Presenting both an opportunity to network and to celebrate the role of women in Coram’s history, the event centred around a panel discussion, moderated by Editorial Director of the Sunday Times, Eleanor Mills.
The ‘Inspiring Women’ panel included; Baroness Jo Valentine, CEO of the trade and business organisation London First, Professor Carolyn Hamilton, Director of International Programmes & Research at the Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC), TV presenter and business woman Saira Khan, children’s TV presenter and author Cerrie Burnell, historian Kate Williams and singer and actress Clare Grogan, who has also adopted a child through Coram.
The panel reflected on their experiences as leaders in business, research, the law and the arts, discussing influential women in their lives, equality and the future for women.
A shared experience which emerged among the panellists was that their mothers were the most inspirational women in their lives. Clare Grogan, a Coram adopter, reflected how, at the age of 14, her mother had to give up her education and leave school to find work to support her mother and six siblings when her father passed away.
Doing so to allow her elder sister to fulfil her dream of attending university, Clare recalled asking her mother if she felt resentful, to which she replied, “No, I felt empowered because I was helping the people I loved.”
In thinking about defining moments, Carolyn Hamilton, CCLC’s Director of International Programmes and Research shared the occasion when she was tasked with persuading a Minister in Tajikistan to close a prison for three to 15 year olds. Her strategy was to take the Minister to the prison, where she placed one of the inmates, a three year old child who was still in nappies, into his arms. The decision to close the facility was made there and then.
Kate Williams cited Elizabeth Garrett Anderson as a woman who she drew inspiration from. As the first woman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain in the 1800’s, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson inspired Williams because she not only performed a job that had previously only been done by men, but excelled in it.
In thinking about how she has achieved success, Saira Khan shared that she identifies first as a person, and second as a woman and spoke of every individual’s human right to be able to achieve their full potential. As a woman in the media, Khan added that we have a responsibility to reflect the diversity of the country in our broadcasting in order to engage the next generation. She recalled as a young girl watching the presenter Baroness Floella Benjamin, OBE, on television and remembered how it inspired her, “If I can see this woman, I thought, I could be this woman.”
Moderator, Eleanor Mills, then asked the panel to consider why women are so poorly represented in the most senior roles, prompting interesting responses. Baroness Jo Valentine commented that if women want to have children, it’s a case of working with one’s partner to divide up work and responsibilities, so that women can follow their strengths, rebuffing notions that women are seen to be ‘better’ at domestic tasks than men, to the agreement of the panel.
When asked about important advice given to the panel, Cerrie Burnell, now a children’s author who is severely dyslexic and couldn’t write until she was 10, told how she found strength in actually ignoring ‘good’ advice.
Cerrie, who was born with a physical disability, said, “Being questioned constantly because I was disabled made me learn to block out ‘doubting’ voices from childhood. While adults were asking if I could manage to climb the ladder or saying I shouldn’t go down the slide, I was already whooshing to the bottom.”
The inspiring conclusion was that being doubted can actually help a woman tune into her inner voice and proceed with confidence.
Women and the Foundling Hospital
It was originally a petition led by 21 pioneering women in 1739 which helped secure the creation of the Foundling Hospital, as Coram was originally known. Without it, Thomas Coram, the charity’s founder, might not have been granted the Royal Charter from King George II, which officially established the charity.
Through the Foundling Hospital’s creation, tens of thousands of abandoned children’s lives were saved. The role that these women played stands out as a crucially important aspect in Coram’s history.
Coram today remains committed to its founding purposes of breaking the cycle of destitution for vulnerable children.
Continuing our work
Last year alone Coram helped over one million children and young people across the UK through adoption, family and legal support. The charity continues to recognise and respond to the plight of children who are otherwise ‘invisible’ to society.
Those interested in attending similar events in future should please contact InspiringWomen@coram.org.uk