Women Breaking Barriers: top tips from women at the top of their game

Attitudes are shifting with exciting possibilities in careers that were traditionally male dominated.

Freeths invited EURO 2022 champion Demi Stokes and Maple Grove Developments Ltd Managing Director Karen Hirst to join Senior Partner Philippa Dempster, to share their advice for women on being the best that they can be.

The panel discussion was in partnership with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and chaired by Employment Partner Laura Tracey.

  1. You’ve got the power

Being 'you' is a superpower, according to Lioness Demi. ‘No one else is you and that's your superpower,’ she explained. Karen and Philippa agreed that being authentic matters: ‘Be yourself – it resonates with people’ observed Philippa.

  1. Healthy habits

Thinking positively is powerful. ‘It becomes a habit and then you focus on what’s important and grow,’ Demi advised. ‘Embrace the hardship. If you try and pick a positive from it, you will you will always be all right.’ Demi also encouraged people to tell themselves that they are good until it becomes a habit. Karen had similar advice: ‘Write down what you've achieved – we always look at the bad things but look at the good things people have said and that you’ve done.’ Demi also advised accepting what you’re feeling and tackling it head on. ‘It’s alright to be scared or nervous,’ the Lioness explained, ‘but if you’ve done the hard work, remind yourself that you are good at your job.’

  1. Surround yourself with support

‘We all need people around us who say “Go for it!”,’ Demi urged. Karen advised surrounding yourself with radiators (people who radiate energy and enthusiasm) and avoiding life’s drains (those who leave you feeling diminished).

  1. Find your role models

For Demi having people to look up to who looked like her mattered; footballer Rachel Yankey looking similar to Demi and playing the same position made her think she could do it too. All of the panel identified strong women in their own lives as powerful role models – mums, nans and aunties – as well as champions like Demi’s male primary school teacher who she still turns to.

  1. Remember that you are a role model too

There’s no question that Demi and her team mates are role models but Karen urged us all to remember that our behaviours count: ‘Whether you realise it or not, people are clocking what you're doing,’ she explained.  Philippa agreed that the more we can do to encourage and inspire people to believe, the better it is for everybody. ‘As women we’re often so hard on ourselves. I think we can be better at speaking kindly to ourselves and each other – it has a snowball effect,’ explained Demi.

  1. Just do it

‘It doesn't matter if someone thinks you're good if you don't do anything with it,’ encouraged Demi. Karen advised women to ‘just go for it’ because but it's amazing what you can do. ‘Your confidence just grows and grows,’ she explained. Philippa reminded the audience that the more you have to put yourself into situations, the more you build your experience. Demi shared her mum’s advice to ’give it a right good go even if scared’ which Karen echoed asking ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’.

  1. Helping others

Phillipa spoke passionately about the importance of helping others: ‘If you want somebody to do a task, they need to be mentored, coached and praised. Sometimes we forget to give feedback and it’s important.’  Demi also recognised the importance of being a supportive team or work mate as ‘it goes such a long way’.

  1. Challenge the barriers

‘If there’s something in the way then you need to call it out - in a nice way - but call it out because it's just not acceptable,’ Philippa encouraged. Karen agreed and advised using sarcasm and humour; ‘it helps a lot’. She also recommended acting immediately: ‘You've just got to seize it in the moment; don't let it brew and bring it up a month later; nip it in the bud.’

You can watch the full panel discussion here.

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