Women from across the FE and skills sector were at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills conference centre in Westminster on June 17 for the WLN annual conference. Sara Mogel gives an overview of the event.

Women leaders in FE were told by Anne Doyle, journalist, author and former director at Ford Motor Company, to ‘embrace and exert our women power’ in a reflection of Michelle Obama’s recent assertion about girl power.

Anne, a renowned international speaker on women’s leadership, was addressing at this month’s annual conference of the Women’s Leadership Network entitled ‘Women mean Business’.

She compared women leaders in the UK with the rest of the world and pointed out to delegates that only 20 per cent of UK leadership positions were held by women whereas Russia has 43 per cent and China 38 per cent, which underlined the business case for having more women in leadership roles.

She outlined strategies women can use to ensure they are given a fairer chance of leadership and gave some practical advice from her own career.

At a time of great challenge in the FE sector the need for women leaders to both step forward and be given the support, especially by men, to do so was well set out by Anne as she challenged delegates to ‘dare to lead’.

At a time of great challenge in the FE sector the need for women leaders to both step forward and be given the support, especially by men, to do so was well set out

 Delegates also heard from Julia Von Klonowski, director of education for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Oracle, and her daughter Lauren Best, PR manager at the Lawn Tennis Association, about the power of being a role model where they discussed their views, sometimes differing, about not just being a role model but current good and bad role models.

During the day workshops and other speakers covered a wide range of topics including confederations, growing apprenticeships in challenging time, developing an online profile, delivering organisational change through wellness, managing and developing talent, being a connected leader and meeting the challenges currently facing the sector.

There was also a chance for delegates to get a taste of coaching in the WLN’s ‘speed coaching’ sessions throughout the event.

The WLN’s Star Award for 2015 was also announced at the conference. This annual award, sponsored this year by AA Projects, went to an outstanding woman leader in the FE sector.

The recipient was Sue Middlehurst, principal and chief executive of Grimsby Institute Group. In the award citation, Sally Dicketts, WLN chair, said Sue had “come through the ranks of FE, from teacher to principal, in both the North and the South East of England”. She had also seen life from the other side of the fence as a well-respected inspector for both the FEFC and Ofsted, said Sally.

Throughout Sue’s career she has developed and demonstrated a coaching style that has seen her managers and staff succeed through empowerment and trust. She has done this while taking on some of the most challenging roles in FE and in particular has made her name in successfully managing change.

She is known for saying ‘how it is’ and not hiding difficult messages and because of this is respected and trusted both within the sector and outside of it by stakeholders. She is steadfastly unwavering in her ‘learner first’ ethos which underscores her passion for the core business of FE and the importance of the sector for people’s life chances and choices.

This was reflected in Sue’s acceptance speech where she urged delegates to be true to their values in all they do.

The conference was attended by more than 120 women leaders and future leaders, including 40 aspiring leaders who were the recipients of conference bursaries from the Education and Training Foundation.