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Alumnae Inspire on International Women's Day

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A group of eighteen diversely talented speakers returned to Bolton School to help current pupils celebrate International Women’s Day. The day began with an assembly led by the Head, Mrs Kyle, who spoke about the importance of International Women’s Day and what it represents. She then handed over to Old Girl Melanie Doherty (Class of 1989), a dentist, naval captain and Chief of Staff to Surgeon General, the highest-ranking medical officer in the UK.

Melanie began her keynote speech with her main takeaways: analyse the situation and pick your battles. She then circled back to give an overview of her career and described several key moments in her life.

She had always wanted to join the Army and did so after training as a dentist at Sheffield University. After her vocational training, she ended up with a military job, doing lots of things not related to dentistry, which nonetheless provided her with valuable transferrable skills. She said that the military is good for a portfolio career and opportunities to travel: her job has at different points involved training and competing in downhill skiing and two-man bobsleigh, studying and completing three Masters degrees including attending university in Singapore, and doing dentistry work in both Germany and Kenya amongst other places.

Melanie talked in more depth about her experiences with the British Army team competing in the Biathlon, which involves cross country skiing and shooting. She was one of the top twelve who qualified for the Army Skiing Championships, but she qualified for the men’s team. On this occasion, she stepped back and watched an advocate fight for her right to compete at that level, and ultimately it was decided that she could ski for the men’s team event but also had to ski for the women’s individual races. She said this was a ‘defining moment’: she earned a standing ovation when she accepted her prizes for the women’s event as, she said, ‘everyone recognised that I’d done it. It was the right thing to do, I could compete on an even peg with the men.’

The second incident she spoke about was the Commando Course for entry to work with the Royal Marines. She was selected as one of three women who could try to complete this eight-week course, with their results reported back to camp daily. Individually, she passed all of the initial requirements, but completing the course itself would have required her to stay for longer. Her commanding officer recalled her and she decided that she needed to continue with her dentistry career instead, particularly because other women were going forward.

Finally, Melanie talked about how a Bolton School education has helped her. She said that it gave her valuable education skills, as well as the ability to talk to anyone, either one-on-one or to a large group such as was gathered in the Great Hall for assembly! She said that involvement in school sport helped teach her to be a team player, and that the team is only as strong as the weakest link.

Returning to her conclusions, Melanie advised the girls to always analyse the situation and choose your battles: to make big changes, it’s important to be strategic. She also told them to remember that things change and that it’s not just about you, but about the bigger world. Finally, she recommended a book for everyone to read: ‘The Moment of Lift’ by Melinda Gates.

Earlier in the morning, Melanie met with a select group of girls from Years 12 and 13 who are interested in studying dentistry or joining the army or navy. They enjoyed breakfast and an informal chat in the Head’s Study.

The day continued with interesting careers sessions for Years 9 and 10. In the Sutcliffe Studio, girls met with pairs and trios of alumnae in small groups to ask questions and learn about soft skills from these inspirational women. In the Theatre, alumnae gave presentations on their work:

Alex Aspinall (Class of 2012) is the Global Social Media Manager at Belmond and spoke to Year 9 about what her role involves day to day, as well as sharing some of the exciting opportunities she has enjoyed, from working with global superstars to international travel

Also addressing Year 9, Stella Pickford (Class of 1999) talked about her slightly different career path. Though she had always wanted to be a vet, she left her degree course due to personal circumstances, and found herself at a crossroads which ultimately led her to study Business Management. She is now the Director UK Business Planning at Procter and Gamble and also talked about how Covid has impacted her work life.

Rebecca Richards (Class of 2013) is Senior Policy Advisor at UK Research and Innovation, specialising in Research Financial Sustainability, and talked to Year 10. She graduated from Princeton University in the USA with a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and was able to talk to the girls about studying abroad and working in the medical field.

Amanda Nuttall (Class of 1991) is a Partner at Keoghs and spoke to the girls in Year 10 about working in law and particularly as a solicitor, as well as the opportunities that come with working with an international company.

During the school lunch period, Year 12 came to the Great Hall for careers ‘speed dating’ with the eighteen speakers. Current students were able to quiz the alumnae on their careers and gain valuable insights and advice. These mini mentoring sessions allowed the girls to gain an important inside perspective on careers they have an interest in pursuing themselves.

The day closed with a set of PSHEE sessions themed around International Women’s Day and delivered by the visiting alumnae. In the Great Hall, Year 7 heard from Natalie Armer (current parent), a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Medical School, who spoke about International Women’s Day, the challenges girls overcome, courage and bravery, and how women can support one another’s growth.

Year 8 enjoyed an interactive workshop with Stella Pickford in the Arts Centre. As well as learning more about personality types, Stella encouraged the girls to figure out their own type and how they can make it work for them in the workplace.

Chloe Granger (Class of 1998) addressed Year 11 in the Sutcliffe Studio. Now the director at her own company, Crosby Granger Architects, Chloe gained her specialist experience working on building sites and as a trainee architect working on high-profile conservation and new-build projects. Using her own perspective as a starting point, she encouraged the girls to think about stereotypes that need to be broken and the skills that women can bring to the table in their working life.

Year 13 heard once again from Melanie Doherty during an interactive session in the Leverhulme Suite. Melanie asked the girls to visualise their ambitions and open a discussion with their peers surrounding the enablers and obstacles to achieving their dreams.

In addition to the day’s careers-focused sessions, former staff were invited to return to school and join the speakers for lunch in the Leverhulme Suite. This was a lovely opportunity for current and former staff members to reconnect with the visiting alumnae and catch up with what they are doing now.

We are so grateful to each of the visiting speakers for giving their time to visit School and discuss their work and advice with our students:

Alexandra Aspinall (Class of 2012) - Global Social Media Manager at Belmond

Amanda Grundy née Killelea (current parent) - Feature Writer at Daily Mirror

Amanda Nuttall née Pinkerton (Class of 1991) - Partner at Keoghs

Charlotte Benjamin née Whalley (Class of 1993) - Director of Legal and Governance Services at Middlesbrough Council

Charlotte Holden (Class of 2014) - Statistician, Department for Education (Civil Service)

Cherie Cunningham (Class of 2005) - Channel Director (Dave) at UK TV

Chloe Granger née Maher (Class of 1998) - Director at Crosby Granger Architects

Karen Diggle (Class of 1976) - Managing Director at Chamberlain Doors

Melanie Doherty née Jones (Class of 1989) - Chief of Staff to Surgeon General at Defence Medical Services

Natalie Armer (current parent) - Senior Lecturer at Manchester Medical School

Rachael Acton née Ainscough (Class of 2011) - Chief Executive at Ainscough Group

Radhika Sharma (Class of 2015) - Mechanical Engineer at British Antarctic Survey

Rebecca Brayshaw née Hayton (Class of 1997) - Director at Umbrella World

Rebecca Richards (Class of 2013) - Senior Policy Advisor at UK Research and Innovation

Stella Pickford née Selva (Class of 1999) - Director UK Business Planning at Procter and Gamble

Victoria Guest née Robinson (Class of 1999) - Headteacher at Lostock Primary School

Victoria Hodgkins née Heaton (Class of 2000) - Head of Service at Trafford Council

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