WeAreFutureLeaders Conference | In Words

WeAreFutureLeaders, an extension of WeAreTheCity, hosted its first full-day leadership conference for working women at Simmons & Simmons on Friday 12 May.

The event, hosted by journalist Harriet Minter,  was a huge success with 150 female attendees from a variety of business sectors.

After welcoming the audience to the conference, Harriet Minter opened the floor to Ania Rontaler, Partner from Simmons & Simmons who said she was “proud to have Simmons & Simmons as the conference home and see so many inspiring women in the audience and on the panels.”

Ania was followed by Kelly Jackson, Group HR Director, WorldFirst who justified her reason for Worldpay sponsoring the event, saying:

There are three times as many ‘John’s’  than there are women running the major companies.

Helene Reardon-Bond OBE, Deputy Director, Government Equalities Office, gave the opening address, and discussed how women are outgrowing men in ability at both university and as graduates, before surmising that women must “stay visible in their organisation in order to achieve greatness.”

Imposter syndrome became a theme of the morning, with host Harriet Minter expressing that, “despite having a column in a national newspaper, I still couldn’t call myself a journalist. I felt like an imposter.”

Elizabeth Harrin, MA, FAPM, MBCS, Director of Otobos Consultants Ltd also gave an impassioned presentation on overcoming feeling like an imposter.

She inspired the audience with her presentation, concluding Ditch trying to be perfect.

The topics shifted to staying visible and how to negotiate, with Natalie Reynolds, a former barrister and the founder and Managing Director of advantageSPRING.

She delivered a motivating speech about how to negotiate successfully. She had the audience arm-wrestling each other, before ‘mythbusting’ certain stereotypes around gender.

She introduced the five steps of negotiating, before concluding:

“Not everyone will be the same, so don’t go into a negotiation stereotyping men as being more assertive and women more collaborative. Be open to everyone’s different styles of negotiating, and always lead.”

Q&A panel included with the speakers mentioned above, as well as Heather Melville, Regional Director, RBS, Justine Lutterodt, Director, Centre for Synchronous Leadership, Kay White, Way Forward Solutions and Andy Woodfield, Partner, PwC.

Kay White answered an audience question regarding not feeling as smart as other colleagues with,  “Look at your own achievements and your own agenda, don’t focus on others.”

After a networking break, Mairi McHaffie, CEO, Scene Change, welcomed the audience back with a presentation on communication and how to make sure you are being heard and understood clearly.

She enlisted the help of the audience for various communication exercises, and on presentations, said:

You are Batman, and the slides are Robin.”


Andy Reid, founder of theGeniusBox Ltd gave an animated presentation on how to show your true capability, telling the audience to “not hide behind emailing but get out there and meet people face to face”, and warned the audience to not use Powerpoint at all costs.

The morning session concluded with a Q&A panel with the speakers mentioned above, as well as Ben Higgins, Head of Human Resources, UK and Ireland, Société Générale, Tanuja Randery, President, Schneider Electric, Kelly Jackson, HR Director, WorldFirst and Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, ASAP Communications.

For lunch, delegates were treated to a light buffet, and were able to browse the sponsor tables and consult each other about what they had learnt in the morning.

The afternoon broke into elective sessions, with delegates deciding to partake in workshops, smaller seminars and interactive sessions. The power of delegation, creating an impact and presentation skills were just some of the topics covered within these electives.

During an elective session with Elizabet Hearn and Mandy Flint on how to stand out, the ladies encouraged their group to develop their own unique set of strengths and capabilities,

It’s key for leaders – to focus on their own strengths and to notice and bring out strengths in others.It’s easy to take strengths for granted, to not quite notice them as they are so natural.”

They concluded “Have fun with your strengths because there’s no one else like you!”

WeAreTheCity’s Rising Stars of 2016  were next invited to speak on a panel who have all been recently promoted or taken on additional responsibility.

They were: Luma Zitani, Barclays, Kim Opszala, Dentons, Rupal Kantaria, Oliver Wyman, Julie Thomas, Zurich, Shauna Bull, Pure Storage, Sarah Chapman, 3M and Elaine Gibson, NSPCC.

Each of the women offered the audience their perspectives on becoming a future leader and how their careers have developed since winning the award.

The conference continued with ‘You as a future leader’ with Sonia Bate, CEO, Edit Development, who addressed the crowd on how to be an effective future leader.

Sonia’s presentation focused on understanding our core values, and digging deeper into what makes us unique and why our values are separate from our core values. She asked the audience to determine ‘”What is your go to skill? What do people come to you for? How often do you leverage this key skill…how much do you really know yourself?”

“Follow your own GPS, get clarity, know your values & strength. How do we develop? By learning agility.”

She went onto discuss the future of work trends explaining that the least developed behaviours in global leaders are empathy, collaboration and conceptual agility. She concluded with: “So long as you see all the things you are NOT… you will never fulfill your potential.”

Harriet Minter then introduced the Senior Leaders panel, consisting of Caroline Graham, Director, Barclays, Chuck Stephens, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Google, Funke Abimbola, General Counsel and Head of Financial Compliance, Roche, Birgit Neu, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, HSBC, Caroline Hunter-Yeats, Partner, Simmons & Simmons, and Tamara Box, Managing Partner, EME, Reed Smith.

future leaders

The panel covered how they made their rise to the top, and what they look out for in a future leader.

Addressing the audience about advice they would have for those who want to become senior leaders,  Funke Abimbola, General Counsel and Head of Financial Compliance, Roche, said:  “Your career is a marathon not a sprint”.

Speaking about diversity and inclusion within leadership, Tamara Box summerised, “Diversity is the easy part.. Inclusion is the challenge, making people feel like they belong.”

To conclude the event, delegates and speakers took part in a speed mentoring session, led by our very own Vanessa Vallely.

Speakers and senior leaders joined the delegate tables with drinks and canapes to ask any questions they may have, get one-to-one advice and top tips for the future.

Attendees also took the opportunity to browse sponsor tables including Royal Navy, dresses by Semple, and geniusbox. Guests could also support non-for-profits such as Being Mankind, which required backing for their kickstarter campaign to eradicate the term ‘Man-up’.

The group from geniusbox also created brilliant cartoons of the panelists and speakers throughout the day.

Headshots were also on hand throughout the day by John Cassidy, The Headshot Guy. His services were available in the breaks and during the early evening’s networking session.

The conference saw over 150 attendees from across a variety of business sectors and a wide range of companies including Barclays, Worldpay and Edit Development.

WeAreFutureLeaders was aimed at women aspiring or already in early leadership positions who wanted to broaden their skills and grow in to their roles as future leaders.


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