Chamber champions inspirational North East women

Author - Courtney Hiles

Date published:

Inspiring stories were shared by women from some the region’s leading businesses and organisations at the Chamber’s Inspiring Females Conference.

The event explored the pivotal role businesses can play to inspire inclusion and equality, and emphasised the importance of collaboration to create a stronger, fairer North East.

Alix Bolton, chair of our Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF), said: “As proud chair of the Chamber’s Women’s Leadership Forum for the past five years, I’ve had the honour of witnessing both remarkable progress and significant challenges in the realm of gender equality.

“Events like today are really crucial to keeping that momentum alive. The theme ‘inspire inclusion’ is particularly fitting this year. It underscores the importance of creating an environment where every woman feels valued and included, a place where her contributions are recognised and celebrated.”

She added: “Together, let’s continue to inspire inclusion, empower women, and create a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

Alix shared information about the forum, including feeding into initiatives such as the British Chambers of Commerce’s Workplace Equity Commission, and the upcoming WLF report on women progressing in the workplace.

At the conference, we announced the launch of our Inspiring Females Awards, a platform to celebrate the achievements of women in the region and showcase the transformative power of inclusivity.

Alice Andreasen, chief sustainability and communications officer at Newcastle Airport, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be sponsoring the Chamber’s Inspiring Females Awards 2024.

“At Newcastle Airport we’re really committed to providing lots of opportunities for our women and really want to shine a light on the career progression women can have in this amazing sector.

“We’re very much looking forward to hearing and celebrating all of the successes of our women from across the region at the Chamber’s Inspiring Females Awards.”

Darren Hankey, principal and chief executive of Hartlepool College of Further Education, shared some of the college’s initiatives to create an inclusive environment for female learners. He said: “It’s important for us to provide an environment for female students to prosper and meet their potential.”  

Solicitor and managing partner at Sweeney Miller Law, Surbhi Vedhara, shared lessons learnt during her career journey, including the importance of knowing your product or service, and why businesses should take calculated risks and invest in people to grow.

Surbhi said: “We now employ over 85 staff and we have a 50/50 representation of men and women in leadership roles, that’s a stat I’m hugely proud of.

“Surround yourself with positive voices, and don’t underestimate the importance of diversity in the workplace.

“I realised I can deal with my differences from a position of strength rather than weakness. I bring a lot of different things other people can’t. Diversity brings immense opportunities.” 

Kay Carrick, development team manager at St Cuthbert’s Hospice and a member of the Chamber’s WLF, hosted a panel of Inspiring Females Award winners and encouraged attendees to enter the awards to “break through glass ceilings”.

Panellists included: Caraline Robinson, manufacturing director at Husqvarna UK; Alison Maynard, deputy principal at New College Durham; Natalie Collins, CEO at The Women’s Liberation Collective and Surbhi Vedhara, managing partner at Sweeney Miller Law.

Panel members discussed how businesses can be more inclusive and the importance of creating an open and kind workforce. They also shared the positive impact of winning an Inspiring Females Award.

Caraline said: “Being a manufacturing organisation, we tend to be internalised in terms of how we work. We’re celebrating more now, being entered into the Inspiring Females Awards kickstarted that.

“It’s about providing the opportunity for people to celebrate and to be recognised for what they do. The positivity it brings to the entire organisation is absolutely fantastic.”

She added: “I’d love to embrace diversity more in our business but to do that we need more women entering the workforce. Please encourage your daughters who have an interest in maths and science to explore engineering and manufacturing as possible career paths.”

Natalie added: “For me it was encouraging at the awards final to see how much joy and positivity there was for women. As a Chamber of Commerce, to see that commitment to women is amazing.”

The Rt Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley shared her journey as a public figure and spoke about the importance of inspiration and being bold. She said: “You can’t be it, if you can’t see it.”

Bishop Helen-Ann was the first woman ordained within the Church of England to become a bishop. She said “persistence, perseverance and determination” is important to achieving equality for women.

Dr Lucy Reynolds from We Are All Disabled is an advocate for disability rights and spoke about her passion to create positive change and change perceptions of disability.

She said: “It’s important we create a safe and supportive space for people to speak their truth and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s vitally important for everyone to open the conversation about disability to combat prejudice.

“By being more accepting and less judgemental we can change our perceptions and learn something new. This, in turn, will make it easier for us all to unite together to embrace diversity and encourage inclusivity.”

Attendees chose from two interactive breakout sessions. Emily Pearson, founder of Our Mind’s Work, spoke about overcoming adversity and helping women find their strengths. The other session was led by Jo Elliott, business development manager at Wander Films, who discussed generational differences between audiences.

The final speaker was Chloë Clover, co-founder of Wander, a content marketing agency and video production company.

Chloë spoke about the pivotal role her grandma played in her life and how she grew her own business. Chloë said: “Because I could see and feel inspiration, the ‘pinch me’ moments don’t stop.”

Chloë, who was named on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, shared how she attracts such a diverse workforce at Wander.

She said: “Good energy attracts good energy, we provide opportunities and we accept people as they are. We want people to feel appreciated and valued, and to provide a place where people can be themselves.”

Now in its twelfth year, our annual Inspiring Females Conference aims to inspire and connect women in business across the North East of England and is part of the Inspiring Females programme.

Our Inspiring Females Awards submissions deadline is 12noon 11 September, with the awards final taking place on 29 November at Newcastle Civic Centre. For more information please click here.

The conference supported charity True Colours Theatre and was held on 22 May at Ramside Hall Hotel in County Durham.

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