On the 8th of March Northern Power Women broke the internet with their 6th NPWAwards. Almost a year to the day since we received our very first national lockdown restrictions, throwing award ceremony plans into disarray, the Northern Power Women team have spent the last year pivoting and planning, to ensure that these awards weren’t merely just another zoom call. After winners had been announced, the afterparty got started, as the winners hopped into a very special zoom room to record alongside Sam Walker and Simone Roche MBE on this week’s Northern Power Women podcast.
Jennifer Hazlehurst, Liverpool office managing partner at EY joined in on the afterparty, and shared just how proud she was that EY had supported such an incredible event. She said how the evening “just completely aligns with what we stand for, making sure that we do accelerate gender equality, that we do everything we can to create an inclusive environment for everyone […] I thought it was a fantastic evening, I take my hat off to all the winners here this evening. I wouldn’t’ have liked to have been a judge, that sounds like a very hard role”.
Many of the category winners spoke of how thrilled they were to have won such a meaningful award, particularly when the work they do has such a clear and positive impact. For example, Beckie Taylor, CEO of Tech Returners, and winner of the Transformational Leader Award shared, “we are changing people’s lives. We’ve put 69 women back into the workplace since 2017, and we’re not stopping”. Ethical fashion social enterprise, and winner of a Judges Award, Electric Bazaar, spoke of how their work gives women the tools they need to escape sweatshop employment and create their own financial independence. “The impact we’re having is life changing […] We go to these women who are very skilled but who don’t have the resources or the networks or the opportunities, to be able to set up their own things and to use their skills to make money and give them the resources to create their own economic independence”.
Not only celebrating her award success, but also her birthday, was Judges Award winner Kiera Byland. The athlete and coach told the afterparty what drives her work: “it’s about helping young people who have disabilities to have the same opportunities as those without disabilities would have […] to give them the dream and the pathway and that belief to say that, if you are struggling, and you’re not academic, the world isn’t going to end. I can be that positive mentor, role model, to support them to develop their skills that they might not realise they even have deep down inside of them”. Zandra Moore, winner of Mentor of the Year, also spoke on the importance of mentors and role models, inspiring us all to take up the mantle of mentor and to create our own positive impact “There’s a lot of people that don’t see themselves as mentors and don’t appreciate how other people perceive them. We need to re-define the mentor term, and maybe that’s part of the challenge, getting everyone to see themselves as mentors at every stage in their career”.
Other winners spoke of their excitement for the future, and how they were looking forward to implementing what they have been planning for and pivoting around during lockdown. Winner of the Small Organisation, InnovateHer, spoke of how thrilled they were to have received such an accolade and how the move to digital platforms has affected their activity: Now that we’re working virtually it’s a slightly different way of delivering the programmes. We’ve seen through the feedback that the girls are giving us, that they’re developing more skills with us digitally than they were face to face. It’s been really interesting to see that and track that”. Winner of this year’s Agent of Change Award, Michelle Hands also added how social media has had a huge impact on her network and working life over the last year: “through social media I’ve been able to connect with loads of women across the world that feel exactly like me, but also with the next generation coming through, so that hopefully the don’t feel so alone and they can learn from the rest of us and what we’ve been through”.
Representing Page Group, the winners of the Large Organisation category, was Graham Lucas, Managing Director at Michael Page. Graham reflected on the past year, and what it has meant as a turning point for large businesses. “I think it’s been a really encouraging few years. I think what you’ve seen is most businesses taking diversity, inclusion and equality far more seriously. Every employer out there has an opportunity to use that now to really go further in the next 3 years than we’ve managed to go in the last 10. It will be interesting to see how and if people use that opportunity, I’m optimistic and hopeful”. Similar optimism was expressed by Judges Award winner Sally Orange, as she spoke of the exciting range of roles now available to women in the army. “There are so many roles now for people in the army. And now that women can do absolutely every role, it’s such a fantastic time for people who want to go and do that. We have had the first female who has passed the paratroopers course which is fantastic“.
Winners also shared stories of their growth and achievements, both personal and professional.
CEO of Informed Solutions and winner of the Medium Organisation Award, Elizabeth Vega OBE, told the afterparty exactly what Informed Solutions have achieved to tackle gender disparity in the tech industry. “If you want to change the culture you need to look at diversifying the types of roles to begin with. We looked at areas like user research and service design and service management functions which were adjacent to more of the hardcore heavy lifting. When we got a good representation of women in those areas you tended to find that some of them had opportunities to start doing coding and development that they flourished in”. Director of the Halo Project, and winner of the Innovation Award, Yasmin Khan also shared the work that the Halo Project had been doing during this particularly challenging year, and the strength she gains from the women she works with. “What we’ve demonstrated is through education and empowerment tools we can reach out to communities and give them the protection that they deserve. The stories that we’ve been hearing in lockdown have been absolutely harrowing, the failings that we’ve witnessed have been most distressing. What we’ve found is that the resilience of these women have really provided inspiration for us, to ensure that we’re providing services in new ways through virtual engagement, and ensuring that we get the message out in as many languages as we possibly can”.
Elicia Curtis, Director of REIGN collective and winner of the One to Watch Award also spoke of being able to turn negative experiences into a positive and lasting legacy. “It’s not easy, but being a survivor of child sexual exploitation, we’ve all at REIGN gone through so much and experienced so many mistakes and failings by professionals that we really wanted to come together as a collective and unite to use our voices to better help professionals understand what child sexual exploitation is, and how to help young people that are still going through these situations”. Winner of a Judges Award, Gina Martin, also spoke of the importance of support networks when overcoming adversity. “I think in terms of perseverance it comes down to relying on people. We have this narrative a lot with women, that because we deal with such much that we’re able to just go and do it, to girlboss it and slay it, but it’s like, I don’t know how to slay it, it’s really hard […] I leant on the people around me a lot and I rested a lot and I cried and shouted a lot. I had the days where I was really struggling and then the next day I got back up because you can’t stop yourself from doing it because you care about it so much”.
As the afterparty podcast recording drew to a close, Jennifer Hazlehurst from EY remarked on the astonishing collection of personal testimonies that had been shared that evening. “It leaves you speechless really. Absolutely amazing stories, from people who have really put themselves out there, which is what we need to do”. Simone Roche MBE also reflected on how this awards ceremony marked the culmination of a journey for the Northern Power Women team, overcoming obstacles and challenges to deliver such an amazing night for some inspirational people. “As much as there are so many challenges around these awards, we would never have had this experience and had the chance to have this conversation. I raise a glass to all of you, and I’m grateful for the time you’ve given now, to share your stories tonight”.