Women Breaking Barriers’ 2020/21 President, Imogen Haywood, discusses the highlights of their year

Women Breaking Barriers (WWB) are a network designed to connect future women leaders and provide them with inspirational role models.

We spoke to the WBB 2020/21 President, School of Law student Imogen Haywood about why she wanted to get involved with WBB, how she and her team have navigated a difficult year, and her hopes for the future of WBB.

Why did you want to get involved with WBB?
My motivation to get involved with WBB began as soon as I attended my first event in October of my first year at University in 2018. I was so grateful that there was a space for women within the School that was focussed on empowerment and building confidence. Joining the School as an LLB student, I was aware of the barriers women faced entering the legal profession, and through WBB I was further educated on the barriers to be expected, but also on ways to overcome these barriers and build resilience.

As soon as the applications opened, I applied to become a first-year representative. I thoroughly enjoyed this role which involved communicating our events to my cohort. In my second year I became more actively involved in the event planning during my role as events coordinator. I have had the privilege in my final year of being President. My aim this year was to focus on building a sense of community among first years amid the challenges coronavirus has presented. 

What events/activities has WBB done this year (20/21)?
WBB began our events schedule of the year by welcoming our first keynote speaker, Ruth Reid, a criminal Barrister who spoke about her journey into law. 

We also launched our first monthly newsletter, which ran in the months from September to December and Gopalika Sreekumar, the Vice President of WBB has managed very effectively.
Following this, we hosted our 'November Wellness' initiative. This was focussed on addressing the difficulties students were facing in the darker winter months in combination with isolation from the pandemic. We welcomed Mary Jackson, a member of the charity LawCare, who hosted a workshop which focussed on mental health advice for students. Additionally, we also hosted a virtual yoga session and giveaway which involved three of our favourite books and a headspace subscription. 

In December, we welcomed Aqsa Hussain, a pupil Barrister and founder of an international human rights blog, to discuss her journey. 

Following this, Ayesha Kuwari (Secretary at WBB) and I, joined Law Soc's “Legal Loops” for a Spotify podcast discussing WBB's journey and gender equality at University.

After a short break over Christmas, we welcomed students back through our 'Acts of Kindness' campaign on “Galentines Day”, to encourage people to reach out to their loved ones. This was run by our newest committee members Kinga Rolak and Grace Edwards who did an amazing job.

We look forward to hosting our International Women’s Day focussed events in the coming week. 

What challenges has the pandemic presented and how have you worked to overcome them?
The main challenge was the issue of how we could host events and adapt them from an in-person format to an online one. We achieved this through focussing our events to one key idea each month with a speaker event, alongside engaging online campaigns. Our social media secretary, Dearbhla Marnell has done a brilliant job managing our social media channels this year which have been crucial to expanding our audience reach. 

Additionally, launching our LinkedIn account which is run by our Network Ambassador, Ishita Karnik, has been very effective in increasing awareness of WBB in the legal community. Alongside traditional speaker focussed events, we have aimed to host interactive sessions focussed on wellbeing which our events-coordinator Santia Ahmed, has done an excellent job of organising. 

What are your hopes for WBB for the future?
I hope that it continues to flourish and be a dedicated space in the School for uplifting women and connecting them with inspiring figures in the legal community and beyond. Whilst the legal profession has begun addressing the gender inequality, it is still a long way behind and there is much progress to be done. I also hope that men also continue to attend WBB's event for their own civic education and to increase their understanding of how they can be allies to women.

I know that WBB will be in excellent hands next year and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to be President this academic year and have such a wonderful team.