Saturday, 3 November 2012

Ladies Who Impress

For many people, Halloween is spent in fancy dress, watching horror movies, opening the door to frankeinstein and giving him a handful of lollipops (or 20p if he's particularly frightful), but not for this coven of "Ladies Who Impress".  It will take far more than ghosts and ghouls to impress these ladies tonight.

Jana Bakunina, the founder of "Ladies Who Impress" was launching her first event at the Groucho Club, Soho.  Whilst the theme of the night was "Mission Impossible", the concept was a simple one.  A group of women, wine & olives, powerful music, three diverse inspirational, impressive women as guest speakers and an opportunity for a Q&A session.

The Gennaro Room, an elegant, dimly lit, glamorous room with a mirrored bar and a collection of leather armchairs, was the perfect setting for such an event.  Three stools and some microphones took precedence at the front of the room - this is where the guests would later be interviewed.  As the ladies filled the room, I became slightly concerned as to where they would all sit to watch the speakers.  After all, we all know that impressive heels come with the territory of being a Lady who impresses and ladies in heels, need seats!

However my worries were soon over.  As Jana introduced her first guest, Graphic designer Sarah Hyndham, a hushed silence descended in the Gennaro room and the ladies sat down, on the floor.  There was something poignant and remarkable that as well dressed and impressive as the ladies in the room were, there was little pretence about sitting on the floor.  In fact, it made the night feel cosy, more intimate and less intimidating.  Whilst I am sure that the ladies in this room have high standards, tonight we were all one of the same - airs and graces left at the door, resulting in a real sense of sisterhood.  The mission impossible theme tune played out, it was time to be inspired.

Jana Backunina interviews Sarah Hyndham
Sarah Hyndham, founder of With Relish, talked with honesty and passion about her recent Olympic logo campaign  "It was all very quiet at the beginning, it was just sending little bottles out in the sea and nothing really happened." 
Sarah tells us that through the power of the tweet and on line marketing, that this particular project reached over 120 countries, had 35,000 hits and ended up in GQ in Turkey.  The phrase "from small acorns" comes to mind.  Sarah, rather modestly, owes the success of her olympic logos to the tweets, but surely the real success comes from Sarah herself.  Whilst this social media tweeting world paid its part in the success of a project such as this, it is worth remembering that a thousand acorns in your hand won't make any difference, if they aren't planted.  Sarah planted the seeds and has many more to plant in the future.

The next guest speaker, Theatre director Marianne Elliott peeled herself from the floor, where she had been sitting amongst the ladies and took to her seat, finely balancing a glass of wine in one hand and a microphone in the other.  Whilst the Theatre is in Marianne's blood, her success was never a given;
 "I didn't really think I could be a director, I thought you had to be a man to be a director." 
Marianne raises the issues that the theatre production world is largely made up of men and whilst she believes it is getting better, there is still a lot of work to be done; 
"Women do things slightly differently, but it doesn't always fit the taste consensus."  When asked what her plan B would have been she laughs; "I think I would have been very depressed, but if I had had the confidence, a psychologist".

There was then a small interval to which Jana issued some pens and post it notes for all women to write down their mission impossible and to be brave and stick it to the mirrored wall.  The room was filled with ladies chatter, the clinking of wine glasses and no doubt, some inspiring stories being shared.

The third and final speaker, Hanna Sykulska-Lawrence, was introduced as an Engineer, a royal research fellow at the university of Oxford and a bit of a genius. For myself and no doubt many of the ladies in the room, this is a title that needs some explaining, a job that as Jana mentions, defies a stereotype.  Hanna starts by saying "I'm very particular about calling myself a scientist, I want to get the word engineering out there".

On appearance alone, Hanna certainly doesn't come across as she describes; "A man in blue overalls holding a spanner", yet as she talks about her missions impossible, her balance in life with family and downtime, I realise the importance of not judging a book by it's cover.  A Nasa Mission to Mars may be something that most of us will only ever see in the movies, but to have an insight into Hanna's world is inspiring and it shows that by devoting your life to a cause, you truly can break the mould and help to change the world.

And so, with the evening drawing to a close, I spoke to many of the ladies and they all seemed to share the view that our missions in life can be accomplished.  No matter of our gender, our genetic makeup or our abilities, with the right messages in bottles sent out there, with the true self belief in our ambitions no matter how big or small, with the ability to network and share with like minded people our ideas and to to be able to bounce back when we are met with rejection, we are all capable of making our missions possible and we are most certainly "Ladies Who Impress"!

Marianne Elliot, Jana Bakunina, Hanna Sykulska-Lawrence, Sarah Hyndham

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