International Women’s Day (IWD2021) is an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, paying homage to those who have – and continue to – challenge, shape, and disrupt the status quo, blazing a trail for others.
Whilst the role and rights of women have changed considerably over time, one thing that has remained the same is the number of awe-inspiring women that continue to have a truly positive impact on the world.
We invited a selection of clients, contacts, and colleagues to tell us more about those who truly inspire them.
Director & Solicitor – Actons Solicitors
Mrs Justice Elizabeth Bourne-Hollands
I have always been inspired by the late Mrs Justice Elizabeth Bourne-Hollands, who was my great Auntie Betty.
Elizabeth was the first female lawyer to be admitted to practise in Barbados (in 1947), and as the first female judge of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago, in 1972 she became the first female Judge in the Commonwealth Caribbean. She was a very strong and kind individual, who never failed to impress with her words and dedication to her work.
Partner – Smith Cooper
Helena Kennedy QC
As a teenager, I was inspired to attend Law School by a lady called Helena Kennedy QC, who is today one of the most distinguished, eminent human rights lawyers, having spent her career championing civil liberties, promoting human rights and campaigning for social justice, whilst taking on many high-profile cases.
One of Helena’s books “Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice” was published when I was sitting my A Levels – it explores prejudice in the English legal system and led to some key reforms for women. Sadly, it has since been followed up by “Eve was Shamed”, in which Helena forensically examines new evidence that women continue to be discriminated against throughout the legal system, and that there is still a way to go yet when it comes to female representation in the system.
Helena has been awarded more than 30 honorary doctorates, has been honoured by other European countries for her work in her field and has been quite a force to reckon with in promoting equal opportunities at the Bar. She is also the patron of many charities.
Helen Kennedy has achieved great things in a somewhat exclusive, male dominated profession and still managed to squeeze in three children of her own during her career – a true inspiration!
The woman I admire the most at present is Vice President Kamala Harris.
Not only is Ms. Harris the first women Vice President of the USA, she is also the first person of colour. She is an exemplar to all of us, and her flair, charisma, ambition, energy, and incredible work ethic permeates everything she does, shaking the very foundations upon which politics is built.
The Vice President has an amazing work ethic, but what I admire the most is that she has been quoted as saying she “eats the word No for breakfast.” When somebody says something isn’t possible, she just ignores them and focuses instead on making it happen. She has incredible tenacity, and an incredible willingness to learn. She is very good at paying it forward in terms of helping other women into careers and supporting women in business and social communities. And maybe most importantly, the Vice President is willing to tackle uncomfortable truths head on, in terms of things that may otherwise get swept under the carpet.
As a dual American-British citizen, I feel incredibly fortunate to be experiencing this moment in time, and for that reason, Kamala Harris is my shining star.
CEO Fleetmilne & Chair Colmore BID
Margaret Thatcher, My Mother and Greta Thunberg
- PAST – Margaret Thatcher was a great source of inspiration to me as a teenager. Fiercely unafraid to stand up to the misogynistic world that surrounded her, undoubtedly a passionate advocate for the hard-working underdog.
- PRESENT – My mother is always an inspiration. Never too busy to talk, always ambitious, never limited by her own doubts.
- FUTURE – Greta Thunberg – someone needs to stand up for the planet, and Greta is uninhibited in that defence – such a rare personality trait.
Partner – Smith Cooper
Women in leadership
I have met and been inspired by numerous people during my career, some in the public eye, others through friendships and my time in the profession.
Last year, we celebrated the centenary of the first female chartered accountant in the world – Mary Harris Smith and as a profession we have undoubtedly come a long way since. Reflecting over the past 25 years, I have witnessed and worked through a significant amount of change, perhaps more than I appreciate and I feel lucky to have had the breath of opportunities that women of my parent’s generation simply did not have.
Despite that, female representation at the top has been surprisingly slow. Each year, an increasing number of women join the profession – varying reports suggest there’s an almost a 50/50 male/female split – and yet the proportion of female partners, senior managers and directors is increasing at a much slower rate, with women making up only around 17 per cent of partner-level roles.
Female representation is rising – there is no doubt about that – and we can already see societal changes and a shift in mindset, thanks to huge social movements and years of lobbying. There’s more opportunity for flexible working, greater protection around equal opportunities and also more transparency when it comes to gender inequalities.
However, there is still much ground to cover when it comes to women having and being inspired to achieve seats at leadership tables, particularly in the professional services sector. It is up to all of us as a collective society and specifically those now at the leadership table, to continue empowering women and to ensure that there are equal opportunities for all.
Director – Sally Botham Estates
I’m always inspired by the work of Kate Stephens.
When my daughter was sixteen, she attended an event that Kate spoke at. As soon as she stepped off the train home, she was overflowing with excitement about the charity ‘Smart Works’, their CEO Kate Stephens, and what an inspirational speaker she was. Mostly she kept saying how much I’d love the charity, and she was completely right.
Smart Works provide high-quality interview clothes and one-to-one interview coaching for unemployed women in need (women referred from homeless shelters, care homes, domestic abuse charities and dozens more places).
I admire Kate and the team so much, not just for their care and compassion for women in need, but also for helping provide practical solutions when it’s so easy to just donate and feel like that’s enough. But Kate built up expertise in business and now uses that knowledge to create work that empowers women, real individuals, and has a very tangible impact that’s long-lasting. I don’t think you can get more inspiring than that.