Women of the Future awards celebrating 10 Years

The Women of the Future awards ceremony celebrated its 10 year anniversary last night. The brainchild of Pinky Lilani CBE DL who founded the Asian Women of Achievement awards 16 years ago, it seemed a natural progression to celebrate the achievements of pioneering young women (under 35) who are the potential leaders of the future.

This has become an international affair with delegates from 32 countries attending a Women of the Future Summit, with a ‘week of women’ events in London for the attendees including opening the markets at the London Stock Exchange, lunch at the Foreign and Commonwealth office and tea at Buckingham Palace.

‘Women of the Future’ is a showcase of female talent, and the summit gives the international delegates a taste of the best that Britain has to offer. The awards are generously supported by its many sponsors and the nominees seem partly drawn from this pool of employers. But why not nominate someone if you know about the awards? And with the introduction of ‘Sport’ there are many categories to choose from including Business, Entrepreneur, Technology & Digital, Science, Arts & Culture, Media, Community Spirits, Professional, Real Estate - Infrastructure & Construction, MBA Star, Young Star and Corporate.

I was pleased to see Nimco Ali (anti-FGM campaigner) and Jack Monroe (campaigner on poverty issues) nominated for awards. Pinky Lilani has elevated something that could have been another ‘women in business’ event to recognising women who are creating change across many sectors of society. Pinky's philosophy is to do “something for someone who can never repay you” and her keywords are collaboration and kindness - which we put into practice at our table as Stephanie sitting next to me lent me her phone charger and I lent her my pen.

Although the F word was unspoken last night, and perhaps there was too much mention of how fabulous the women looked in their ballgowns (we’re interested in what they’re doing, not how well they scrub up) this certainly seemed to be a feminist event, if not in name, with the motivation to increase the numbers of women in STEM, business and politics and to improve equality of parenting – shared intentions with the Women’s Equality Party – maybe they will be future collaborators, as the awards benefit by involvement from parliamentary figures ranging from Nick Clegg (former Liberal Democrat leader), John Bercow (speaker of the House of Commons) and Cherie Blair CBE (wife of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair) who is the awards patron.

Pinky has also enlisted the support of members of Royal families and the awards were attended by the Countess of Wessex, Princess Zahra Aga Khan and Princess Badiya bint Hassan.

The awards were hosted by Susan Li, US news anchor for CNBC with the opening speech by Pinky asking the 600 strong audience “Who do you want to be?” “Who inspires you?” and “What will you give back?”.

Female Arts had been invited to attend the awards to focus on the Arts and Culture category but many of the nominees and winners were of interest. Lisa Neale won the Business award. In her speech she talked about starting her career at BT as an engineer in a van and how she had worked her way up to manager of voice and multimedia service operations over her 13 year career in telecommunications.

Gemma Richards from Swansea won the Entrepreneur award. She is the director of SA Flyers which delivers more than 1.5 million leaflets each month for 105 different brands from their headquarters in Wales.

John Bercow introduced the Technology award. He said that more women are appointed to technology leadership roles in the UK than in the US. The award was won by Dr Laura Toogood a managing director for Digitalis Reputation.

Tessa Baker, a cosmologist at the University of Oxford won the Science award. She spoke of how important it is to learn from people working in your field. I was sat at the same table as Maria-Chiara Ferrari, also nominated for the Science category, who is a lecturer in membranes for carbon capture at the University of Edinburgh.

Author Elif Shafak, one of the judging panel, introduced the Arts and Culture award. She said that art is about connections, to “make visible the invisible” and to “give more voice to the voiceless”. Classical music composer Hannah Kendall won this category and although she was not able to collect her award in person we were told how she is “an emerging force for good and for betterment of the field”. Hannah Kendall is of British and Carribean heritage and she is the director of charity London Music Masters that aims to enable opportunity, diversity and excellence in classical music. Elise Foster Vander Elst, the director of Asia Art Projects was highly commended for her work in developing cross-cultural collaborative projects between the UK and India.

Writer and campaigner Jack Monroe won the Media award. They said it was ironic that after coming out last week as transgender it is the last time they can be a ‘woman of the future’. Jack thanked the women of the past who fought for equality and said that we all want the world to be “a better, fairer and more equal place”. Jack is a campaigner for poverty issues whose blog ‘A Girl Called Jack’ shared recipes on meals cooked for them and their child on just £10 a week. Appropriately Jack attended this black tie event in jeans. For there to be more women in the working and cultural arenas we need to improve access to those on low incomes.

Also nominated for the Media award was Debbi Evans founder of Libertine, a media brand and magazine for interested women. I thought I knew of every feminist publication in the UK, but I don’t. Hello Libertine!

The Countess of Wessex introduced the Community Spirits award which Nimco Ali, the co-founder of anti-FGM charity Daughters of Eve was nominated for. I saw Nimco on Saturday at the Feminism in London conference and heard her speak earlier this year at the Hay literary festival. She raises awareness for those affected by FGM and works to keep the once taboo topic on the political and news agenda.

Jackie Scully, group account director of Think won the award for Community Spirits. She said her best career advice was from a nurse who asked her, what would she want written on her gravestone? This prompted her to focus on a meaningful career after surviving breast cancer. She uses her professional skills to support six cancer-related charities. The Awards held a raffle to support charity Eve Appeal who champion the 5 women-only gynae cancers and raised a significant amount on the night.

Amanda Clack Senior Vice President of RICS introducing the Real Estate, Infrastructure & Construction award informed the audience that only 11% of women work in the construction sector. Hannah Feddon, associate director of Faithful & Gould won this category.

Princess Zara Aga Khan introduced the MBA Star award. She reminded us that if you are a woman with an MBA you are privileged and have achieved a great deal when so many women and girls around the world are denied the same education as boys. Priyanka Agarwal founder of Vritti Learning and Research won this award. She wants to take what she has learnt from the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and share it with her colleagues and implement positive change in India.

In a perhaps surprising match, Coca Cola Enterprises were the sponsors for the new category of Sport, won by Sophie Christiansen OBE, a Paralympic athlete for team GB who won three gold medals for dressage in the London 2012 Paralympics.

Princess Badiya bint Hassan introduced the Young Star award, won by Phoebe Gormley, MD of Gormley & Gamble which is London’s only exclusively women’s tailor on Saville Row. The gamble part of her business name comes from her gambling her tuition fees and leaving her degree course to start the company. I was pleased to meet Beth Barnes also nominated for this category who founded the Exeter Effective Altruism group, dedicated to finding the most effective ways to make the world a better place.

Introducing the Corporate award Karen Pierce, British Ambassador to Afghanistan said “no country can hope to thrive and prosper unless it utilises all the skills of all of its citizens”. She reminded us of the Guardian namecheck of the FTSE 100 that revealed there are only 5 female chairwomen in the FTSE 100 but there are 17 chairmen called John. What is the solution to increase the number of female leaders? and it’s not just to name women ‘John’.

Appropriately this award was won by company Synergy Vision who only employ 25 people of whom 90% are female, they asked employers to support employees who want to work flexibly.

Alex Peace-Gadsby, director of Musto won the final award of the evening in the Mentor category for her work in encouraging young people to reach their potential. This is what the Women of the Future awards are about, the older generation helping the younger generation up and reminding them to pay it forward – or as Kevin Spacey has said with his charitable foundation – to send the elevator back down.

This support is particularly needed for women and will continue to be until gender inequaity is a thing of the past. So while I hope to see the Women of the Future awards celebrate their 20 year anniversary, I also hope that I don’t. Let’s aim to make that change within the next two elections.

(c) Wendy Thomson 2015 @topgirls

Twitter @womenoffuture and #WOF10yrs

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Women of the Future (“WOF”) programme is a portfolio of events and projects that support and celebrate the successes of women through the WOF Awards, WOF Summit, WOF Ambassadors Programme and WOF Network. WOF was founded in 2006 by Pinky Lilani CBE DL and Cherie Blair CBE is Awards patron.

WOF is a movement focused on kindness and collaboration in the workplace, galvanising a community of influential women to work together as a new generation of talent across business, media, culture and public service.

Sponsors for the 2015 Women of the Future Awards are Aviva (headline sponsors), Asda, Ceridian, Coca-Cola, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, KPMG, London Stock Exchange Group, Mishcon de Reya, RICS, Sodexo, Shell, Thomson Reuters, Unilever, and Visa Europe. Media partners are CNBC and Financial Times, and the educational partner is London Business School.

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