Alumni debate - successful women at work

Friday, 27 March 2009

Does global slump present an opportunity for women to receive greater recognition in workplace?

During a recession, questions turn to the kind of action that will bring about the fastest recovery.

Overcoming today's global slump will demand the best minds and leadership skills. So does it present a chance for women to receive greater recognition in the workplace?

Five high flying Oxford Brookes alumni return to the university on Wednesday 1 April to start the debate.

The event is being chaired by executive coach Peninah Thomson. 'It's not a case of women's talents being better than men's, but different,' she says. 'We will need to draw equally on both, I believe, if we are to avoid the kind of mistakes we have been making.'

Peninah, a partner in the international executive coaching company Praesta, who graduated with a first in French and English in 1979, argues more women decision makers are needed and deserve to be at the top.

The author of A Woman's Place is in the Boardroom explains: 'Based on my own experiences, I had always assumed that anyone can succeed if they worked hard enough. But listening to other women I discovered this wasn't the case. Women face not only outright discrimination but subtle cultural issues as well.'

The panel includes Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, who graduated from Oxford Polytechnic in 1974 with a diploma in communication and design, and three Oxfordshire-based businesswomen who have all become eminent in their fields since leaving Brookes.

Lynne, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, warns that the recession could make current levels of inequality even worse.

'The gender pay gap has remained intractable after 30 years of the Equal Pay Act. My fear is that the economic downturn is having the greatest effect on low paid sectors where women traditionally work. They are the first to lose their jobs.'

Lou Willcock graduated in hotel and catering management and is now a Visiting Fellow at Brookes. She is founder and director of Indicator, a company specialising in IT for the hospitality sector.

Christine Kirby is Manager of Human Resources and Resourcing at Thames Valley Police. She took a 'top up' Masters in Innovation and Change at Brookes having completed a Diploma in Human Resources in 2006.

She made a career change in 2001, joining the police after graduating with an MBA at Brookes. "I had to work very hard, combining study with work. I am fortunate to work for Thames Valley Police who are very open to women. They have given me the opportunities I was looking for.

'Women often lack confidence, and I think we are often our own worst enemies,' says Christine.

The fifth member of the panel is Ulrike Rowbottom who worked her way to the top in the 'man's world' of supply chain and logistics. She combined full-time work and MBA study to graduate from Brookes in 2003 and is now a Director for the transport and supply chain giant UTi Worldwide.

The alumni debate is open to members of the public, and starts at 6pm in the Lloyd Lecture Theatre at Gipsy Lane. Entry is free. Places must  be reserved in advance - you can book online or call 01865 484989.