Shirley Williams, one of the UK’s most eminent politicians, will be in conversation with broadcaster Mary Nightingale for the Women of the Year Lecture on Tuesday 1 December 2015 at the Royal College of Surgeons, generously sponsored by BlackRock. As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations she will be discussing how the world has changed for women over the last 60 years, and their evolving role in modern politics – in the United Kingdom and beyond. Shirley served as an MP for almost twenty years.

Originally a member of the Labour Party, Shirley was one of the Gang of Four Labour rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party, later to become part of the Liberal Democrats. She has appeared on more episodes of Question Time than any other politician. She is the daughter of renowned feminist and pacifist thinker, Vera Brittain.

Shirley Williams now serves in the House of Lords and is Professor Emerita of Electoral Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The event will take the format of an interview followed by a Q&A session in which the audience is invited to take part. Drinks will be served afterwards.

Mary Nightingale is a television journalist and a newscaster for ITV Evening News. She has twice won Newscaster of the Year at the Television & Radio Industries Club Awards.


The 2016 Women of the Year Lecture, sponsored by BT, took place at The Royal Institution of Great Britain, London on Monday 25 April and was hosted by award winning BBC broadcaster Sue MacGregor.

From escaping Germany in the Kinderstransport to becoming a successful businesswoman, from being the mother of an autistic child to becoming one of Britain’s greatest philanthropists: guest speaker Dame Stephanie Shirley shared her incredible life story with a packed audience of Women of the Year friends and alumnae including former Women of the Year Susie Hart and Baroness Doreen Lawrence.

The conversation began with Sue and Dame Stephanie talking about her childhood as a refugee in England living with foster parents, after escaping from Nazi Germany in the Kindertransport. Dame Stephanie described how her parent’s decision to send her in the Kindertransport ultimately saved her life.

Other topics covered included Dame Stephanie’s career, her IT business – originally known as Xansa and now part of the Sopra Steria Group – describing the organisation as a social business, focused not on making profit but to provide suitable and flexible careers for working women.

Her business proved to be highly profitable in later years, as 70 of her members of staff became millionaires after the company had floated on the stock exchange in 1996.

Dame Stephanie discussed how attitudes towards women in business and STEM roles have developed in Britain since the Second World War. In the 1950s and 60s sexism in business was rife, women were treated as second class citizens – even Dame

Stephanie had to use her nickname ‘Steve’ as a pseudonym to sign off her letters to customers, as nobody answered her letters signed from her real name.

Sue asked whether women’s confidence was still an issue in business, with Dame Stephanie suggesting having a mentor was important and that she had a male mentor.

The conversation also covered Dame Stephanie’s philanthropy. She has devoted her retirement and wealth to giving back to society and funding projects in the fields of autism, inspired by her son Giles who was profoundly autistic. Her charitable Shirley Foundation is now one of the top 50 grant-giving foundations in the UK with well over £50m grants given. It has initiated and funded a number of projects that are pioneering by nature, strategic in impact and significant in money terms.

Sue concluded the evening by inviting members of the audience to put their questions to Dame Stephanie. These questions covered how to encourage companies to employ people with disabilities, refugees across Europe, her top women in business – who included fashion designer, Laura Ashley and The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick.

The 2016 lecture ended with Jane Luca, Chair of Women of the Year presenting Dame Stephanie with the Women of the Year Lecture Award.

All money raised from ticket sales and book sales of Dame Stephanie’s memoir, ‘Let IT Go’,  went to the Women of the Year Foundation. The Foundation was established in 2001 with the aim of helping women to fulfil their potential and become, in their own context, future ‘Women of the Year’.

Women of the Year  support a number of disadvantaged women both in the UK and abroad to start over and improve their lives either through retraining or in business.

In October 2015 Dame Stephanie Shirley was the recipient of The Women of the Year 60th Anniversary Special Award given in memory of Tony Lothian who founded the Women of the Year lunch. Women of the Year President Sandi Toksvig presented Dame Stephanie with her award ahead of the lecture.


This year’s special, 60th anniversary Women of the Year Lunch & Awards took place today (Monday 19 October) at the InterContinental London Park Lane. More than 400 women attended and of these outstanding women, six were honoured with Women of the Year Awards.

The 2015 Women of the Year Award winners were selected for their perseverance and courage in the face of some of the most serious issues facing women today:

  • Cokie van der Velde, Barclays Women of the Year Award winner
  • Kristin Hallenga, DFS Women of the Year Award winner –  Outstanding Young Campaigner
  • Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Prudential Women of the Year Award winner – Lifetime Achievement
  • Jayne Senior, Good Housekeeping Women of the Year Award winner –  Outstanding Achievement
  • Dame Stephanie Shirley, Women of the Year Special Award
  • Pat Rogers ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year Award winner – this award is chosen by the ITV Lorraine viewers

The Women of the Year award winners were chosen by a judging panel of accomplished women: Sandi Toksvig CBE, Sue MacGregor CBE, Dame Tessa Jowell MP, Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE, Jane Luca, Ronke Phillips, Eve Pollard OBE, Lisa Markwell, Gill Carrick and Sue Walton. ITV Lorraine viewers voted for their Inspirational Woman of the Year by a phone vote.

Sandi Toksvig, President of Women of the Year, said: “Women of the Year has celebrated the wonderful achievements of women since 1955.  Everyone involved is incredibly proud to see so many extraordinary women carrying the torch of those who came before. The remarkable women who make up the attendees and winners at this year’s Lunch are being recognised for their strides in making the world a better place.”

Every woman who is invited to the event has achieved something extraordinary in whatever walk of life she comes from. The lunch is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate their bravery, determination, compassion and success.

Attendees included: cheesemaker Claire Burt who produces award winning cheeses with Burts Cheese; GB Paralympian Georgie Bullen, who helps tackle unemployment among visually impaired and blind people; WW2 veterans Joy Lofthouse, who flew a range of different aircraft including a Spitfire to strategic battle points and Eileen Younghusband who alerted allied forces to the first V2 bombing of London, whilst serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Air force.

There were many familiar faces amongst the attendees, with guests including Nadiya Hussain, Kathy Lette, Lady Kitty Spencer, Katie Melua, Professor Mary Beard, Mel Giedroyc, Natalie Bennett, Katherine Grainger, Anne Reid, Dame Esther Rantzen, Meera Syal, Baroness Shirley Williams, Professor Dame Sally Davies, Jasmine Hemsley, Justine Greening MP, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Baroness Floella Benjamin.

The ceremony was hosted by Women of the Year President, Sandi Toksvig, and the awards were introduced by actress Nicole Kidman, comedian Jo Brand, Coronation Street star Sally Dynevor, newscaster Julie Etchingham and broadcaster Lorraine Kelly.


Women of the Year Human Rights Award
Zimbabwean Human Rights Lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa who has made an extraordinary contribution to the defence of journalists and freedom of the press.

Barclays Women of the Year Award
Founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Diana Nammi.

Women of the Year Good Housekeeping Outstanding Young Campaigner of the Year Award
Anti-FGM campaigner, Fahma Mohamed.

Women of the Year DFS Enterprise Award
Social campaigner, Jack Monroe.

Women of the Year Prudential Lifetime Achievement Award
Christina Noble who founded The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation.

ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year
Was won (on a viewers vote) by: Joanne Thompson, who set up Millie Trust in memory of her 9-month old daughter, Millie. The charity delivers paediatric first aid training to individuals and organisations.


Barclays Women of the Year Award
Rider’s for health co-founder, Andrea Coleman.

Good Housekeeping Women of the Year Outstanding Achievement Award
Eight Dagenham Women Machinists who represent those who took part in the Dagenham Ford car plant strikes of 1968 and 1984-85.

Sacla’ Women of the Year campaigning award
Former supermodel and FGM campaigner Waris Dirie.

ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year Award
Was won (on a viewers’ vote) by: Marilyn Baldwin, who set up Think Jessica, a charity campaign to protect vulnerable people from postal and telephone scams.


Barclays Women of the Year Award
The Iraqi-American women’s rights activist, author and co-founder of Women for Women International Zainab Salbi.

Good Housekeeping Women of the Year Award
Team GB Olympic & Paralympic Women Medallists.

Sacla’ Women of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award
Best-selling crime writer & Life Peer P.D. James.

Women of the Year Award
Campaigner for justice, following the murder of her son Stephen in 1993, Doreen Lawrence.

ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year Award
Was won (on a viewers’ vote) by: Kate Woolveridge who has been recognised for her tireless work to promote awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in Cardiff through her work with the “Forget me nots choir”.

Olympic Flame

Campaigner Doreen Lawrence, carried the Olympic flame on 23 July through The London Borough of Lewisham.  She jogged to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust Centre, a learning and development centre in Deptford that she and her ex-husband, Neville, set up in memory of their son, who was murdered as a teenager in a racist attack in 1993.

Doreen, a Council Member of Women of the Year and an attendee of the lunch, was nominated to be an Olympic Torchbearer as she was instrumental in changing part of the UK legal system as a result of the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry. In the aftermath to the inquiry, she continued to campaign for justice for her son and for others who have experienced racist crime.

The 59-year-old who has campaigned for justice ever since the murder in 1993, said the Olympic Flame symbolises many things in common with the Stephen Lawrence Charity Trust, such as strength, unity and diversity.

Shara Brice, a Women of the Year award winner in 2010, carried the Olympic Torch through Wandsworth.

Shara, 43, started Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders from humble beginnings in 1996 in Newham. They have since been recognised as one of the UK’s most effective youth programmes. Although they were placed last in their first competition in 1997, AEC have established themselves as record breaking, history-making champions, and have been reigning Senior Coed Champions since 1998; no other cheer team in the world has held onto a National title for over a decade. Their tremendous success is evidenced not only by the hundreds of trophies which line their walls, but even more so by the thousands of young people who have been transformed through AEC.

Shara has since set up a Leadership Team, which delivers an outreach programme in the Newham community. Shara also opened London’s first ever cheer gym – Talent Central – at Gallions Reach Shopping Park in Newham.


Barclays Women of the Year Award
Consultant nurse Debby Edwards, trauma sister Victoria Mulleady, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist Kate Sherman, Sergeant (Sgt) Lauren Odell, Commander (Surg Cdr) Sarah Stapley and clinical specialist occupational therapist Sarah Winters. The award salutes a team of outstanding, compassionate and committed women –the ‘Sister Act’ – whose hard work, determination and outstanding medical achievements have saved the lives of critically injured soldiers and given them a future. The six dedicated medical professionals have worked tirelessly treating injured and wounded military personnel and civilians in hospitals in the UK as well as in the field.

Good Housekeeping Outstanding Achievement Award
Dr Nawal El Saadawi, the Egyptian novelist and feminist who has been imprisoned in the past for her fight for women’s rights in Egypt. She was a leading voice in Tahir Square, arguing for democratic reforms and encouraging young students and women to fight for their beliefs, and has shown great strength and courage.

Sacla Lifetime Achievement Award
Lulu, singer, television personality and businesswoman. Her impressive career spans six decades and she works with charities including the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF).

Sainsbury’s  Women of the Year “You Can” Award
Katie Piper, charity campaigner, is recognized for her indomitable spirit following a brutal acid attack and her awe-inspiring dedication in setting up her charity, The Katie Piper Foundation, to provide rehabilitation and scar management for burns survivors.

ITV’s Lorraine Inspirational Woman of the Year Award
Jackie Millerchip is a child minder who looks after able-bodied children alongside those with severe disabilities and learning difficulties. She has had a sensory cabin built in her garden and has converted the entire ground floor of her house to ensure that the space is accessible and well-suited to all of the children she cares for. Jackie aims to dismantle prejudices and encourage tolerance and understanding amongst children, as well as providing respite care for parents.

They’ve got the power

Forget glass ceilings. Today there’s a new breed of strong, confident women over 50 who have found success and know what to do with it. Tina Brown reports from New York.

The best Camilla Parker Bowles moment at the wedding was not about the clothes or the wonders wrought by facials. It was at the blessing at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, when we heard her posh baritone firmly ‘acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed‘.

The Queen reportedly once referred to Camilla as being ‘rather used‘, but being ‘rather used‘ is what gives Camilla her edge. All that marital drama, pain and abuse in the press has been absorbed now under her feathered Philip Treacy hat. Camilla has wounds. She has memories. She has wisdom. It gives her self-confidence and the subtle glow of power.

The same thought struck me in New York recently during a star-studded lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The occasion was an annual ceremony known as the Matrix Awards, for the most powerful women in communications.

Last year Oprah Winfrey was the Queen Bee, even though she wasn’t in the running herself. She flew in from Chicago to present the award to Amy Gross, 63, the editor of her incredibly successful O, The Oprah Magazine, a monthly which now sells millions after only five years. Winfrey looked amazing. As she powered up to the podium there was something truly glorious about the confident roll of her behind in its tight couture suit. ‘When I interviewed Amy,‘ she said, ‘I knew right away she was a real woman, not an ageing female.‘ All the oestrogen in the room seemed to answer with a collective hot flash of recognition.

The Texas writer Mimi Swartz wrote in a magazine piece in 2000 that as she turned 45 she felt she was starting to disappear. (She should have tried living in Hollywood, where you’re in Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak after 35.) Men, Swartz noted, looked through her. ‘Boys in bicycle shorts, executives in pinstripes and countless males in between seemed to be nudging me aside and unless I was very quick, allowing the door to slam in my face.‘ But something has happened since Swartz wrote that piece. Women in their fifties are finally blowing past the men who didn’t hold the door. They’ve been in the workforce for 30 years and they’re unapologetic about their sense of success. All the powerhouse women on the dais at the communications award lunch in New York were so much more interesting because on the way to equilibrium they had suffered.

Dame Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson, talked about how a good failure goes a long way with women, because we honestly believe we can be successful. Linda Fairstein described how, as one of seven women on a staff of 200 lawyers, she panicked when all the guys went out to lunch and she was left alone to craft her first summation.

‘Only one response seemed natural. I sat at my desk and cried. The boss heard my sobs – “Who died?” he asked. I explained the problem and he gave me his wise solution.

“Do what we do whenever there’s a crisis. Go into the restroom and throw up like a man.” I rejected his advice – but I never cried at my desk again.‘

I have attended Women in Communications Awards ceremonies at which the acceptance speeches alternated between the embarrassingly grateful and the stridently self-promotional. But this year the remarks – by the likes of CNN’s foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who lives in London; Marjorie Scardino: and the fearless former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor turned novelist Linda Fairstein – were honest, self-effacing and funny.

Women of a certain age can inhabit their achievements now, it seems, rather than brag about them. And many look better than they ever did at 35. Amanpour, 47 and fresh from covering the Pope’s funeral, was wearing a chic combat-like trouser suit with a T-shirt that read ‘SEXY‘.

Some of the gains in techno-grooming simply reflect the march of science. Beyond the access to all the new info about diet and exercise and style, there’s Dr Lookgood’s ever-more-skilful Filler. The first wave in the attack on wrinkles suffered heavy casualties. That Nancy Reagan face with wind-tunnel stare and rictus smile is no longer necessary.

George Orwell once said that at 50 we have the faces we deserve, but thanks to a bathroom cabinet full of new products or a lunchtime trip to the dermatologist, we now get the faces we can afford. Women are looking so good in their fifties they are dumping their husbands and moving on. In America last year two-thirds of divorces after the age of 40 were initiated by women. The old paradigm of the trophy wife of the high-flying male is quietly beginning to recede.

Perhaps the most radical reverser of all the old paradigms is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who introduced her old friend Linda Fairstein at the ceremony. Like Oprah, Hillary had carved out two hours in her schedule not for herself, but for another woman she happens to admire. Hillary looks three times as good as she did in the days when her strident style was unsuccessfully packaged in dress-for-success skirt suits and a prefect’s Alice band, but it’s not just about surfaces.

It’s easy to attribute Hillary’s evolution to her escape from the long shadow of Bill. There are other matters in play too. ‘Empty nest‘ has always been such a mournful phrase, evoking droop-feathered mother crows keening in some bedraggled tree. The dirty little secret is that for women who have struggled to do justice to their love for their children at the same time as their ambition, there’s a heady, cackling joy to being free of guilt at last.

Chelsea is off on her own. Bill has forfeited his rights to complain. Hillary has done with her makeover stage. She’s at home with the promise of what she wanted to be at Yale Law School, and it tastes good. Hillary’s clean-lined trouser-suit solution is the end of her negotiation with style. She seems to have gone down in size as she has grown in stature. She’s earned it. As her campaign for the White House slowly revs up, the ‘Stop

Hillary‘ campaign accelerates, too. But they won’t stop Hillary. Her scars are spurs. At the Women in Communications lunch the message was: nothing is sexier than survival.

Article written by Tina Brown in 2005 for the Women of the Year 50 years of recognition lunch.