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Business & Economy

Inspirational female business leaders light up Chamber conference

Over 200 delegates came together to recognise, celebrate and take inspiration from women in business.

At the 11th North East England Chamber of Commerce Inspiring Females Conference, at Durham’s Ramside Hall Hotel, speakers and guests shared and applauded stories of personal achievement, business success and incredible entrepreneurship.

Liz Mayes, Chair of the Chamber Women’s Leadership Forum and Chief Executive of the Common Room of the Great North, opened the conference by outlining the importance of the event. She said: “The fantastic thing about this event is hearing so many incredible stories – women who turned a great idea into a fantastic business, those who overcame barriers or prejudice, women who worked all over the world for some of the largest companies and smallest start-ups.

“This conference has been going for over a decade and each year we leave the venue supercharged by inspirational, super-talented females.”

Guests enjoyed keynote presentations from Jolawn Victor, Vice President and UK Country Manager of Intuit, which also sponsored the event; and Greggs Chief Executive, Roisin Currie.

Jolawn is responsible for UK operations for Intiut – the global technology platform and makers of QuickBooks, Mailchimp, Credit Karma, TurboTax and Mint – which helps small businesses, the self-employed and accounting professionals embrace technology to achieve financial success.

The strategist has led numerous global teams and spoke about aligning her personal and professional experience with her moral compass. She said: “Events like this Inspiring Females Conference are absolutely amazing as there are so many interesting stories from women who have overcome barriers and hurdles, yet really excelled to get where they are.

“I’m here to share what I have learned throughout my career with others and maybe talk about some of the mistakes I made, as well as the achievements. It’s important to leverage the power of storytelling, such as how other women achieved success, how they overcame their challenges and what it takes to be successful.”

Roisin Currie, who began her career at Asda where she spent 20 years before joining Greggs in 2010, spoke about the lessons learned during a career that stretched from a Glasgow bookies to CEO of Greggs, and how everyone has an opportunity to be a role model for someone else.

She said: “Thank you to the Chamber for giving me the opportunity to talk to so many truly talented and inspirational women to share the twists and turns of my journey and hear about those of others.

“Events like this bring women together, learning through conversation, collaboration and creativity. There was so much of that in this room.”

Roisin is also Chair of the Employers’ Forum for Reducing Re-offending, a voluntary role working with the Ministry of Justice and New Futures Network.

Also speaking at the conference was double-act Sophie Laidlaw, electro-mechanical apprentice at robotics pioneers, Tharsus; and Melanie Stewart welding and fabrication lead, Universal Wolf.

After various jobs in retail and property management, Sophie swapped the office for engineering, which appealed to her hobby of taking things apart to learn how they worked. Sophie explained how she is now developing technology for global aerospace, agri-tech and logistics, and how she was a national finalist in Make UK’s Rising Star Awards.

On leaving school, Mel’s dad suggested she work in an office, so she became a welder. She overcame many roadblocks faced by women in manufacturing in the 1990s.  From coping with no ladies’ loos to becoming the only female welder in her sector in this region, Mel talked about how her career has taken her all over the world including Mexico, Russia and Qatar, regularly overcoming ingrained discrimination across the industry.

Chair of the Sunderland Area for the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Natasha McDonough, founder and CEO of MMC Research & Marketing talked about her 25-year career in marketing which spans three continents and how she learned to find a healthy balance between her personal and professional life.

Suzanne Barbour, life coach and menopause mentor of Barbour Coaching, explained how she helps others through challenging situations and shared her own battle with cancer and dealing with medical menopause. Through her business, Suzanne is helping others in tricky situations, supporting workforce wellbeing, and offering training in emotional resilience, avoiding burnout, and Menopause Awareness.

BHP Law Partner, Oluwapelumi Amanda Adeola, specialises in private family law and moved to the North East in 2007. Amanda talked about being an advocate for change, raising issues around equality and equity, diversity and inclusion in the sector. Mentoring aspiring lawyers, she hosts 1-1 sessions in her own time and spoke passionately about overcoming adversity and moving through and beyond challenging situations.

John McCabe, North East of England Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, closed the conference. He said: “Thank you to all of our speakers and attendees – it has been another truly awe-inspiring occasion with some genuinely inspirational role models.

“The Chamber is focused on successfully creating a truly equal and inclusive economy in the North East. While there’s much work to do, with so many women blazing a trail across all sectors, we’re in good shape to achieve our goal.”

The Chamber will further celebrate the achievements of Inspiring Females at an Awards lunch on 11 November.