Women of the Future 2006

On Friday last week I was pleasantly surprised to find an email from the IBM Hursley Lab Director, Graham Spittle, waiting in my inbox. I’d been invited to attend the inaugural Women of the Future Award Ceremony in recognition of the work I’ve done to help IBMs diversity activities. Megan Beynon, a colleague and friend of mine, had been shortlisted as a finalist in the Technology category and to celebrate, IBM were hosting a table at the event.

HelenaThe event was to a black tie do taking place in the London Park Lane Hilton, and it suddenly dawned on me that I had less than a week to find something to wear! As I arrived in Southampton on the Saturday amidst hundreds of Christmas shoppers the thought if trawling around trying to find a dress was daunting, especially as I usually find it impossible to get anything long enough for my height. A few weeks ago I’d attended the ‘Dress for Success’ event that the IBM Hursley Women’s Leadership Team had run with Debenhams. They had talked about the Debenhams Personal Shoppers, and given us a flyer for 10% discount. I didn’t really expect to find any available, especially as I hadn’t booked, but I thought I’d just ask anyway and was lucky enough to find they had an appointment free.

My personal shopper, Jane, first met me on the shop floor and as we wandered back to the private room we talked about the event I was going to, and what sort of thing I was looking for. Once in the private shopper room I had a changing area, sofas, magazines and tea or coffee to hand so instantly relaxed while Jane disappeared off and brought back about 6 different outfits for me to try. Jane left me to get changed but was on hand to offer friendly advice about what looked right or wrong. I didn’t find it at all intimidating or under any obligation to buy lots of things I didn’t want. As I finished with a few of the outfits she’d pop out a get a few more things, until I was happy with my choice. Once I was finished she opened up a till especially for me to save me queuing to pay, made sure everything was beautifully wrapped and made sure I got my 10% discount plus another special discount for being a Debenhams card holder. All in all, I saved myself a lot of time, money and hassle!

IBM TableAll set with my outfit ready I looked forward to the event, and the night came round fast. We were picked up at home at 4.30pm and arrived at the Park Lane Hilton at 7.15pm just in time for the champagne reception. It was soon time to take our seats and so we made our way to the table which was about half way from the front and found name cards to indicate where we should sit. I was between Helen Cook, Director of IBM’s UK Distribution Sector and Jon Butts, who is a Development Manager at Hursley IBM. On our chairs we found a goody bag which included an umbrella in a rather smart blue case.

FinalistsThe ceremony started with an introduction from Matthew Rock, who is the Communications Director for Caspian Publishing who were one of the sponsors, and Pinky Lilani, Chairman of the Awards. They brought all of the finalists onto the stage to congratulate them for making it this far. I felt that it was a really nice way to start the ceremony by recognising that all of the finalists had made a difference in the areas that they worked in, and that everyone was worthy of praise and not just those who ultimately won in their categories.

Cherie BoothFor dinner I had melon for starter, followed by a canon of lamb with a ratatouille sauce, and a wild strawberry souffle to finish…and a glass of wine or two! As coffee we served the awards ceremony began. Sophie Raworth, who is a BBC news reader, introduced the awards. Each category was presented by one of the judges or special guests, including Princess Zahara Aga Khan, Cherie Booth QC, Rt Hon Ruth Kelly and Baroness Susan Greenfield. The categories recognised women for their business, science, technology, professions, entrepreneurial, arts, media and culture skills. It was inspiring to hear stories of women making a difference in such a wide variety of fields.

Gloria HunnifordDuring the evening there was also a short fashion show from one of the finalists, a choir and also a raffle in aid of the Caron Keating Foundation which Gloria Hunniford was there to talk about. The evening sped past and before we knew it, it was time to head off home. Finally, arriving home at gone 2am, I was tired but it had been an amazing night and one that I was glad to have been invited to participate in.


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