Incredible alumni who are Choosing To Challenge on International Women’s Day

Female graduates raising their hand in support of IWD 2021

Honouring our graduates who are supporting this year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge by raising awareness against bias and helping to forge a gender equal world

  • 08 March 2021
  • 12 min read

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (8 March) is #ChooseToChallenge. We are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and collectively we can all help to create an inclusive world. 

At the University of Portsmouth we’re committed to creating a working, learning, cultural and social environment based on dignity and respect, where difference is valued and celebrated, enriching our community. We have a network of over 100,000 female graduates from all around the world including Nigeria, Singapore, Cyprus, Greece, China and Bulgaria.

We spoke to a few of the incredible women alumni who are choosing to challenge not just on International Women’s Day (IWD), but every day. We are proud of not only the achievements of each and every one of these women, but of their positive contributions to their communities and the world around them.

Siddhi Trivedi

BSc (Hons) Pharmacology, 1989
Founder of Beyond Identity

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

This year’s theme sets out a clear agenda for all men and women to stand up to inequalities women face professionally, whether it’s equality in pay, gender bias or promotion. So, this year I am joining forces with a group of women who choose to challenge this and will be launching a unique venture fund to support women-led start-ups.

Siddhi Trivedi, Founder of Beyond Identity

I have founded Beyond Identity, a start-up that is developing an app with a local primary care trust to simplify and assist doctors delivering both cost-effective and efficient high quality care provision for patients without compromising on data security. I am also the founder of Project BIBA: a social enterprise focused on increasing the number of girls and women to choose a career which currently only 3% of girls rate as their first choice. 

My career in technology happened organically from a career in pharmaceuticals followed by business consultancy. This transitioned into digital transformation through the support of my mentor who opened doors of opportunities whilst I faced many gender-based barriers along the way.

International Women’s Day serves as a day of global solidarity where women can draw inspiration from each other as well as celebrate their successes. Each year these campaigns transcend down to girls and boys at school age to begin the process of changing mindsets at an early age which challenge the age-old patriarchal system embedded in our society.

Gemma Frith

BSc (Hons) Television and Broadcasting, 2017
Presenter/Producer at Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

As a white woman in football, the privilege of my skin colour has already given me greater opportunities than some of my female counterparts. It’s so important for all women to see themselves represented in the sports they enjoy watching, and having the courage to challenge gender bias in the workplace is a vital first step in promoting change.

Gemma Frith, Presenter/Producer, Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C

In my role as presenter/producer, I am one of the lucky few still able to attend Premier League games this season. I present across Wolves’ social media channels to millions of followers worldwide, as well as interviewing our players.

Last week, I read a fantastic quote from Chancellor Karen Blackett which stuck with me and I think resonates particularly on IWD: “Diversity is not a problem to fix. Diversity is the solution". In sports coverage, there is a gender imbalance on screen which is now starting to be addressed, but there are still deeper-rooted issues that need to be challenged.

I've been told in the past that the only reason I've secured a job in football is because I'm a woman - that I'm ticking a corporate box – with no regard for my hard work or skills. I've attended football grounds under restrictions in 2020 where women's toilets were not in use, based on an unconscious assumption that there wouldn’t be any staff present who would need access.

These infrequent incidents are massively outweighed by the outpouring of support and encouragement I've encountered in my career so far, but we must continue to celebrate women in sport and increase female visibility to ensure these outside attitudes can be challenged and changed. IWD is the perfect time for us all to self-reflect and ensure we are each doing our utmost to pave the way for women of the future.

Sheena Sethi

BA (Hons) International Business, 2017
Financial Services Senior at EY

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

My awareness around the lack of gender equality arose when I wrote my dissertation on Women in Financial Services with my brilliant tutor Briony Boydell in 2017 - from then it has remained a passion of mine. I think IWD is a fantastic day to showcase the work we need to do on the rest of the days of the year.

Sheena Sethi, Financial Services Senior, EY

I'm a Financial Services Assurance Senior at EY. My role involves auditing financial statements primarily for insurance companies such as Lloyds of London syndicates. In addition, I am also part of various forums such as the Insurance Women's Network and EY Voice which is a communication network with senior leadership.

I think International Women's Day is so important for so many reasons. Firstly, to celebrate how far we have come through the years and to shine a light on the trailblazers that have made this happen, whether on a wide scale globally or within their own working environment. Secondly, to address the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender parity and to highlight that this is still a very much important issue in 2021. 

I am part of various women's networks at EY and pledge to help work on unconscious biases in the workplace. I am also part of the core team of a fantastic organisation called I Can You Can Too - we work with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and challenge workplace stereotypes with our work in the community. We can all help to challenge behaviours that do not fit with our values to help build a more inclusive world.

Georgia Elliott-Smith

BEng (Hons) Environmental Engineering, 1998
Managing Director, Element 4 Group

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

Construction struggles to recruit and retain female talent, so I strive to challenge the image of the industry, speaking at schools and events, encouraging girls to consider it as a career. I’m on the steering committee of National Association of Women in Construction and am active with Women in Office Design, Women In Sustainability and STEMazing to encourage women to join and remain in construction. It’s so important to present female role models - if you can see it, you can be it!

Georgia Elliott-Smith, Managing Director, Element 4 Group

I’m Managing Director of Element 4, a sustainability consultancy in the construction and property sector. My role is really exciting and varied – from creating corporate ESG strategies and net zero carbon plans, to helping designers create green roofs, water recycling systems and edible gardens! Outside work, I am an activist with Extinction Rebellion and an anti-incineration campaigner. In April, I’ll be in the High Court, challenging the government over failure to limit carbon emissions.

IWD is still desperately needed to highlight inequalities that many men and women do not realise exist. I was fascinated by Caroline Criado Perez’s ‘Invisible Women’, showing how from stab vests to crash test dummies, the world is designed for men with potentially fatal results for women. Globally, women are disproportionately affected by disasters - two-thirds of jobs lost after Hurricane Katrina were by women and, despite representing 39% of global employment, women faced 54% of job losses during the pandemic. After the 2004 tsunami, surviving men outnumbered women by 3:1 and UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.

I am on the steering committee of SheChangesClimate, founded after the UK government announced an entirely male delegation for COP26, despite the UN Gender Action Plan signed at COP25 requiring gender equality in climate action. We have been lobbying hard, rallying prominent women from around the world to highlight the issue.

Hannah Webb

BSc (Hons) Economics, 2011
Global Solutions Principal at Verizon

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

The technology industry that I work in certainly has fewer women than men. I am choosing to challenge by inspiring the next generation, through coaching and education, on the opportunities for women in tech.

Hannah Webb, Global Solutions Principal, Verizon

To me, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect and be thankful for the sacrifices that women, and men, have made throughout history standing up to gender inequality. We have come such a long way in the last 100 years, however around the world today there are still many women and girls who are facing discrimination because of their gender. IWD is a day to recognise that the work is not done, we still have a long way to go to create equality for women.

As Global Solutions Principal at Verizon, I work with enterprises around the world helping them to achieve their digital and business transformation goals. Throughout Europe, I coach, lead, and support various sales teams to increase Verizon’s understanding of challenges faced by the modern enterprise.

It is so important to stand up and call out inequality in the workplace, I am fortunate to be part of a company that does just that and encourages all of its employees to have a voice.

Roni Edwards

Partnership Master's Programme, 2005
Founder and Co-Director of Pamodzi Creative

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

Pamodzi Creatives is a community interest company that celebrates inspirational stories and collaborates with creatives to challenge, affirm and inspire. I want to live in a world where creativity has something to say and contributes in some positive way towards increased social awareness.

Roni Edwards, Founder and Co-Director of Pamodzi Creative

For me, International Women’s Day is a chance for my organisation to celebrate women and girls making a positive impact on their community, whatever the context. This is delivered through the Inspirational Women of Portsmouth Project. Taking place around International Women's Day, a social media campaign integrates short films and podcasts with a nomination process that culminates in an evening of celebration. 

City residents are encouraged through this campaign to nominate any individual identifying as a woman/girl they consider inspirational because of her positive impact in the community. That community might be city wide, or a specific organisation, group or sector. It is a celebration of the ‘ordinary’, often overlooked, women who make a difference to the lives of others. The project includes an apprenticeship scheme for young people to take a lead in shaping the project. A panel of trailblazers from various industries are invited to be on the selection panel. 

In keeping with the belief in tribes and togetherness, we don't call our award recipients 'winners'. We call them 'award recipients', because we know that behind every inspirational woman is a tribe that she represents.

Hetal Maniar

MSc Financial Decision Analysis, 2004
Founder and Owner of Anchorheart Education Services

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

I am the first woman on my side of the family to start her own business. It has been a challenge for me as I have been told by everyone that knows me, that I am not cut out for business. I am not about a profit and loss spreadsheet or numbers, I believe that integrity, honesty, and reputation are the key drivers for money to follow.

Hetal Maniar, Founder and Owner of Anchorheart Education Services

I love my first cup of coffee, reading, travelling, learning about different cultures, writing, hiking, walking, and putting a smile on someone’s face. My philosophies in life are integrity, honesty and humility are the foundations of your character. If you work with integrity and honesty, money will follow. You are on this earth for a reason; make it worthwhile. Leave a few footprints before you go which will inspire someone in some shape or form. 

I am the owner and founder of a company called Anchorheart Education Services which deals in university partnerships, summer schools, student recruitment, educational consultancy and onboarding services for students wanting to come to the UK for higher education. I grew up in India, stayed in the US for a while and have been settled in the UK for the past 20 years.

Being a woman is a celebration. The fact that women all over the world have been successfully accomplishing in various fields – social, political, cultural and economical is an achievement. I believe that every day is your day, but it is great to have a dedicated day celebrating the achievements of women all over the world. I am a supporter of ‘education for the girl child’. It is something that I am very ardent about because I believe that educating a girl is the key to a nation’s progress and success.

Sarah Howarth

BSc (Hons) Psychology, 2008
Head of Performance & Business Intelligence at NHS Solent Trust

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

I choose to challenge women to be proud of their achievements and not feel that they add less value in the workplace whilst trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Sarah Howarth, Head of Performance & Business Intelligence at Solent NHS Trust

I am the Head of Performance and Business Intelligence for Solent NHS Trust, a local community and mental health trust providing services across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.  My area of responsibility is made up of a range of different strands: information analysis, data assurance, business intelligence as well as performance governance.

The technical aspects of my role include overseeing the development of a data warehouse and implementation of a new business intelligence tool across the trust, as well as the production, presentation, quality assurance and analysis of all the trust’s patient information. This is the area where my career in performance began 8 years ago, and where my inner data-geek is most comfortable! I always had an interest in maths and studying psychology at Portsmouth developed this into a focus on statistics and understanding of how data analysis can add huge value.

Having spent the majority of my career in the NHS, I am fortunate enough to have never experienced gender inequality in the workplace.  The NHS is well known to be a predominantly female workforce across the UK, and this is something I am proud to be part of. 

As an individual who values both my career and my personal life, I have always been supported to progress and never been held back by choosing to take a year out for maternity leave and reduce my hours after returning to work. I have been subsequently considered, and successfully appointed, to more senior roles within the organisation, whilst still being supported to maintain my work life balance – being able to work part-time and spend valuable time with my young daughter.  I support what International Women’s Day represents and feel that all women should be given the same opportunities and treatment that I have been fortunate enough to receive in the workplace.

I choose to challenge employers to support women to not feel like their career has to take a back seat if they choose to have a family, and to acknowledge the value women can bring to an organisation regardless of whether they are working full or part-time, or whether they have a young family or not.

Hope Mckellar

BA (Hons) Journalism, 2019
Founder of Hope Mckellar PR

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

Having experienced gender bias in the workplace first-hand, I am now using my position and role within my business to provide opportunities for women. I am offering work experience roles to young women at the University of Portsmouth to help them gain experience that they may struggle to gain due to gender inequality.

Hope Mckellar, Founder of Hope Mckellar PR

I am the founder of Hope Mckellar PR, a small business that helps people to tell their stories through the media. I work alongside businesses, individuals and organisations with inspirational or insightful stories and get them the recognition they deserve through sending press releases to my list of media contacts. I graduated from Portsmouth with a journalism degree in 2019.

For me, International Women’s Day is an extremely important thing to be celebrating. There is a common misconception that sexism and misogyny no longer exists, but the reality is that it is so deeply engraved in society that it is only harder to spot, but still very much exists. We all need to do our bit to continue fighting gender inequality.

My aim is to build a generation of girls like me that are confident and empowered enough to reach for whatever goals they have – and hopefully fill the business space in the city with female-led businesses.

Elle Gray

BSc (Hons) Psychology, 2006
Community Services Manager for the YOU Trust

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

I’m choosing to challenge in the workplace by constantly looking at where inequalities are and seeing what we can do to bring balance. This takes the form of addressing structural issues that affect people’s lives – access to services, poor housing, poverty and a healthy environment.

Elle Gray, Community Services Manager, The YOU Trust

I work with an amazing organisation and team of social prescribers, care coordinators and health coaches that support GP surgeries with all the non-medical issues that affect people’s health and wellbeing. It’s been a challenging year responding to the COVID emergency and the mammoth effort of the vaccine rollout by our GP Partners but it feels like a creative spring is around the corner.

For me, International Women’s Day is a mixture of horror for the places in our world where women are still disadvantaged or in danger – and great joy and gratitude for the women around me that are taking their place and making a difference in all areas. I have hope that the levelling up of women, and all people who have been discriminated against, will help us touch the earth and bring an infinite mindset rather than intolerance.

Deborah Payne

BSc (Hons) Sociology, 1997
Owner and Founder of Pompey Mag

Female alumni with her hand raised in support of International Women's Day

This year I am #ChoosingToChallenge in the workplace. I will quietly and calmly call out discrimination, reach out and support my colleagues, but more than that, when people get things right, when companies act in a way that is fair to all, I will shout out loud just how great they are!

Deborah Payne, Owner and Founder of Pompey Mag

I’m Debbie, editor, owner and founder of Pompey Mag, the community magazine for Portsmouth. As Editor, my role is varied and fascinating. I get to commission or write features, design layouts, meet and interview some amazing people and help to promote local businesses. Once the magazine is printed you will often find me pounding the streets of Portsmouth assisting with the delivery – which is a great way to meet readers and free exercise to boot!

I studied sociology at Portsmouth, and this course gave me a great insight as to how discrimination of all types can adversely affect individuals; limiting their life chances and choices.  Discrimination and prejudice can be so insidious and hidden, to the extent that the perpetrators themselves do not always realise they are doing it. Inequality affects us all, when we place others into a straitjacket of expectation, we are placing ourselves in one too. And that is why I am a passionate supporter of International Women’s Day. Freeing women from inequality and discrimination frees men too. We all win, allowing us all to simply be ourselves.

With women still being underrepresented in many walks of life and with the ever-persistent gender pay gap, we need a day which celebrates women’s contributions and achievements. A day of joy, which looks at how far we have come as well as at the challenges still to be faced.

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