Alumni & Supporters

International Women's Day

International Women's Day 2020

International Women's Day

With International Women’s Day 2020 upon us this Sunday, 8 March; we wanted to share some of the work of our inspirational female alumni! #IWD2020 #EachforEqual.

Laura Cowen (BA English Literature, 2017)

Laura graduated from Newcastle University in 2017 after studying English Literature. We spoke to Laura about the challenges faced in her industry, her accomplishments and what being a woman in her industry means to her.

Laura Cowen

What does it mean to be a woman in the area you work?

Being a woman working in marketing and social media doesn't tend to ruffle too many feathers, but it does feel amazing to have a voice and play such a big role in how a client's company is received by the public and potential customers. It hasn't always been the case that women have been able to work at all, never mind have so much creative freedom and autonomy in a job.

What privileges or challenges do you stereotypically face?

I've found myself mostly working with/for men, often I'm the only female in the office or at the meeting, but fortunately every single company I've worked for has been extremely supportive of me and always got excited about my ideas (big up the Newcastle Start Up scene!) However, sometimes when I tell people what I do and that I work for myself, or first turn up to meetings, I still get a look of like "you have your own business?" and people don't always take me seriously. That's pretty sad, but it's their loss if they can't take me seriously enough to work with me at the end of the day. There's also a huge pressure I put on myself, I have major imposter syndrome and it really gets me down and has made me miss opportunities in the past because I've convinced myself I'm not good enough. When you work for yourself you don't have someone to back you up and that can be hard. I'm sure this is something everyone feels at some point though.

What role would you like to play in relation to women's rights in your area?

I'd like to see more women valuing their skills and ideas. People laugh at me when I say I get paid to run company's Instagram profiles and write Tweets all day, but it's so much more complicated and exciting than that. I've learned to value my ideas as much as I value anyone else's, and I'd like to see more women doing the same thing.

What advice would you give to young women going into your industry?

Don't let anyone talk over you. You and your ideas are just as important as anyone else.

It's okay to ask for help.

Be kind to everyone. Being a freelancer in any industry is hard, so we need to support each other and help each other out.

And most of all, just tell people what you do. Be confident and excited about it, you never know who might want to work with you in the future.

Which strong women inspire you?

Grace Beverley- she's built three businesses on social media! I also really admire Alice Hall and the way she built up her e-commerce clothing business Pink Boutique. Both women are feminine, fearless and so authentic in what they do.

Sally Brown (BA Hons English and Philosophy (1971), PG Cert (1972), MA English and American Literature (1991)

Sally graduated from her first degree at Newcastle University in 1971 and has been extremely successful and inspirational throughout her career since, boasting an impressive five honorary doctorates from UK Universities.

Professor Sally Brown

What is your current job/role?

I am now semi-retired. I currently look after my grandchildren two days a week, work approximately one day a week and spend two days a week doing pro bono work, largely mentoring people in middle-management roles in universities to take the next step. On my grandchildren days I listen to primary school children read and also tell and read them stories. On my working days, I work internationally and in the UK advising universities about higher education. For example, today I am on my way home from a conference in Cadiz.

What does it mean to be a woman in the area you work?

When I first started out I did experience significant amounts of discrimination. Throughout my career I’ve experienced this including when I was a senior manager being paid significantly less than my peers. Often I was the only woman in the room. It’s great to see this level of inequality currently being challenged but of course it’s not all solved yet.

What privileges or challenges do you stereo-typically face?

In the early days it was difficult for women to be taken seriously and to get fair turns to speak in meetings. Even nowadays I sometimes have to be assertive to be heard, but I’ve got a lot better at being assertive!

What role would you like to play in relation to women's rights in your area?

A significant part of my mentoring is to help women gain more confidence and readiness to put themselves forward for things like higher education principal and senior fellowships. Often they still seem to be more self-deprecating than men.

What advice would you give to young women going into your industry?

It’s important to remember that if you work in a University, you’ve earned your place there and you should be proud of your own achievements.

Which strong women inspire you?

I am inspired by many academics in higher education including Susan Orr at the University of the Arts London, Shan Wareing DVC at London South Bank University, Prof. Mary Beard, and Susan Lee Vice Chancellor at Hull University and Mary Stewart VC at Lincoln University.

Katherine Wildman (BA English Literature, 1992)
Creative Director and Head of Copy at Haydn Grey Ltd.

Katherine graduated from Newcastle University in 1992 and speaks of the inspiration of feminist writers from her University modules on her writing now. Katherine Wildman is now Creative Director and Head of Copy at Haydn Grey Ltd, her own writing agency.

Katherine Wildman

“I remember reading the modules for the first year and falling in love with the varied texts we'd be studying, from feminist writers to 16th Century poets. The variety of texts and access to tutors whose passion and specialism lay in the books that they uncovered for us. It felt like a privilege to be allowed into their thinking and to learn from them.

“Now, I'm the Creative Director and Head of Copy at my own writing agency. I studied a Creative Writing MA at Northumbria University and set the agency up as a limited company in 2012. My clients include the NHS, HTC and John Lewis.

Studying English Literature gave me an understanding of language and communication that I bring to my work every day. I'm also a creative writing mentor for a local organisation, this is Creative Enterprise, and I refer back to the texts we studied with the students I work with. There's usually a lot of love for Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina.” -  Katherine Wildman, alumna.

Zaleha Abdullah Mahdy (Doctor Of Medicine MD, 1998)

Dean of Medical Faculty and Hospital Director, Professor and Senior Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Zaleha Abdullah Mahdy

Zaleha graduated from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) in May 1989. She served as a house officer in the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital in 1989-90, then as a medical officer in the same hospital until 1992 when she joined UKM as a trainee lecturer.

She continued her clinical training in obstetrics and gynaecology as a Senior House Officer in the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1993, then continued in the Royal Victoria Infirmary until 1994, when she embarked on research work on preeclampsia at Newcastle University towards a MD, which she completed in exactly two years and submitted her thesis in September 1996. In the meantime, she obtained her membership of the RCOG in May 1995, and Masters in obstetrics and gynaecology from UKM in December 1996.

Following corrections and resubmission of the thesis, she finally obtained the degree of Doctor of Medicine (MD) from Newcastle University in December 1998.

What were your career aspirations when you graduated?

“To continue the tradition of excellence in research and clinical service that I learnt in Newcastle. Graduating from a high ranking institution gives me confidence to aim higher in my career.” – Zaleha Abdullah Mahdy, alumna.

Charlotte Webster (BA English Language and Linguistics, 2004)
Broadcaster and advocate – Self-employed

Charlotte graduated from Newcastle University in 2004 and has always had a keen interest in sport alongside her studies. She discusses the challenges which women face in the sporting industry, especially due to lack of media coverage. Charlotte describes herself as: “BROADCASTER. JOURNALIST. SPEAKER. SURVIVOR. ADVOCATE. IRONMAN.”

Charlotte Webster

Do you find there are challenges for women in the Sports Industry?

There are a lot of challenges for women in the sports industry, it can be very hard to prove yourself however things will never change if we don't challenge these gender stereotypes. I became the first woman to present sports in Asia and the first female globally to present boxing and a heavyweight world title fight. There is sadly still bias around women in sport but it is such a recent movement - the fact that women are still doing world firsts shows how far we have come but how far we have to go. Only as recent as the 70's, women weren't allowed to run marathons - I've run 12 and done an Ironman!

How well do you think female sport is represented in terms of media coverage?

It is still very minimal but it is a vicious circle because unfortunately money is now very much ingrained in sport. Media show male sports, brands sponsor male sports to get their brand shown, which helps the sport grow because they have finances. If the media don't give female sport coverage, it is very hard for it to grow and to influence the next generation who don't see it is possible to be involved in sport as a woman.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone not confident about participating in sport, what would it be?

I think it would be to remember that sport can be very individual too, it doesn't have to be a team, sometimes that can be intimidating initially. Even just putting your trainers on and going for a run or walk/run to build it up is doing sport and will help not only physical fitness but mental health, confidence and mental strength.

Where do you work now and what does your position involve?

I'm a broadcaster and advocate - I also have a book coming out at the end of next year. I work across various media including BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC and ITV and for brands globally. I speak on a global level as an advocate for sexual and domestic abuse as well as malaria. I most recently spoke at the UN. I am also an advisor for the Ministry of Justice Victim's panel.

How did you get into the position you are in today?

After graduating I moved to London and started to get experience in the industry which I already had a bit of due to getting work whilst I was at University. I think the key thing was taking opportunities, networking (I didn't know anybody at all when I first moved to London!) and gaining as much experience and learning as I could.

How do you feel your participation in sport at Newcastle University has helped you to get to where you are today?

My participation in sport has helped me so much and is something I still carry on today. It helps me mentally to deal with stress and low mood. It is a great way of coping with some of the things life inevitably will throw at us. I think it also helped me become self-aware and in tune with my body. I still compete now.

Lynda Manning (LLB, Law, 1988)
Partner, Till Henderson, New Plymouth New Zealand

Lynda graduated with a Law degree from Newcastle University in 1988 and emigrated to New Zealand only two days after graduation. She speaks of the strength her degree gave her to pursue work in her field, and how Newcastle University prepared her for working and living abroad. Lynda Manning is now an extremely successful Barrister, she is partner in her firm and still thinks of her time in Newcastle nostalgically.

Lynda Manning

Why did you chose to study Law at Newcastle University?

The course was highly recommended by friends and I liked what I saw on an open day.

What did you like the most about your course?

Many of the lecturers were working as Barristers and had experience in the profession. There was a wide variety of options and I liked the fact that the Law Faculty was quite small.

How would you describe the city of Newcastle upon Tyne?

An amazing place to live and study. My biggest regret now is not to have explored the region more.

Please give a brief description of your career journey since graduating from Newcastle University.

I moved to New Zealand two days after graduation and qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand two years later. I have never ever felt disadvantaged as my degree was from another country. The research skills and the way I was taught to think at Newcastle have been invaluable throughout my career.

I worked as a Family court lawyer and every day the paramountcy principal that I first learnt at Newcastle came into play!!!

I was made a Partner in my firm after six years and am my region’s representative to the New Zealand Family law section. My degree certificate hangs proudly in my office along with a poster for the carbolic smoke ball which was the first case that I learnt about in my first ever law lecture, with Professor Michleson (contract law 1985).

Want to share your alumni story for International Women's Day? Email us at advancement@ncl.ac.uk