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Chamber’s North East Women’s Conference Powered Up Careers

Over 100 North East businesswomen heard career development advice and first-hand route to success stories from leading entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Organised by North East England Chamber of Commerce, the Inspiring Females annual conference had a ‘Power to Change’ theme and speakers included Jules Smith, head of people services, Virgin Money, which sponsored the event.  She shared her own experience and career path in HR roles around the globe and stressed that gender diversity was very good for business.  She also outlined Virgin Money’s initiatives to support women’s career development including ReCareer to encourage people to return to work with a three-month induction, mentoring and ‘returnship’ programme.

Julie Underwood, Chamber international trade director said: “This conference was an inspirational day with personal stories of challenges overcome and opportunities taken.  It also highlighted the importance of all our regional businesses working to reduce the gender pay gap and help eradicate unconscious and conscious bias in the workplace.  We know that there are many women in the North East who, for a range of reasons, are not reaching their potential, and we need them to be able to contribute to our economic success.”

The conference was opened by Angela Upex, of Chamber Women’s Advisory Board and Kingfisher Visitor Guides. She introduced one of the region’s youngest tech leaders, Naomi Morrow, head of innovation at Sunderland Software City.  She gave examples of her work linking regional manufacturers with pioneering tech companies who are blazing a trail, helping to develop solutions to production challenges. Her work is also aimed at getting more girls into tech roles as at present only 19% of the digital workforce is female, yet there are opportunities for fast-track career development for those who do work there.  She also outlined the Women ReBOOT initiative to encourage tech specialists to re-enter the workplace after a career break.

The importance of tackling gender bias with highlighted by Jackie Barnett, of Jackie Barnett Consulting who was part of a Chamber working group on how to help prevent gender bias, in the investment sector dealing with clients, in particular.  She explained the often unconscious and conscious bias can lead to women not being given the same opportunities as male colleagues.  She said in her view men are often promoted on their potential but women have to earn it.

Sunderland entrepreneur Laura Middleton who set up The Office Rocks shared her career path with the guests and how her community marketing business has grown, as well as sharing tips for Linked In success.

Kevin Haynes, head of learning and development, Greggs, outlined its women’s career initiative which includes internal careers roadshows, mentoring and coaching. This is part of a deliberate policy to encourage more women to apply for senior jobs and is proving effective.

Also speaking at the conference and at the workshops held during the day, held at Ramside Hall, Durham were Sue Ormerod and Lisa Bird, Nigel Wright Recruitment who spoke on gender bias and how to eliminate it from the recruitment process.  Steph Edusei, A New View Consultancy, outlined Imposter Syndrome, which some female leaders experience and Emily Pearson of Be-Wellbeing talked on how to handle stress.

Further information on future Chamber Inspiring Females events is on its website.

The importance of tackling gender bias with highlighted by Jackie Barnett, of Jackie Barnett Consulting who was part of a Chamber working group on how to help prevent gender bias, in the investment sector dealing with clients, in particular.  She explained the often unconscious and conscious bias can lead to women not being given the same opportunities as male colleagues. 

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