Surrey Business School’s International Women’s Day Event 2021

By Lily Rose King, friend of Surrey Business School.

Laying the foundations for your career can be overwhelming – let alone when there’s a global pandemic to contend with. Without challenges, however, it is hard to bring about real change. Fittingly then, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’.

The achievements of women as a result of the adversities they overcome through sheer strength and determination help to shape the culture and norms going forward, breaking down barriers and stereotypes surrounding gender bias and inequality that are still undeniably present today. 

The past year has been difficult for many reasons and unfortunately students have been one of the most negatively impacted groups, with disruption to both lifestyle and education creating confusion around what the future may hold. 

But students – and women for that matter – are some of the most resilient and creative members of society. Despite the unexpected upheaval of life as everyone knows it, and the dreaded ‘new normal’ that a large majority of people have been forced to accept; the way scholars have adapted with ease to remote learning, as well as taking advantage of the internet to stay connected and continue hosting social events, is truly motivating. 

This generation in particular seem to have come together online through activism, building and sharing small businesses, leveraging talents to put out content such as poetry and zines, and not to mention setting friends fun activities and tasks on social media to ensure people feel included. 

However, even the toughest and most flexible individuals are exposed to the mental health risks posed by prolonged periods stuck indoors and lack of physical contact from friends and family. It’s a strange and scary time that has especially infiltrated the university experience, exacerbating the usual fears that come with finishing a degree and deciding where to go next. 

Perhaps the turbulence from recent events has left you worried, angry, or frustrated. It’s understandable that confidence may have been dented, or that additional advice might be needed on how to best navigate the increasingly murky waters that surround post-graduate life. Maybe you are feeling isolated or (let’s face it) bored, so want an opportunity to network and learn from influential speakers. 

Whatever happens after the pandemic subsides, there will always be some kind of challenge to rise up and conquer. While that may sound like a negative claim, it’s more of a demonstration that anything is possible. To prove this, here are 5 women who reached their ambitions against all odds.

Nikki Henderson, Sailor 
It’s easy to forget that you can find a job you love, fuelled by your most treasured hobbies and interests, but Nikki Henderson is an amazing reminder that this goal is within reach. In 2018, having just turned 25, Nikki famously rewrote the history books after coming 2nd place as skipper in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. She is one of the UK’s leading offshore sailors representing her generation, using this talent for good by promoting causes via her sailing platform.

Recently Nikki skippered the iconic ‘Maiden’ halfway around the world to promote gender equality, not to mention delivering activist Greta Thunberg to the 2019 Climate Conference in Madrid. When back on land, Nikki partners sailing with storytelling both through the written word and as a motivational speaker. Her passions include building competitive teams and experiencing raw unfiltered nature. In 10 years, this incredible woman has changed lives, swung opinions and demonstrated that being young or female does not, and should not, hold you back. 

Mehmooda Duke, Founder and CEO, Moosa-Duke Solicitors 
Alongside her astounding professional accomplishments, Mehmooda is a true role model and champion for women. After graduating from Cambridge in 1989 and training as a solicitor in London, she spent the first 10 years of her career defending healthcare professionals. For the last 17 years Mehmooda has acted for victims of the NHS and GPs, specialising in complex spinal injury claims.

The founder and CEO of Moosa-Duke Solicitors, she leads a team of 18 legal professionals and has attracted multi-million-pound awards, as well as being presented with an MBE for her services to the legal profession and female entrepreneurship. Mehmooda is the founder and Chair of ‘Leading Ladies’, an organisation that aims to inspire, mentor, coach and support its members to ‘dream big and fly high’. She was the first female in English Cricket history to become Chairman of a First-Class County Cricket Club, and was the second Asian female in the history of Leicestershire to be appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Leicestershire and Rutland in 2017, a position she will hold until age 75. 

Cath Bishop, Olympian 
Dr Cath Bishop is a woman of many talents, and while probably most well known for her Olympic rowing achievements, her varied career also defines her as a business coach, author and former diplomat. Cath represented Great Britain in 3 Olympic Games, winning World Championships gold in 2003 and Olympic silver in Athens, 2004. For 12 years she served as a diplomat for the British Foreign Office, specialising in policy and negotiations on conflict issues.

Now, Cath works as a business consultant, leadership coach and author, as well as teaching on Executive Education programmes at the Judge Business School, Cambridge. She is an advisor and advocate of ‘The True Athlete Project’, a non-profit organisation working to create sporting environments that enable athletes to thrive, and a former member of Surrey Business School’s Advisory Board. ‘The Long Win: the search for a better way to succeed’, is Cath’s first book, listed in the Financial Times’ Top 10 Business Books for 2020. 

Rt Hon Anne Milton, Politician 
Anne’s impressive political career saw her elected as MP for Guildford in 2005 and serving on the Health Select Committee, as well as being appointed Shadow Minister for both Health and, previously, Tourism, Gambling and Licensing. In 2010 Anne’s role in the new Coalition government was as Minister for Public Health, while from 2012 she served 5 years in the Government Whips’ Office becoming the first female Deputy Chief Whip; before being assigned as Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships in 2017.

As one of the 21 Conservatives who lost the Whip and stood as an independent candidate in the 2019 General Election, Anne resigned from her post in 2019. Today she works with several organisations in the Further Education sector including Pearson, KPMG, and City&Guilds, while maintaining an interest in Public Health. Anne is also a Trustee of the University of Surrey Students Union, Founder of The Company for Nurses and sits on the Yvonne Arnaud Development Board. Anne was a borough councillor in Surrey for five years and trained as a nurse, working in the NHS for 25 years.

Ruth Gill, Director of Faculty Operations for the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at the University of Surrey
Becoming a mother is often seen as a challenge that will disrupt a woman’s career. This damaging assumption is completely undermined by Ruth, whose stellar career serves as a prime example that it is attainable to do both. After completing a degree in Modern Languages, Ruth joined the fast-stream Civil Service training scheme in 1992 at the Department for Education, where she stayed for 7 years before departing on maternity leave.

After a longer-than-planned career break, rather than returning to the DfE Ruth went to work for the University of Surrey chaplaincy team part-time in 2007 and has worked at the University ever since, moving several times within the University and gradually increasing her hours and responsibilities. Since May 2019, Ruth has been Director of Faculty Operations for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at the University.

Are you intrigued to hear how they did it? Well, you’re invited to find out as these are the participants for Surrey Business School’s 4th annual International Women’s Day panel! This year the event will take place via Zoom from 6pm – 8pm on Wednesday 10th March and is open to all students. The best part? It’s free! The only thing you need to bring is yourself and any burning questions you want answered. 

Choose to challenge yourself, like these courageous women have. 

Register for the event here.

With thanks to Lily Rose King