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The 10 incredibly inspiring winners of our Women At The Top Awards have given us their number one piece of career advice. Trust us, they know what they're talking about.
We combed the country to find the most inspirational innovators and game-changers to honour in Marie Claire’s Women At The Top Awards. From business to the arts, tech to politics, meet the ten incredible winners here, as they each share their number one piece of career advice.
The playwright – Polly Stenham
Polly, 28, won a Critics’ Circle Award and the Evening Standard’s Charles Wintour Award for her debut play, That Face, which she wrote at just 19. She has penned three further plays since, the latest of which, Hotel, debuted at the National Theatre this summer. Polly also writes for film and television.
‘Anyone who wants to write needs to just keep going and get to the end. I think getting started is where lots of people falter through lack of confidence, but you just need to have the courage to persevere. Be kind to yourself and try not to criticise yourself as you work. Remember that once you’ve got the first draft out, you’ll be able to go back and improve things.’
The social entrepreneur – Jenny Dawson
Jenny, 28, is an award-winning social entrepreneur who launched ethical chutney brand Rubies in the Rubble in 2011, with one aim: to tackle food waste by repurposing unwanted fruit and vegetables. From humble beginnings at a market stall, the range is now sold in Waitrose and Selfridges.
‘I always say that there’s no harm in trying something – all you will lose is a bit of time if things don’t work out, but you’ll learn so much and so many invaluable skills through the process of launching a start-up. The most important thing is to start small, and make sure that there is truly a demand for the product or business you’re creating.’
The fashion innovator – Daniela Cecilio
Daniela, 34, is the CEO and founder of shopping app ASAP54, which helps users locate hard-to-find fashion items using revolutionary visual search technology. The app has been downloaded more than 400,000 times globally and secured $3million in investment before it even launched. Cara Delevingne is a fan.
‘Anyone wanting to launch their own app needs to be very open-minded and get used to working at an incredibly fast pace because this industry is constantly changing. If you’re interested in creating something fashion-based, remember to make sure that it taps into the fashion world, with an appealing look.’
The space policy maker – Dr Alice Bunn
Alice, 41, is the UK Space Agency’s director of policy in the Civil Service. After helping broker an international agreement to ensure countries share satellite images during humanitarian crises, such as the disappearance of flight MH370, her work has the potential to save millions of lives.
‘I think it’s important to keep all your options open. It’s great to have a vision of where you want to get to from a young age but be prepared to be surprised along the way.’
The tech pioneer – Kathryn Parsons
Kathryn, 33, is the co-founder of Decoded, bringing digital enlightenment to the masses with computer programming courses. Since its launch in 2011, Decoded has taught over 7,000 people from more than 1,000 businesses, including the BBC and Facebook, how to code in a single day. Kathryn was instrumental in putting coding on the school curriculum this year.
‘Believe that you can do it, and that you can be amazing at it. Starting your own business can be really scary, so I’m a big believer in using all the support structures that have been been created to help, whether that’s incubators or free desk space. Remember that the journey is never easy – and learning to accept failure is really important because things won’t always work out the first time – but if you’re passionate you can do it.’
The international campaigner – Emma Hopkins
As the head of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in the Conflict Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Emma, 42, has worked with Angelina Jolie and William Hague to replace the culture of impunity for rape in war with one of deterrence. In June, she organised a global summit that was the largest ever international gathering on this issue, and was awarded an OBE by the Queen.
‘I’ve always been a passion person, and picked jobs that have inspired me instead of choosing something because it necessarily seemed like the right career move. At the end of the day, I think it’s important to follow your heart.’
The poverty activist – Jack Monroe
Jack, 26, is a food poverty campaigner and writer whose blog, A Girl Called Jack, detailed how she fed herself and her young son on just £10 a week. Jack’s successful petition for a debate in Parliament on the use of food banks in Britain gained more than 100,000 signatures in three days last year. Her first cookbook was a bestseller and she writes for The Guardian.
‘Anyone who wants to get into blogging should find a free platform and just do it. If you’re interested in something and write about it in an interesting way then people will want to read it. The internet is a volatile beast and you never know what’s going to be successful, but if you’re writing about something you genuinely like then it won’t matter if you only get 7 readers.’
The groundbreaking politician – Shabana Mahmood
Shabana, 34, is the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood. She made history in 2010, becoming one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Parliament. She is an advocate for greater diversity in the House of Commons. Shabana is currently the Shadow Exchequer Secretary.
‘If you’re interested in becoming a politician, make sure that you know yourself really well. Be totally clear about why you want to do it, and talk to as many people as possible to benefit from their experience. Confidence is absolutely key in any industry, and sometimes it’s all about faking it until you make it.’
The crime fighter – Laura Richards
Laura, 39, is an award-winning criminal behavioural analyst. She founded Paladin, the national stalking advocacy service in 2013, after successfully campaigning to change the law to include two new stalking offences. During her decade working on violent crime at New Scotland Yard, Laura set up the UK’s first Homicide Prevention Unit and trained with the FBI. She still works closely with the Home Office on domestic homicide reviews and has helped solve high-profile crimes.
‘Students email me all the time saying that they want to do what I do, but unfortunately there’s no set career path. All I can ever say is to follow the areas that interest you most. I have always been motivated by the subject matter, by a desire to bring about change and give a voice to those who don’t have one.’
The frontline engineer – Pip Lines
Pip, 31, is a Major with the Sixth Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). She was the first woman to win the prestigious Churchill Medal for engineering achievements in the Armed Forces. Pip is an ambassador for the Bloodhound Project, which aims to break the land speed record, and is passionate about encouraging more girls into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). She has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘A lot of people told me that they didn’t think the Army was the right career choice for me, but if you think something is right for you then just go for it. If people don’t think you can do something, simply prove them wrong!’
Read the winners’ full interviews in the November issue of Marie Claire. Photographs by Perou.