Celebrating International Women’s Day

Guest blog by Matthew Searle, Head of Employer Relations, Henley Careers and Professional Development

A few years ago, one of my former colleagues took me along to a #heforshe event. I’d never really heard of it, so was quite curious. It turned out to be one of the most powerful events I’ve been to in my career. My key takeaway was that male/female equality was something that everybody could have an impact on, regardless of their gender.

So, when the Henley Careers team were discussing activities around International Women’s Day and deciding who should be the host, I really didn’t have much hesitation. When designing the event, we wanted it to look and feel different to what we’ve done before: we wanted to focus on celebration, we wanted real-life stories and we wanted a common theme that would unite everybody in the room. The most important aspect, though, was a chance for our students to build relationships with those working in industry.

There is so much to talk about in gender equality, so throughout the planning Cristina Marcu, a final year Finance and Investment Banking student joined us to help us hone our content to our audience. We scoured our little black book of industry contacts and identified two Henley alumna from BT and Kia Motors, plus a Partner at EY Reading with great career stories to inspire students.

We wanted to have an interactive event, with obvious learning points, so we used the Hampton-Alexander Review to form a discussion. Led by Professor Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj, the audience discussed steps we can all take to increase the number of women in executive leadership roles in the corporate world.

In terms of facilitating relationship building, I’m a big fan of joining people together across both student cohorts and years of experience. Everyone learns something from someone, no matter their background or length of career. We invited all students, from our first year undergraduates, right through to our Executive MBA students and of course those in between. The little black book came out again (it’s really a sophisticated GDPR compliant database, I promise) and we also extended an invitation to some of our most trusted employer contacts. The result? A wonderfully diverse audience, all willing to listen, collaborate and take action on the evening’s discussion.

Cristina really pushed us (nicely) to offer prizes to students. We talked about books and vouchers and then finally settled on trying to source “money-can’t-buy experiences” and on reflection that really added to an event with a different feel. You could really feel the excitement when five of our lucky students won lunch and office tours with senior staff at BMW, BT, ADP, SHL and PRA Health services.

Our guests provided some great anecdotes, stories and career advice. The themes which most resonated for me were:

  • how to determine work/life balance at various stages of your career
  • how to put together a set of trusted professional colleagues to support career progression
  • recognising your own personal style and how to draw on your strengths

The great conversation flowed into the evening, with a packed networking reception. We were joined by Smartworks, a UK charity that provides high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need.

It was a truly inspiring way to celebrate International Women’s Day and I really hope that in some small way, I used my privileged position to do #heforshe proud.

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