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‘Beyond Boundaries’: Women in STEM and Women in Leadership Celebrate International Women’s Day 2024

Photo by Hasanat Ali, @hasanat.shutter on Instagram

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, Roar Staff Writer Charlotte Galea attended an event held by the Women in STEM and Women in Leadership Societies.

At about 9pm on Friday night, the Council Room was full of vibrant, talented women. Wine glasses were dotted around on the tables, the remnants of cupcakes in small little piles. The women complimented each other and lifted each other up; they asked for advice, and laughed together. They exchanged Instagram details and spoke about everything, from the mundane to the brilliant. The room was alive with an excitable energy; a feeling that anything was possible. A feeling that only happens for women once in a blue moon (and perhaps after considerable amounts of alcohol). But there was a confidence here, seen in the way they held themselves amongst friends, new and old. There was a vibrancy. And oh, so many flowers!

This International Women’s Day, the Women in STEM and Women in Leadership Societies decided to collaborate on an event to uplift the women in our community and showcase talented, intelligent women as inspirational guidance for them.The panel featured: Anmol Dhillon, Isha Shakir, Karen Emelu, Lydia Mapstone and Nicola L. Martin. 

The evening began with the arrival of attendees at around 6.30pm. It took place in the Edmund J. Safra Lecture Theatre of Strand Campus, and there was a quiet, friendly atmosphere. The women leading the event rushed around, perfecting the smallest of details, and the women sat around me greeted each other despite being strangers, taking photographs together, laughing together, getting to know one another. I was pleased to see that there were even some men in attendance, there to celebrate women!

Unfortunately, keynote speaker Catherine Davis could not make it at the last minute. Although the groups scrambled to attempt to get someone else at such short notice, it had not been possible. However, they handled it gracefully and allowed for the evening to go along without a hitch.

The theme of the night followed this year’s KCLSU Women’s History Month theme, ‘Beyond Boundaries: Women’s voices, diverse choices’. The event sought to inspire us all not only to reach for the stars in our own fields, but to do so intersectionally. It was hosted by President of the Women in Stem Society, Samriddhi Sehgal, and Vice President of the Women in Leadership Society, Anika Badiani, who began the evening with something familiar: an icebreaker! Put into groups of three, we were asked to identify with the words inspiration, inclusion, leadership, boundaries, diversity and choices, and say what they meant to us. This encouraged the sharing of female empowerment amongst us all; despite being from different backgrounds, we found common ground together.

As there was no keynote speaker, the evening moved swiftly to a virtual message from Suki Fuller, who also could not attend, but wanted to share some words of wisdom regardless. Fuller is the founder of Miribure and was named Most Influential Woman in UK Technology 2023. She spoke about the ways in which a government Act had been disproportionately affecting women and women of colour by restricting their abilities to angel invest in their own businesses. Women rallied, they got together and petitioned and, as announced in the Spring Budget, the Act will be overturned. She stated that “we do have power. We just need to use it”, and that they did. 

The evening then moved onto the panellist discussion, chaired by Co-Vice President for Events and PLA for Women in STEM Joyce Ong and Events Officer for Women in Leadership Katya Polydorou. The diversity of the panel was of significant note; the speakers came from different backgrounds and a variety of fields.

Anmol Dhillon, VP of Asset Management at JP Morgan, spoke about the ways that women limit themselves, noting how no-one sat at the very front of the room, not wanting to take a leadership role. She quoted an Indian saying, ‘a lion doesn’t care what the sheep are talking about’, and argued that you have to follow your own path and not care what other people think.

Isha Shakir, a barrister at the age of 24 at Henderson Chambers, had some particularly wise words to share, stating that she believes representation is vital, and that now, with her profile on her firm’s website, other people that look or sound like her (as she is from the North East) “can believe that its possible for them, too”. She also spoke about the challenges that she had faced before reaching where she is now, having been told by a teacher in school that she was ‘not smart enough to go to university, let alone study law’. Shakir graduated top of her class at York and went on to study at Oxford the following year. She stated that “these barriers that we place in front of ourselves can be knocked down” and encouraged us all to “prove people wrong”. She certainly inspired many in the room to do so.

Karen Emelu, CEO and founder of Black Girls in Tech, and Nicola L . Martin, Head of Quality Engineering at Adarga, both spoke about better education for girls and better encouragement to get into fields usually limited to men. Martin stated that at GCSE levels numbers of interest for STEM subjects drop significantly in girls, and that we need to get to the root cause of this. Emelu also argued for going after what you want to achieve – “if this is what you want to do, do it!”

Dr Lydia Mapstone, CEO and founder of BoobyBiome, was brilliant as well, discussing how women can “break down those barriers together” and suggesting that the way to move forward is hand in hand. 

This section of the evening was closed off by a heartfelt exchange of flowers, both for the panellists and for the President of the Women in STEM Society, who is stepping down to apply for the role of President of the India Society. 

The panel was followed by a networking session in the Council Room, where all the attendees came together to discuss the event, their courses, their futures, and get advice and tips from the brilliant panellists. Everyone that I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed the talk, and the overall tone was one of inspiration. There was even someone from Brighton in attendance, happy to join their friends at this uplifting event on International Women’s Day. 

Everyone was brilliantly friendly, even asking me about myself while I was attempting to conduct interviews about them! The atmosphere was warm and vibrant, the cupcakes incredible (seriously) and the talk light. I managed to speak with Dr Mapstone and asked if she enjoyed the event. It happened to be the third in two days for her, who, vibrantly clad in pink for the occasion, stated that these events are incredibly important. She said “I love International Women’s Day, I think it’s such a great day” and that she had loved the event, that it had felt like ‘camaraderie’.

Similarly, I managed to have a word with Isha Shakir, who also spoke about the importance of these kinds of events. She said she loves doing events like this because she feels like she’s paying forward all of the things she has learnt. She said she wants young women to “not let any negativity bring them down” and wants to pass on everything she has learnt so far. Shakir also spoke to me about the Islamophobia and racism she has faced as a Muslim woman growing up in the UK, and said, “I had to fight my way through”. She now spends a lot of her time doing talks in schools about both law and Islam, encouraging students like her to take on roles traditionally held by people of the old, white, male variety. She says, “So that they don’t have to deal with the same barriers that I did”. 

Overall, the evening was a brilliant, uplifting one, of inspiration and inclusivity. The collaboration between the two groups was a delightful thing to see, particularly as the two hosts were also such great friends. Not only was it attended by some motivating, brilliant panelists, but also ambitious, courageous, dazzling students, all attempting to put themselves forward in their careers, their personal lives and their student lives. 

The event was named well, as it truly transcended boundaries, allowing for the voices of women to shine through and encouraging diverse choices in our ever-changing world.

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