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Home / News and Insights / News / IWD 2021 – Women who inspire

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, we asked male partners and members of our senior management team to share which women have inspired them in some way.

Read the profiles below:

Anita Mattison

Anita is an HR director with a psychology background. She has been a client of BDB Pitmans for many years through various companies where she has worked, most notably Baker Tilly, EC Harris, Turner & Townsend, Noble Denton, Louis Berger, Schindler, and most recently Iress. Highly professional, she operates at board level as a cross between a whirlwind and a dynamo. I have always been hugely impressed and inspired by the drive and positivity Anita brings to every project she touches or invents, with seemingly endless energy, and she is testament to the power of dealing with things quickly but fairly when they need to be done. Anita does not brush things under the carpet; rather inspiring all around her to be brave.

Anita does not do things in half measures. There is no better example of a glass which is always half full. A few years ago, having moved house to near the Southampton coast, she decided to take up sailing in her spare time. After about three months she had signed up to do a leg in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, but such was her success and importance to the team she was in, she ended up staying on to do the entire race and traversed the globe for almost a year. She was swept overboard in a night time storm in the notorious Bass Straits off the Indian Ocean, and although she was tethered, the crew had great trouble getting her back on board. When back on deck, her only complaint before going to take up her allotted shift to cook a meal for everyone was to moan that she had lost one of her Crocs.

Michele Bowers

Michele is an HR Director of the highest quality. I first met her when I was very newly qualified and she was working at EXE Technologies, and our relationship continued for many years when she moved to SITA, one of the world’s premier suppliers of IT and software development to the airports and aviation sector. Michele taught me that whatever the stresses and strains of a situation, we should stay calm and do the right thing. She is also a brilliant people person, and throughout her career she has been very unusual in having practically no Employment Tribunal claims from employees in the businesses in which she works – largely because she talks to people in a manner whereby they feel respected and listened to. Michele will always find a practical solution to a problem, and the reason for this is largely down to two things: she thinks laterally, and she wants to find a positive outcome which suits both sides. Michele now has a global role at BAE Systems.

Janet Selley

Not many people know that as well as my sports-playing background in rugby, cricket and golf, I know a lot about synchronised swimming. This is (obviously) not from being a synchronised swimmer myself, but from being Chairman of the Rushmoor Synchronised Swimming Club (RSSC), which for many years has been the best synchronised swimming club in Great Britain. I was Chairman for six years when my daughter was swimming for RSSC, and took over from Janet Selley. Janet has been involved in the Rushmoor Club, and in the Syncho world across Great Britain for many years, both as a manager and as one of the sports leading judges. Her level of dedication has been phenomenal, and she is testament to the fact that, at the end of the day, you cannot beat pure knowledge, attention to detail and determination. The success of RSSC and the structure of Synchro in Great Britain, meant that at a relatively young age (17/18) our best swimmers were being selected for the Great Britain Elite squad, and in fact the club had six swimmers out of a team of ten who represented Great Britain in the London Olympics, and both members of the elite Duet pair. Janet’s ability to deal with the intricacies of the relationships between club and country, and to embrace the new world of Olympic funding and professional coaches in UK clubs was amazing. She took a new and somewhat alien concept, and turned it into an exciting opportunity, whilst teaching me the power of ensuring that everyone understands the history of a sector and why things have been done in a particular way in the past, so as to create practices that will work in the future. I have also always been inspired by Janet’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the UK rules governing synchronised swimming and the International FINA rules which govern them; and her ability to translate them into day-to-day practice. This has always reminded me of the power of being on top of the facts of a situation at any time and using existing laws to find a positive commercial solution to a problem.

Submitted by employment partner, Brian Gegg.

Charmian Glyn Davies

Charmian Glyn Davies was the most important influence on my legal life, not just the most important female influence. She was an unlikely role model: decidedly right-wing (her hallway proudly displayed a framed poster from her mother’s local election campaign ‘Resolute Action Glyn Davies’); always late for any meeting; and never to be presented with anything difficult before 11am. She would hate to have been called a feminist; but she became a partner in the firm where I trained – at a time when that firm was riven with sexism – through sheer ability and determination. I admired her for that, but what she really taught me was that there is no substitute ever for quality: Quality in your work (she was a brilliant conveyancer and could solve any issue); quality in how you look after your clients (many of them became friends); and quality in the standards you maintain as a lawyer and as a person.

Late on in her career, she became my partner in what was then Bircham & Co. It was not altogether an easy time, but her qualities enhanced our partnership, and it was she who suggested in 1993 that I immerse myself in the new leasehold reform legislation which has been the bedrock of my practice for the past 25 years. Such was my regard for her that I asked her to be godmother to my daughter and she performed that role delightfully too; a little austere perhaps, but with a twinkle to reward good behaviour! Only her death let her down. We lost her at 70 – ridiculously early – because she refused to believe she was ill until it was too late for doctors to save her. I miss her to this day and am forever in her debt.

Submitted by residential property partner, John Stephenson.

Jan Smith

As a young advertising manager at TSB Bank (you may remember ‘The bank that likes to say YES’), I started working with a new marketing director called Jan Smith. Jan had just launched the FIRST DIRECT bank, and in typical ‘Jan style’ she had launched the new, ground-breaking service at midnight on a Sunday night with a highly unusual advertising campaign featuring washing baskets!

I soon learned from Jan some of the key lessons in my future marketing career about pushing creative boundaries and being brave. Whilst Jan was small in stature, she had an amazing energy and desire to always create a first-mover advantage. I remember asking her once what she was doing for holiday and it was to drive in the Paris to Dakar rally, a 500km a day off-road endurance rally, which was typical of her love for life.

When she left TSB, Jan joined the RAC and within months had converted their traditional dark blue coloured breakdown vans into the bright orange vans that still exist today, which was quite a shock for such a conservative brand.

Without Jan, I am not sure I would ever have challenged myself as much creativity and she was a great inspiration.

Submitted by marketing director, Kevin Peake.

Romola Dunsmore

The woman who inspired me, and who definitely wasn’t afraid to challenge, was my aunt, Romola Dunsmore.
Romola qualified as a Doctor in 1946 with ambitions to become a surgeon and immediately faced her first challenge. Whilst during the war there were no men to fill medical positions, as soon as the men came back they got their jobs back and the women disappeared. As a woman, Romola constantly had to prove herself. As she put it in an interview, her ‘anaesthetist didn’t assume I was able; he made me prove it to him’ and another colleague assured her she’d be looked after, to which she replied that she didn’t want to be looked after; she wanted to be respected and treated as an equal.

When asked in the same interview when she developed an interest in women’s careers, Romola replied:

‘I had a conviction that we had a responsibility to the large and increasing proportion of able, dedicated, enthusiastic, but anxious and uncertain young women who were coming through our medical schools. I felt strongly that this was a challenge and a responsibility that we must accept. The country and its health service needed the gifts that these young women could bring to them. And we needed to keep as many options as possible open for the single, the married, with and without children, and the increasing numbers of deserted, divorced or widowed parents.’

Romola continued to support women’s careers throughout her life, particularly through her involvement with the Medical Women’s Federation of which she became President in 1979. She led the Federation’s response to Government consultations at the time and advocated for more part-time roles at all levels. She refused to accept that women should be pigeon-holed into sub-consultant roles just because they might need, for a short time in their career, to give priority to their families.

Although I may not have realised it at the time, growing up with Romola providing such a strong and independent example meant that it never crossed my mind that women should not have the same opportunities as men or that they should be restricted in any way from following the careers they chose. I know that my three elder sisters (solicitor, doctor and engineer) would feel the same. Whilst there is still a long way to go I think the young Romola would be amazed at the progress that has been made. Much of that progress is as a result of women like Romola choosing to challenge.

Submitted by managing partner, Andrew Smith. 

Sharon White

Sharon White inspires me. You may have heard of her recently, as she is currently chair of the John Lewis Partnership, but that is only the latest post in a glittering career. She grew up in Leyton, east London and went to a comprehensive in Leytonstone. After graduating from Cambridge she joined the Civil Service in 1989, and worked her way up in the Treasury to become the first black and second female Permanent Secretary there (which is when she first came to my attention). Shortly thereafter she headed the communications regulator Ofcom for five years, again both the first woman and black person to do so. Last year she made a complete career change to head up the nation’s beloved retailer John Lewis, the first … you get the picture! She must have aced the interview despite having no commercial or retail experience.

She is described as ‘extremely good at her job, but fun’ – two qualities I aim to emulate (and not sure why there is a ‘but’ there). She is also renowned for delegating and nurturing talent, particularly encouraging women to apply for senior positions. In the 2020 New Year’s Honours she became a Dame.

Do I need to spell out why she inspires me? She is such a trailblazer and yet has blazed her many trails not at the expense of other people but encouraging and nurturing them all the while. She clearly enjoys her work whatever it is and that is infectious. I have never met her but would like to one day: she is on my ‘dream dinner party guest’ list!

Submitted by infrastructure planning partner, Angus Walker. 

Kathrine Switzer

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon – at that time considered a men’s-only race. During the competition, race official Jock Semple attempted to rip her bib off, but she persevered and kept running. The photo of this incident flashed around the globe and became one of Time-Life’s ‘100 Photos that Changed the World’.

Switzer finished the ‘67 Boston Marathon but was radicalised by the incident and became determined to create change for women. She campaigned to make women official in the Boston Marathon in 1972 and later that year was one of the creators of the first women’s road race. Now, four decades later, the incident continues to capture the public imagination and is largely the reason Switzer has dedicated her multi-faceted career to creating opportunities on all fronts for women.

Switzer has run 39 marathons, won the 1974 New York City Marathon and in 1975, her two-hour and 51-minute marathon in Boston was ranked sixth in the world and third in the USA in women’s marathon. She is still running marathons today.

After a successful athletic career and in tandem with her work to improve circumstances for women athletes, she turned her attention to a sports marketing career, broadcasting, and motivating others in both fitness and business.

In 2004, Switzer decided to focus her considerable energies on writing, speaking and, to a lesser extent, television broadcasting, all of which she had done for 25 years on a part-time basis.

Submitted by litigation partner, Rick Munro.

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