Inspirational Women

There are already many amazing women who are helping to shape Wales and the UK in a number of ways; as Public Appointees, Trustees of charities, Board members of public and private organisations and alongside volunteering there are also some inspirational role models working to further the equality of opportunity in public life.

We wanted to highlight the journey these women have made towards success to show that barriers can be overcome and inspire more women to take steps to achieving a public appointment themselves.

If you are or know of a woman who is an inspiration to others get in touch so that we can share your story.

Kirsty Williams AM

Kirsty Williams is the Assembly Member for Brecon & Radnorshire and the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Kirsty Williams AMKirsty grew up in Bynea in Camarthenshire and after attending the local primary school and St Michaels School in Llanelli, she went on to study at Manchester University and the University of Missouri. Kirsty then went on to work at Carmarthenshire College and for a small business in Cardiff as a Marketing Executive.

In 1999, Kirsty was elected to be the Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and in 2008 she was elected Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Kirsty lives near Brecon with her husband and three daughters and outside of politics she enjoys travelling, spending time with her family and shopping!

Kirsty was inspired to get more involved in public life so she could make her community in Wales a fairer place to live. Public life gave her the opportunity to stand up for those who would be otherwise ignored. At the National Assembly for Wales, Kirsty particularly enjoys her role on the Health Committee, doing casework for people and organisations in her constituency.

When describing the barriers in getting to where she is today, Kirsty says that "trying to become a politician when I was young was difficult and I think there are real financial barriers for people who wish to stand for political office." Kirsty says she was lucky to have such a supportive family and key individuals within the Liberal Democrats went above and beyond to help her in her career. She is particularly thankful to her high school history and politics teacher Mr. Burree, who inspired her to become politically active.

Kirsty's advice to other women who want to get involved in public life is; "Be tenacious, use every opportunity to gain skills and experience and don't be put off by people who say it is not for you, nor give in to that internal voice of self doubt which can often be your biggest enemy."

Anita Davies

Anita DaviesAnita Davies is the chair of Women Making a Difference and has volunteered with the organisation for the last 8 years and keenly took part in their Active Citizens program. As well as this she is the chair of FOLPS friends of Litchard primary, chair of the Bridgend Liberal Democrats and a community councillor for Coity higher community council. Anita is also a school governor and attends as a representative and voice for parents who have children with disabilities. She is a volunteer befriender for Face to Face, which helps to connect parents with disabled children for emotional and practical support. Through her employment she attends a number of committees and advisory groups for the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University and third sector for people with sight loss.

Anita currently lives with her two children and her partner. She is registered blind and has experienced many challenges. Before having her children she was a World, European and International champion in blind judo. And was the first woman, aged just 19, to travel all over the world to develop women's blind judo, as prior to this only men were able to compete. She has also faced challenges in her home life as she was a single parent of a child with a physical disability and a child with sight loss. Due to her son’s condition she has spent most of his life fighting to get the services and education he needs. Therefore, she says her passion is based around disability by improving independence and access around all aspects of life by educating society in a positive way.
When the Welsh Assembly first started Anita signed up to a scheme called the BBC 60 which she still works with at present taking phone calls on a variety of subjects asking for her viewpoints. She describes the work with Women Making a Difference and Active Citizens as being inspirational as it has given her a new understanding of topics she had very little or no experience of. Anita states: “I have worked in the 3rd sector for 22 years in the field if sight loss and carried out many roles around access and design, independent living, awareness training and personal development for individuals to know their rights.”

Anita says that she was always destined towards the type of work she does as she feels it is important for people to have a voice. She is very passionate about issues she has personal and professional experience of and is aware that some people are unable to get as engaged for varying reasons. Certain groups of vulnerable people are often forgotten and she feels that more awareness needs to be raised about helping to achieve equality. Anita sums it up by saying: “I enjoy helping people. Knowing I have made a difference to someone's life makes it all worthwhile for me. Being able to support a person can make a huge difference to the choices they make.”

She has faced many barriers as a woman who is disabled to get where she is today. As many people, outside of her immediate family, told her she could not do certain things. At school she was told there is so such word as ‘can’t’ and even now if someone says she can’t do something she strives to prove them wrong. The range of discrimination she has had to deal with and the hurt it caused only made her stronger once she had allowed for time to rationally solve how she would deal with the same situations again.

Anita cites four women who played major roles in her life and inspired her in the different directions she took. Firstly, her mother for encouraging her to do things, even just as simple as getting on her bike again. Her school PE teacher who would never allow her to give up and had the motto of there is no such word as ‘can’t’. Another is her colleague and friend, Carys Henry who has inspired her throughout her 22 year career. And last but not least, Paula Manley who has been Anita’s inspiration in public life for the last 8 years.

Anita’s message to women who would like to put themselves forward for a public appointment is that “it can seem a bit daunting but once you have attended whatever it is for the first couple of times it is easier. There are so many advantages such as developing your own skills, making friends, building your confidence and knowledge. The list goes on. If you are nervous find someone to mentor or support you."

Councillor Sara Jones

Sara was elected onto Monmouthshire County Council in May 2012, she represents the Llanover ward and sits SaraJoneson a number of committees including Economy and Development and Children and Young People.  Sara is also Head of Wales for public affairs consultancy Grayling, based in Cardiff Bay and combines her role as an elected member with a demanding ‘day job’. She graduated from Cardiff University with a BSc (Econ) degree in Politics and a MSc (Econ) in European Public Policy. From a farming background, Sara has lived in Monmouthshire all of her life and currently lives with her partner on their farm in Usk with their two year old daughter. 

She was inspired to get more involved in public life by her passion for her hometown, wanting to set the strategic direction of the county and to work for the residents of Monmouthshire in promoting the area as a fantastic place to live and work.  As her interest in politics grew she became acutely aware of the lack of representation by women in local government and was keen to help redress that balance and empower other women to do the same.

Sara loves the diversity of being an elected member and enjoys meeting interesting people across Monmouthshire and Wales, helping her understand the motivations and challenges that people from all walks of life face on a daily basis.

She didn’t step into this position easily and suffered somewhat with confidence issues from the beginning; “It has taken me quite a few years to feel like I was in a position to put myself forward as an elected member. A male dominated environment such as local government can be quite a scary prospect for a women in her twenties and so it has taken encouragement for others to realise the opportunities available.”

Sara is constantly inspired by the range of women she encounters in her day role as Head of Wales for Grayling and the residents she represents in Council but on a personal level she cites one woman in particular as a role model of sorts.

“I’ve previously had a fantastic female manager who rose up through the ranks of a very male-led industry and she had a very positive influence in terms of my career aspirations. The support I have received from the leader of the council, my local MP, AM has also had a very positive effect.”

Sara’s advice to other women considering a position in public life is “find yourself a support network of people who have been in a similar position and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.”  

As for aspirations for the future of leadership she had this to say; “Only 26% of Councillors in Wales are women and I am passionate about trying to increase participation for a more representative society. The skills and experience women can bring to roles in public life is invaluable and the more visible we are the more we will empower others into similar positions.”

Professor Meena Upadhyaya

Meena Upadhyaya is a Professor of Medical Genetics at Cardiff University and has held a number of roles in public Meena Upadhyayalife including Trustee for Women Equality Network for Wales (Wen WALES), Mentor for students for University entrance and Governor for Hindu Cultural Association (HCA). She has a PhD from Cardiff University and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in Molecular Genetics. In 2010, Prof Upadhyaya won the Inspire Wales Award for Science & Technology and has received a Recognition Award from the Welsh Government in 2011 for her many contributions to Medical Genetics.

Meena is also the founder and chairman of the Wales Asian Women Achievement Awards (WAWAA) which aim to empower Asian women throughout Wales and to better promote and applaud their input and support of all aspects of Welsh life. WAWAA provides a scheme that recognises both those Welsh Asian women who have made significant contributions, as well as those making effective use of their talents to help inspire others around them, especially from other ethnic minorities, who provide inspiring role models for the communities.

Meena believes "women are markedly under-represented in many spheres of life, including science, politics and both the public and private sector. It was on this basis that I founded WAWAA scheme, which profiles the achievement of women who are multiply disadvantaged - not only are they women, but they are also women from ethnic minorities who often face the multiple barriers of language, culture, appearance and religion."

In terms of barriers she has faced, Meena explains that "at times I have experienced injustice in my working environment, while this initially led to much frustration and anger, it subsequently aroused in me the resolve to do even better."

Meena's message to other women who would like to apply for public appointments is "we all have the potential to succeed, however, it is very much up to each individual to fully apply themselves to any tasks with focused determination, to persevere, even when failures occur, and to apply good time management, but, perhaps most importantly, to fully support and encourage one another and to forgive those who are unpleasant and non-supportive."

Sara Pickard

Sara Pickard is the Participation Officer for Mencap Cymru's Inspire Me Project and a SaraPickard
Trustee of the Down's Syndrome Association.  Sara has Down's Syndrome and is a former trustee of Learning Disability Wales. She is also a Community Councillor.

Sara attended Radyr Comprehensive School and Pontypridd College before joining Mencap Cymru in 2006 where she has the opportunity to prove that people with learning disabilities can have valued, skilled and, importantly, paid roles within organisations. She is very passionate about connecting with young people who have learning disabilities through her work and drives the importance of their representation in public life

In 2008 she was elected as an independent councillor for Pentyrch Communtiy Council and was re-elected in May 2012. Sara also worked for four years on the Partners in Politics Project which aimed to increase participation of people with a learning disability in the political process. Sara is no stranger to the barriers that people with learning disabilities face as she had to challenge the way council meetings were held to make them more accessible. She thinks the best way to approach these issues is to not be too challenging or direct when addressing barriers or the people who put them there, but to work with people to show them how you can overcome them together.

Sara also loves the theatre and is a talented performer. She has been on two professional tours with Hijinx Theatre in 2009 and 2010. Her inspiration to get involved with acting came from her parents Mike and Shan and her sister Bethan, who have been a great help in building her confidence. Sara says that

"the first barrier you will encounter is your own confidence and making that first big leap. Once you've done that it becomes easier."

Sara loves challenging attitudes. She often challenges her fellow councillors to do things in a different way to make agendas, meetings and opportunities more accessible to disabled people.  She positively challenges young disabled people to stand up for their rights. She believes that if you are involved in public life you are representing everybody, regardless of gender, conditions, backgrounds or beliefs. At the beginning people remembered her for what made her different, but she used that to make a stand, to say something different and before long people realised that she was there to help and represent everyone.

Sara inspires people every day to stand up for themselves and to not be afraid of what others may think.

"I have seen how the public perceive those with disabilities and wanted to be more involved in public life to show the public what we are able to achieve. People sometimes make a mistake and say I 'suffer' from Down's Syndrome. The only thing I suffer from is mistaken beliefs and bad attitudes."

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