7 March 2018
The Women Breaking Barriers Network (WBBN) intends to platform inspirational women in areas such as Law and Business to motivate young women and help them to identify the barriers they may face and how to overcome them. It also aims to create a network between these women so that in the future, we do “not peddle alone”, instead finding ways to support each other to succeed. As Lancaster Law School’s Student Ambassadors for WBBN, we were invited to the launch of the network at Leeds University Law School and share our experience of this incredibly inspiring day.

The opening remarks of the day were delivered by Claire Young, an advocate for women in business. She encapsulated one of the key messages of the network; ‘never quit’. She was inspired by her experience on ‘The Apprentice’ to set up ‘School Speakers’, an award-winning business which is now the UK’s number one speaking agency providing talks to students, with the aim of inspiring, motivating, and educating them. Claire demonstrated how you can achieve your goals and overcome barriers through hard work, perseverance, and determination. Through her insightful speech, she made us reflect on our skills and encouraged us to identify and develop our individual “Unique Selling Points”, whilst highlighting the importance of teamwork, resilience, good communication, and the ability to generate ideas and present yourself well. The knowledge gained from listening to Claire’s speech was a truly inspirational way to start the event.

The next speaker was Dame Anne Owers, the National Chair of the Independent Monitoring Boards and Chair of ‘Clinks’ and the Koestler Trust. She was a non-executive director of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and chaired both the Independent Police Complaints Commission and a review of prisons in Northern Ireland. She provided an interesting account of her career and valuable advice on asserting yourself and identifying allies that can be relied upon. The latter, in particular, featured heavily in her speech, with her discussing the importance of networking and “not peddling alone” as being key in order to help yourself and other women succeed. This element of helping other women to succeed truly exemplifies the message of the network as a whole.

Next, we heard from Charlotte Sweeney OBE, a leading expert in diversity, inclusion, and equality, in her workshop on ‘Inclusive Leadership’. Charlotte was captivating in her delivery of the session. She drew on her wealth of experience including her transition from success in the Financial Services sector to launching ‘Charlotte Sweeney Associates’ in the Diversity and Inclusion field. Creating the City of London’s Diversity Programme, being named one of The Economist’s Top 50 Diversity Professionals in the world, and co-writing the best-selling book ‘Inclusive Leadership’ are just a few examples of her inspiring accomplishments. The session focused on the six key traits of inclusive leadership with a particular emphasis on collaboration. Charlotte highlighted that an inclusive business is one which creates an environment where each person can perform to their best. Innovation and collaboration are key responses to an ever-evolving business world, and inclusivity is critical to driving successful collaboration forwards. Charlotte’s message resonates given that we all appreciate and encourage the role of inclusion in diversifying perspectives in the workplace - a fundamental aspect of the WBB network.

Our next session included an interactive workshop with Joy Marsden, whose mission is to ‘Inspire the World’s Professionals’ to live a happy and successful life through overcoming challenge and change, despite the daily pressures of life. Joy placed particular emphasis on the importance of self-management and self-leadership. Once you recognise your own unique skill set and are able to ‘tune in’ to understand situations clearly, and ‘shred’ the behaviours that no longer serve you, your inner confidence will shine through. This is not only significant in our personal lives, but will also be beneficial for professional development, particularly when leading others. Joy’s clever use of entertaining, yet thought-provoking examples, left everyone feeling incredibly inspired and motivated to make a difference not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those around us. Instead of letting everyday challenges defeat us, Joy encouraged us to ‘step up and not give up’ by taking small steps each day to reach our goals.

Later in the day we heard from a panel of powerful and inspiring women, from a range of different backgrounds, but all embracing one message: being a woman does not need to hinder you. Magdalene Bayim-Adomako stressed the message that everything we are learning from this point onwards is transferable to any career we wish to take on, whether legal or not, but we must be open to challenge. Anna Lawson, as the first blind Law Professor in the UK, truly exemplified the ability and dedication to overcome challenges so goals can be achieved, as well as the importance of utilising support networks to reach your true potential. Janet Cooper OBE was a huge inspiration to us all. Her advice emphasised that being successful is not about doing the most hours, but instead using your hours wisely. All speakers emphasised that we should be proud women; leaders of the future.

After a day of inspirational talks and uplifting workshops the day concluded with Ambassadors' reflections on how and what we wanted to do to widen the network further. WBB is not an exclusive concept; it is a network that aspires to help women overcome any environmental barriers, but also personal barriers that they may place upon themselves. It is an initiative about self-love and confidence as much as it is about success. It is about having the confidence to “push the door open”, rather than waiting to be invited in. We hope to increase awareness and empowerment through WBBN events over the next few months, with workshops and talks to encourage and foster a culture of inspiration and aspiration for women.

We all had a fantastic time at the event in Leeds and it was brilliant to meet so many inspirational women. We are excited to bring WBBN to Lancaster and build on the network here, so keep an eye on our social media for updates and events in the coming year!

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