July 1, 2019, by The Ingenuity Lab

Women in business inspiring University of Nottingham students and local sixth formers

This article was written by Dr Isobel O’Neil, Director of MSc Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Management, HGI. She is also the Founder of Ingenuity19 finalists idooa.


On the 17th May a group of our students and guests from Nottingham College and the Redhill Academy, were treated to invaluable advice about being a woman in business. Sarah Walker-Smith (CEO of Shakespeare Martineau, a top UK 50 law firm) and Griselda Togobo (CEO, Owner of Forward Ladies, an organization that supports and showcases the best of female talent across the UK) delivered keynote speeches. The audience heard fascinating anecdotes, served with a large dose of honesty, about how their career successes had unfolded. Professor Laurie Cohen (Nottingham University Business School) shared some of her experiences of researching women’s careers with the room and did a fantastic job of chairing the panel discussion where Griselda and Sarah were joined by Rosie Kemp, who following a career in hospitality launched her own business – bden glass. The panel answered the audiences questions on topics such as why are there so few women at the top of business?, who supported you in your careers? how can you find a mentor? and where would you like to be in five years time?

While it is a tough job to summarise the talks, here are some of the top take-aways:

Sarah Walker Smith talked us through these six steps to having the career you want.

  • Be prepared – a lot has been made of women waiting too long to go for promotion and/or going for a new job. But it is vital that you put in the hard work to ensure you are prepared – this will give you the confidence you need to go for it!
  • Be connected – networks really do matter. LinkedIn has become a go to place for professionals and jobs are sometimes only advertised on that social media platform. Request connections and maintain their interest in who you are and what you’re working on.
  • Be purposeful – try to establish what your purpose is (but noting that it sometimes only becomes clear mid-career!). What drives you to get out of bed in the morning? Try to connect your passions/ values to the career you want to pursue.
  • Be yourself – we hear this a lot “be your true self”, but Sarah brought it back to the importance of finding a good match between who you are and the people you will work alongside. Too much “faking” of an identity or persona (e.g. in an interview) might well lead you to enter a career/ workplace which doesn’t match who you are.
  • Be-lieve – you do have a choice of mind-set and it is a great start if you can have a positive one for your future careers. This does matter as it is self-fulfilling; the more positive you are about your work, at any level, the better you are likely to do, hence reinforcing your positivity and getting on at work.

Griselda Togobo started off by telling us it is an amazing time to be a woman -we have choices and freedoms that previous generations did not have. There were many examples of great careers advice from Griselda:

  • A no in life should be seen as a no forever, it is a no for now and you can work to try to turn it into a future yes
  • Taking a comfortable and safe route is unlikely to get you far, try for situations that make you feel uncomfortable and you might get somewhere special.
  • Identity, Impact and Influence are three words to work at. Identity, you are your own personal brand so get yourself recognised. Impact, ensure you have a commercial understanding, this is key to getting noticed in business. Influence, make strong relationships and find some people who will be your advocates and champion/ mentor you. That said, it is likely that you will need to have a good relationship with someone before they will mentor you.

And finally Rosie brought a different experience to the discussion. She spoke of her struggles with impostor syndrome, i.e. feeling like you don’t deserve to be successful and someone is going to catch you out as an “imposter”. Rosie told us that she felt mediocre throughout her education, and that because of that she fell into various jobs to which she was not devoted. Yet, she always had her creativity as an outlet. Rosie’s bold decision to leave a well-paid hospitality management role to set up her own glass making business and a retail shop to boot, was an inspiring example of not settling for a career where you are unhappy. Rosie advocated the need to ask yourself what would your future look like if you didn’t try to give something else a go. Doing the sensible thing might not be good for you, so believe in yourself and seek out life satisfaction in the longer term. Take those opportunities!

Overall it was a truly inspiring afternoon. One student commented; “The three speakers told their own stories, which gave me huge inspiration. It reminded me a lot of things that I don’t pay attention to like believe in yourself, be prepared but also be confident what you already could do” and another person commented “Please do this again next year!”. The year 12s who attended from Nottingham College and Redhill Academy told us how much they’d enjoyed it too and that they hoped their students could come to similar sessions in the future. So watch this space, we will be working on a plan for events in the coming year…


The event was organized by politics student Amirah Hussain and supported by Dr Isobel O’Neil of the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Institute for Policy and Public Engagement provided a small grant to support the event.

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