On Friday the 10th of March I attended the IoD NI Women's Leadership Conference 2023. The theme of this conference was "You can't be what you can't see" by Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund. This was my first time attending the Women’s Leadership Conference and so I had no idea what to expect. Although I entered feeling nervous and out of place, when I left I was filled with motivation, inspired by the amazing women I listened to and interacted with throughout the day.

Despite the snow the conference went ahead with introductions from the charismatic host Susan HayesCulleton, IoD NI National Director Kirsty McManus and Herbert Smith Freehills’ Lisa McLaughlin, as well as Q Radio’s Ryan Hand.

The first speaker was Sarah Brown, Chair of Theirworld and Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education. Sarah told the audience anecdotes about her process to becoming a public speaker and life in 10 Downing Street. She highlighted how there is currently no childcare strategy in Northern Ireland, stressed the importance of young people gaining the necessary skills to thrive in leadership roles (such as through Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassador Programme) and talked about how she uses her platform to promote education, particularly for women and girls across the world.

Before even hearing Dr. Sinead Kane speak, I was impressed by her achievements; a double PhD doctorate, double Guinness World Record holder, athlete and qualified lawyer. It was easy to forget that Sinead is visually impaired as she doesn’t let this hold her back from achieving her goals. As someone who can relate to her struggles with disability, I appreciated her authenticity. She spoke about how a fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to success and if you push yourself to do things you once thought wouldn’t be possible it will show your inner resilience, that freedom comes from persevering.

The £4K Pitch Competition let the audience choose a startup to receive funding for their business. Caitrin Kincaid’s ‘Cubefun’, an educational game which helps with children's development and learning was a worthy winner that will be useful for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and carers.

The panel session with Kerry Anthony MBE, CEO at Inspire, Claudine Heron, Chief Executive of the Commodity Trading Division at W&R Barnett Ltd and Sian Farrell, Chief Scientific Officer at StimOxyGen enlightened the audience on the resources and attitudes needed to succeed as a woman in male dominated industries, how to overcome impostor syndrome as a young female leader and the benefits of values based leadership.

Baroness Floella Benjamin, DBE recounted her life experiences and how they influenced the woman she’s become today. As a woman of colour myself, I was amazed by her ability to turn the racism she experienced growing up into an opportunity to better herself and increase her resolve. She spoke about how childhood is forever and the importance of protecting children and making sure they know someone loves them. Floella taught us that the four main leadership qualities are compassion, contentment, confidence and courage.

A fireside chat with Gráinne McNamara, Managing Director - Technology Strategy Team at Accenture revealed that there are currently five generations in the workplace and the work climate is rapidly changing, particularly for women leaders. Gráinne stressed the importance of developing your personal skills alongside professional skills so you can be a successful and empathetic leader.

After travelling for many hours due to the snow, the final keynote speech was from Dame Kelly Holmes, Olympic, Commonwealth and European champion. Kelly talked about her time as a runner and in the army, how she became a Colonel and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust. I related to and was inspired by her bravery when talking about her mental health struggles and the fear of coming out as gay. She stated the way to lead in not only your professional life but in your personal life is to persevere through fear, use your skills to teach others rather than demean them and be your authentic self.

Ultimately "You can't be what you can't see" comes down to believing you can achieve. I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate International Women’s Day and I hope to be back next year.

Anna Ramzy - Sales and Marketing Intern