Women Of London

These are historic times in the fight for gender equality. Movements such as #MeToo are motivating an international audience, while 2018 marked 100 years since the first women won the right to vote in the UK. To celebrate this milestone, a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament Square. 

Meanwhile, the Southbank Centre celebrates International Women’s Day (8 Mar) with its annual WOW – Women of the World festival (8-9 Mar 2019). Founded by Jude Kelly, this annual event is going to be extra-special in 2019, as it marks the launch of The WOW Foundation. The foundation will spread empowerment by enabling and celebrating the work of women around the world. Back in London, the WOW festival’s line-up includes American activist and author Angela Davis in conversation, as well as British comedian Jo Brand.

As the spotlight turns on wonderful women, we meet five who are blazing their own trails in London.

Amy Lamé, the London Night CzarAmy Lamé – London’s first Night Czar
London is the world’s largest city to have a Night Czar, whose job is to ensure nightlife is safe and fun. Born in New Jersey, USA. Amy has lived in London for 25 years. Her club night Duckie has been running at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern every Saturday since 1995, and she’s attending the WOW festival, judging the Women in Creative Industries Awards.

Which achievement are you most proud of?
The work that we’re doing around women’s safety. The amount of live music venues that we’ve been able to save, too – we’ve lost a lot of them over the past 10 years and finally we’re seeing a lot of green shoots of new development.

What advice would you most like to pass on to women starting out in your industry?
Be the change that you want to see – identify those gaps. That’s certainly what I’ve done in my career. My club has been going for 22 years, and we started it because there was nowhere that we wanted to go – I encourage women to be bold. Try to get a mentor, which is something I didn’t have in my younger years.

Who will you be thinking of on International Women’s Day?
I’ll be thinking of Millicent Fawcett and her new Parliament Square statue. This is the square’s first statue of a woman, by a woman – Gillian Wearing is making it. Fawcett was a great suffragist and is just perfect to commemorate with a statue.

Yana Peel, Serpentine Gallery CEOYana Peel – Serpentine Galleries CEO
Positioned on either side of The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery have been under Yana’s control since 2016. Born in Russia and raised in Canada, she works to showcase the best new ideas in contemporary art.

What’s the best thing about being a woman in London?
I love having a feminist mayor in Sadiq Khan and a deputy mayor in Justine Simons, who flies the flag for this city’s culture so powerfully – and stylishly!

What is the biggest obstacle to gender equality in your profession?
Our artistic director [Hans Ulrich Obrist] is the greatest feminist, so I feel fortunate to work in a merit-based, gender-blind partnership. 

Asma KhanAsma Khan – head chef and owner of Darjeeling Express
Asma’s Indian cooking is inspired by her Calcutta childhood and royal Mughlai ancestry. In 2017, she opened Darjeeling Express in Soho with a kitchen run entirely by women, many of them homemakers.

What’s the best thing about being a woman in London?
The best thing is that nobody cares that you’re a woman. I grew up in India, in a Muslim family, and I was made very aware that I was a woman and that different rules apply to you, in public and in your private life. In London, there are no rules – here in the West End, especially, no one cares about your sexuality, gender, the colour of your skin. Of course, it’s not perfect, but in my opinion, it is the greatest city in the world.

What is the biggest obstacle to gender equality in your profession?
A big hindrance is the hours, because a lot of women have families, or would like to have a life outside the kitchen. I have open discussions to find out who can afford to leave at 11pm. It’s incredible when there is equality in that decision-making; I’ve never seen this in any other restaurant.

Who is your female icon?
A female Sultan called Razia Sultana. She was made ruler of Delhi by her father, even though he had sons, and I love that her qualities as a leader and fighter got her that position. In the end, she was killed by nobles who found it difficult to accept her. When you’re so good, they can’t ignore you and there doesn’t need to be positive discrimination.

Sadie Morgan, dRMM ArchitectsSadie Morgan – co-founder and director of dRMM Architects
In 1995, Morgan co-founded de Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects (dRMM). The practice strives to take on projects that make a difference to people’s lives, such as schools and public spaces.

Which achievement are you most proud of?
We won the 2017 Stirling Prize – which is like the Best Picture Oscar for architecture – for Hastings Pier on the UK’s south coast. I’m also proud to run a practice that’s gender neutral: we choose the best people and treat everybody the same. It’s been proven that having women on management teams improves working environments and financial results.

Who will you be thinking of on International Women’s Day?
Our government and London’s police force and fire brigade are led by women. So if you’re thinking about how women are moving forward, it’s extraordinary if you reflect on those sorts of things. I have huge respect for any woman who takes on a role that is traditionally taken by men.

Who are your female icons?
I think that WOW founder Jude Kelly is pretty frigging amazing. She’s done so much for women. I also have lots of respect for Shami Chakrabarti, now a Baroness. She became a friend of mine when she was head of civil rights group Liberty.

Camilla Barrow, Crossrail Deputy Project Manager.jpgCamilla Barrow – Crossrail deputy project manager
Engineer Camilla and her team undertake the rail systems work on Crossrail, one of Europe’s biggest construction projects, which is opening in December. She is responsible for 50km of new track beneath central London, from Westbourne Park in the west to Plumstead in the east.

What advice would you give to women joining your industry?
There’s a need for more diversity in the engineering industry, and women have a big part to play in that. The statistics, the big companies and the major projects all agree that diversity results in a wider variety of solutions. Now is a fantastic time to become an engineer.

What is the biggest obstacle to gender equality in your profession?
All the large companies have the right policies and procedures in place, but the real measure of success is inclusivity, which is harder to measure. It’s an interesting time with companies having to publish their pay gaps by the end of this tax year, and you can already see from some of the companies that have done it that we’re not where we should be. The responsibility rests with the leadership within the industry.

Who is your female icon and why?
Amelia Earhart, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Also, as a result of that, she created an organisation – the Ninety-Nines – for female pilots. When you look at her challenges, drive and determination, she’s pretty inspirational with her can-do attitude.

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