This past Monday marked the fifth annual “Winning Women Conference” held by the Lumsden Club. The all-female club is known on campus for their outstanding work with charity and niche events which set them apart from other clubs and societies. This event, however, focused on a more serious matter. Held in Parliament Hall, the Lumsden Club hosted a panel of seven highly accomplished women to share their journeys, reflect on their careers, and share advice with the members of the audience. The event has been in the works for about seven months and just like in the past, it was sold out.
Ranging from fashion to entrepreneurship to management, the women’s careers on the panel were highly diverse, making for an interesting and insightful discourse. Speaking about the conference, Event Director Florence White-Spunner said “the goal of the event is to empower students of St Andrews (all genders not just women) by bringing together leading figures in fields from tech to fashion to finance.” The first panelist to speak was Conna Walker, founder and CEO of House of CB, a women’s clothing brand which caters to all body types and promotes female empowerment and self-confidence. Starting at just 17, Walker has made international headlines with her multi-million-pound corporation and has been recognized by Forbes 30 under 30.
The next panelist, Julie Bogaert, was no less impressive. With a background in marketing, management, brand partnerships and social media, Bogaert has also made a powerful brand for herself. As a social media influencer and strategic partnership manager, she has worked with multiple high-profile clients, including the Queen herself! Vogue has named her “one of the women shaping 2019,” and she continues to use her unique talents to make her way in the digital and social world.
Next in line was Daphne Biliouri-Grant, a current Trustee for Fife-Women’s Aid and co-ordinator of the “Towards a Plastic Free St Andrews.” However, before her shift towards volunteerism, Biliouri-Grant curated an impressive career in the field of risk management and corporate governance. She was the co-founder and director of Due Diligence, and an advisory at a successful risk management consultancy, where she advised government and corporate clients on a range of issues vital to their organizations. Biliouri-Grant truly understands the importance of reputations in today’s climate and helped clients stay in line for years.
Taking a break from the corporate world, Gail Bryden was the next panelist to inspire the audience with her story. Bryden is the founder and CEO of JustBe Botanicals, an all-natural brand which offers skincare, spa treatments, herbal teas and chocolates. JustBe encourages customers to “just be themselves” whilst offering loads of therapeutic and emotionally calming products. Bryden worked in customer insight for years before realising that she could take what she had learned about consumers and turn it into something more meaningful to her. Bryden has a contagious aura of happiness about her which is probably why her business and life are so successful.
Jane Lunnon, the head of Wimbledon High School, must’ve felt right at home speaking to a room full of women (and the occasional man). Spending the last five years of her life as the head of an all-girls high school, Lunnon knew all the issues plaguing young girls today. And thankfully, she knew all the ways to combat these issues. Lunnon talked about the dangers of social media, the importance of having a good work/social balance, and why both women AND men should be involved in such conversations. Years of experience in the education sector has given her invaluable experience which she shared with the audience during the conference
The next panelist wasn’t too far from home either, considering her daughter, Grace, is a second year here at St Andrews. Carrie Longton is the co-founder of Mumsnet, an online network of parents sharing advice and recommendations. Prior to starting this massive online web, Longton worked as a television producer where she worked on prime-time shows and travel documentaries. After fulfilling her passion in the television industry and taking the internet by storm, Longton left Mumsnet to help restore her hometown of Blackpool, mentor other new businesses, and fundraise for projects important to her.
Last but certainly not least, Emily Burns brought the arts to everyone’s attention as she spoke about being the associate director at the National Theatre in London. Graduating from Cambridge University, Burns has created a name for herself in the arts world. Working as assistant director and director for countless shows, she’s proved her insane talent on one of the world’s biggest, most influential stages. Emily spoke passionately about her career and some of the risks and sacrifices she’s made along the way. However, she said it has all been worth it to work her dream job!
After a round of introductions from the panelists, Event Director Florence WhiteSpunner, began asking questions to the women. She started out by asking a prevalent question, one which many young women face today: have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? Most women on the panel admitted that they had at one point felt like they didn’t belong in their position, however, they acknowledged this feeling and were able to turn it into something positive. Conna Walker said she had felt low at times in her life but urged audience members “to not listen to the voice in your head that says you shouldn’t be where you are.”
The panelists were then asked about social media and its influence on society. This question brought in a diverse group of conflicting answers. Walker, Bogaert and Bryden all emphasized the importance of social media in their jobs. The platform helps them to interact and connect with customers in a positive way. However, some of the other panelists had some adverse feelings about social media. Jane Lunnon specifically spoke about her experience with social media as the head of an all-girls school. She spoke of “sexualization, body-consciousness, and improper political activism” on the internet and the dangerous effects it has on young men and women. This question ended with the general consensus that social media is definitely beneficial is some circumstances, but must be used correctly and in moderation.
Another question during the conference that seemed especially prevalent was about balancing work and social life. All of the panelists discussed how they had to make certain sacrifices to get where they were. Emily Burns and Daphne Biliouri-Grant both admitted to making huge sacrifices to their social life in pursuit of their careers. Both women, however, said they would do it again and are incredibly happy with their decisions. Carrie Longton closed out the question by urging the audience to “work out what YOU want” and doing it. All the other panelists seemed to agree with her advice and the discussion continued.
The last question, which the crowd found very interesting, was whether the panelists thought successful women were seen as intimidating? There were a variety of answers surrounding this question, none fully answering, but all agreeing that women have a tougher time in general in any workplace. Multiple women had harrowing stories of times they were disrespected in the workplace but had little choice to speak up for themselves. Jane Lunnon was told she “must not smile until Christmas” at a previous job to create a respect among her students and fellow teachers. Despite all this, the women all agreed that the times are changing and that women in the workplace are on the rise. Gail Bryden emphasized that women handle things differently which makes them valuable in powerful positions.
The conference touched on many important issues and conversation topics, but the main take away was the importance of women in the workplace. They shared advice such as taking your time to find out what you want to do and the importance of learning when to say no. Women are a valuable asset to any group and these women know just that. They have excelled in their own lives and have sacrificed their time to share their message with the students here at St Andrews.