Sarah Stewart on pilot Amelia Earhart
“Born in 1897, Amelia Earhart was an American pilot who championed the advancement of women in aviation. Her accomplishments ranged from defying gender expectations as a child to becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her interest in aviation began when she was a Red Cross nurse during World War I and spent time watching pilots train. After setting many records and establishing the Ninety-Nines (an organisation promoting female pilots), Earhart set out to be the first pilot to fly around the world. She was lost at sea in the process. What can we learn from her and why is she inspirational? Even in today’s world she teaches us to dare to follow our dreams. She knew her quest was dangerous yet she wasn’t put off by the enormity of the challenge and she died trying to accomplish her life-long ambition- bravery we could all borrow.”
Clare McCabe on businessperson Karren Brady
“There are many people who inspire me. One in particular is Karren Brady. Is it because I am a fan of football? No… Am I fan of The Apprentice? I must admit, I do watch it occasionally. However, I was aware of Karren Brady before The Apprentice graced our screens.
Karren Brady had been rejected from college and did not go to University. She became a Director at Sports Newspapers at the age of 20 (due to negotiating an advertising deal with them and then being offered a job there). Whilst working at Sports News she spotted an advert for the sale of Birmingham City FC and persuaded the owner of Sports News to buy it and let her run it. The owner said that ‘she would have to be twice as good a man to do that’ and Brady replied ‘Well that’s not difficult’!
She piqued my interest because someone so young rose to the top very quickly. I have tracked her throughout her career. I am a true believer that hard work, grit and determination can pay off, although it’s never going to be easy or straightforward and there are always compromises you will need to make. She is also a big champion of women in business and has repeatedly called upon her fellow female professionals to help those trying to make their way in the business world.
To conclude, I still have no interest in football but that’s not to say that I couldn’t run a football club well!”
Julian Chamberlayne on climate activist Greta Thunberg
“It was really hard choosing just one example of a woman who has inspired me for International Women’s Day, but as I pondered the many amazing women on my mental shortlist the name I kept coming back to was Greta Thunberg. Why? For me, the climate crisis is the biggest single issue the planet faces, but yet for decades it has not really been given the prominence it so urgently requires. Greta has made the most remarkable contribution by forcing global leaders to give it their attention. She has become so well known it is easy to forget that she only caught the attention of the world in 2018 when, at the age of just 15, she inspired students around the world to protest to pressure governments to meet carbon emissions targets.
By the next summer she had sailed across the Atlantic, to deliver a powerful rebuke to the global leaders attending the UN Climate Conference in New York; “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words”. Her words and actions have made it increasingly difficult for global leaders to pay mere lip service to the climate crisis. I can’t do any better than naturalist Sir David Attenborough in describing why Greta has been so inspirational, when he said: “You have aroused the world. I’m very grateful to you.”
Lisa Vanderheide on her English teacher, Mrs McAllister
“I first met Mrs McAllister at age 11 and on my first day at secondary school. It is notable that such was her initial (and latter) impact that I remember that first meeting vividly over 40 years later. She came into the room, sat on the edge of the desk without saying a word and proceeded to very carefully peel an apple with a small knife. When she was done, she put the peelings in a brown paper bag and took a bite of the apple. We were mesmerised! She then asked us to write down – descriptively – what we had just seen. This was the start of a 5 years of Mrs McAllister as my English teacher.
She inspired me – I think – because she was inspired. She was kind, enthusiastic, imaginative and committed to bringing out the best in her pupils. I so looked forward to her lessons and loved that she both encouraged and brought out our creativity. She also “wore her heart on her sleeve” which is unusual for most teachers I think. She would tell us about her young family and we really felt we were part of an extended family to her. Mrs McAllister encouraged me to go to university (the first person in my family to do so) and I kept in contact with her after I left school. Unfortunately she moved schools and we lost contact. Such was her long-lasting influence, that even now, on occasions when I feel I have achieved something notable, I wish Mrs McAllister could see it.
I managed to find Mrs McAllister a while ago via Google. She is retired now, but a school governor. When I pluck up courage, I’ll drop her a letter.”
Dan Herman on his grandmother
“My grandmother Štefica Radić passed away in 2000 but she continues to inspire me. Born in Zavidovići (modern day Bosnia and Herzegovina) into a family that included priests, monks and nuns, her Catholic faith was central to who she was as a person and how she lived her life. As the single mother of three daughters, she was the sole breadwinner. In the former Yugoslavia, one had to be a member of the Communist party to hold a job of any significance. However, joining the party also meant renouncing one’s religion and so, instead, she worked multiple menial jobs to provide for her family. Every week for more than 30 years she was arrested by the police and asked to inform on those who had attended mass; every time she declined to answer.
“She refused to compromise her principles or betray her faith. In the face of this and countless other injustices, she decided her response would be tolerance and forgiveness. She raised three intelligent, accomplished women and instilled in them the same values.”
Lorraine Lanceley on her mother-in-law
“Whilst I am lucky to have worked with some very inspiring female professional role models throughout my career, I have plucked for someone closer to home: my mother-in-law. When I first met her aged 18, she was formidable. Scarily clever; funny; vivacious; a true matriarch (and a fabulous cook). She had had a successful legal career and she was hugely supportive of me, an eager, unpolished teenage law student. However, the chief reason my mother-in-law has been an inspiration to me is due to the way in which she has dealt with real hardship.
“When her eldest son was only 10 years old, he and the family were involved in a terrible car accident which left him in a critical condition. He had suffered a severe brain injury and the family were told he was unlikely to survive. Just unimaginable. He did survive but my mother-in-law became his primary carer. She gave up her career in law to look after him and to give him the best possible life. She has been – and still is – amazing. She has never given up on him – she has supported and protected him throughout his childhood and adult life, to go to college, to play the guitar and write his own music, and even to release his own albums. She has raised huge amounts of money over the years for relevant charities, particularly those conducting research into stem cell treatments for brain injuries.
“She holds the family together, is so incredibly strong, and I am still amazed to this day by her energy and spirit. She is the epitome of ‘keep-calm-and-carry-on’. A true inspiration.”
Adrian Clossick on musician Laura Marling
“Since a young age I have been inspired by the female voice in popular music. Battling in a male dominated environment, female artists have nevertheless overcome the disadvantages heaped upon them to make their perspective known. Whether it be Billie Holiday risking her life by raging against lynchings in ‘Strange Fruit’ back in 1939, through to Little Simz providing insight into the modern urban female struggle in her 2021 album Sometimes I Might be Introvert, female artists have refused to allow the female experience to be overlooked.
“Despite often not garnering the level of praise enjoyed by their male contemporaries, artists such as Joni Mitchell, Martina Topley-Bird, Amy Winehouse and Tori Amos are required listening for any music lover. Strong, independent, successful women but with all the frailties, confusion and discord of the human condition captured in their music.
“Added to the long list of inspiring female artists should be Laura Marling. Whilst often commercially overlooked, her music inspires through her frequent exploration of womanhood. Her sixth album Semper Femina (Latin for “Always Woman”) explored women’s relationship with other women. That concept reaches a crescendo in her seventh album Song for our Daughter. Written as a letter to a fictional child, Marling has spoken of wanting to offer her daughter “all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself”. She has said that the album is about “trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society”. As a father of a teenage daughter, I found the album concerning, compelling and insightful in equal measure.
“I therefore have no hesitation in highlighting Laura Marling as someone who has, and will continue to, inspire me.”
For more information on International Women’s Day, visit their website.
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