International Women’s Day: women who have inspired us

International Women’s Day: women who have inspired us

This year’s International Women’s Day is all about Balance For Better and a global push towards professional and social equality. With that in mind, we’ve put our heads together and started to think about women who have inspired us in our careers and the lessons that we’ve learnt to bring into our own practice.

Michele Milliken by Megan Holland

Creative copy that could blow your socks off, strategically sound and occasionally pretty cutting: my inspirational figure is my Mum. My Mum, Michele Milliken, was a copywriter who worked in the advertising industry for over 30 years, whittling words for agencies across London and Manchester. After finishing school, she studied at the only copywriting course in the country at the Watford School of Writing, before bursting into agencies full of fresh ideas. She worked at Royds Advertising (now McCann) where she met Creative Director, Peter Holden, in a partnership that was later to become creative consultancy Holden & Hart. After freelancing across agencies for several years, she was involved in the formation of Holden & Sons and continued to work closely with Peter until she passed away in 2015.

I was fortunate enough to work with my Mum in a professional capacity for a couple of years, and she was inspirational for her pioneering attitude towards client strategy and the way she could fit the pieces of a puzzle together in order to create amazing work. Her morals and values spanned into her copywriting and she only worked with brands that fit with her perception of what should be promoted. She was patient, but she’d also be pretty firm if you were getting it wrong (which we all need from time to time). Her integrity and ability were at such a high standard that they’re still very much part of the agency we’ve become today.

Anyone who has seen Mad Men can garner an idea of some of the sexism and misogyny underlying the industry and the issues women have faced through the years. Working from the 1980s, my Mum fought many similar battles herself: including having to prove to a client that she wasn’t a secretary during a pitch. Throughout her career, she progressed through these issues and garnered a reputation as an incredible copywriter, working with brands such as Yorkshire & Humberside Tourist Board, Aer Lingus, Trebor Basset and The Eve Appeal. Her attitude towards her work and the industry as a whole is something that I now try and carry in my own role: whether that’s creating some spot-on client strategy or being a patient and kind advice-giver (as she often was).

Stella McCartney by Charly Tudor

Stella McCartney, a woman led by her values that have driven her to push creativity and innovation, is changing the fashion landscape to one that creates less impact on the planet – empowering creatives to take a more conscious approach to design.

With the fashion industry as one of the top contributors to global warming, there’s an imminent need for the industry to make change in order to become more sustainable and have less impact on the environment.

At the age of 12, Stella made the decision not to use fur, leather or feathers in any of her work. From the initial idea of working more consciously, she has propelled this attitude proactively through everything she has created in order to spearhead sustainability in fashion in a way that the industry should now be looking to as they face the future.

Devoting an entire team to innovation and research in sustainable solutions, Stella uses the limitations she faces as an opportunity to challenge creativity and technology. Whether that’s covering the walls of her London flagship store in shredded waste paper from her studio, to developing the Loop sneaker over 18 months to allow the sole to be removed – making them completely recyclable. No government policy or incentive is driving this – just a woman on a mission to make a difference and share a message.

For me there is a lot that can be learnt from Stella’s methodology, which can be carried into our industry and ideation. It’s about approaching problems creatively in order to encourage change, whether that’s by creating eco-friendly studios or understanding the challenges a specific city faces and using creative ideas in order to solve them. This is something that is becoming more popular in Manchester, with amazing projects like Design Giving, which celebrates small businesses that operate with purpose.

By beginning a project or approaching ideation with clear objectives, we can drive the innovation and creativity of our work. As designers, we should be embracing these challenges and using them to fuel our creativity to create powerful work. Ultimately, this allows for the creation of beautiful design that fulfils a message and a purpose in order to make change.

Kayleigh Oliver-Hulme by Christie Greenaway

Despite what those who know me might think, my inspiration for International Women’s Day is not the almighty queen Beyoncé (although she still holds a dear place in my heart). It is actually someone a lot closer to home. She is the first person that springs to my mind when I think power woman, and her name is Kayleigh Oliver-Hulme. Not heard of her? That’s okay, because she’s my-cousin-in-law (we’ll make that a thing). Kayleigh is also a business owner, a mum, a full-time QA and release manager in the technology industry, an entrepreneur, an author – and still makes the time to volunteer as a charity marketing manager.

The ultimate superwoman – even writing about her makes me want to lie down – Kayleigh entered the exclusive industry of technology. Studies last year showed that women account for only 15% of employees in technology, and this number decreases significantly when we start to talk about senior roles. Suffering from a severe case of bro-culture, the industry has historically been, and still is, a place dominated by men. Speaking to our developer Tom, only 1 person in his 90-strong computing degree class was a woman. Can you imagine how isolating that must be? This issue carries through to applying for careers, when it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters. Across the board men are generally more confident in over-stating their worth when applying for roles, while women are likely to be reluctant when applying for roles where they feel they don’t fit 100% of the requirements. So most of us wouldn’t bother, right?

While continuing to inspire others and achieve success in her career, Kayleigh also has her sights set on the ultimate goal (one we can all relate to) – financial independence. This is in part inspired by becoming a mum. Her daughter, Kaia, will grow up with a mum who is a real go-getter and who proves that there are no barriers to what you can achieve. Even when on maternity leave, Kayleigh built her second app for release on iOS in 2016. Did I mention she also self-taught herself German? Kayleigh has taught me that there’s no time like the present. Her drive to break stereotypes and boundaries hasn’t gone unnoticed. Featuring on podcasts and YouTube channels alike, Kayleigh has been recognised for her achievements, and in my opinion, is a figurehead for women in tech.

I don’t claim to know a whole lot about the intricacies of Kayleigh’s role, and I don’t think I need to in order to be inspired by her. Kayleigh’s whole ethos is so well balanced, and she is an intelligent, strong and beautiful woman who has worked hard to get where she is. She has taught me that setbacks happen, but you should never let your confidence waver – that the more people who hear your voice, the more used to it they will become. Unfortunately, not every workforce can be perfect, and people will try and hold you back and undervalue your contribution, but that shouldn’t make you selfish or discourage you.

After forming her own business, Junction 5, in 2017, Kayleigh is well on her way to the end goal and I can’t wait to celebrate with her! Drinks on you Kayleigh.

Danielle Pender by Noe Baba

The women I find inspiring are do-ers. The ones who see a problem and set about to fix it with fearlessness and creative flair. Game-changers, trail-blazers who want to make a positive contribution to society and who, invariably, say it how it is.

It’s difficult to name just one of course, but this one is up there for me at the minute. One half of a dynamic duo with badass creative director Shaz Madani, Danielle Pender, founder of Riposte ‘A Smart Magazine for Women’, is in no uncertain terms, killing it.

Not only is the publication a beautiful thing to behold but its content is spot on. Pender’s vision boldly takes us beyond the parameters we are used to in women’s magazines, offering us a whole lot more. Tackling a broad range of issues including art, design, music, politics, food and travel – it’s quite simply, a breath of fresh air. Riposte champions fascinating women outside of the usual arenas of beauty, fashion and celebrity, whose achievements speak for themselves, with refreshing honesty.

“Women are complex and multi-faceted human beings but to look at the average women’s magazine you’d think all we were interested in is beauty, fashion, celebrities, diets and the odd bits of travel or interior design. There are some great women’s magazines out there but it feels like the scope of content is pretty limited.”– Pender

Women like Pender pave the way for shifts in culture and accepted norms. The question is will mainstream publishers start paying more attention to what women are actually interested in? According to Pender this would be a brave move as “a lot of people in mainstream publishing only believe that photographs of young, beautiful, white girls sell magazines and it’s going to take a seismic shift to persuade them otherwise.” Rather than following this well-trodden trend in publishing, Pender has created a magazine that empowers – one that is focused on what women do, not just what they look like. Damn straight.

In case you wondered, Pender’s inspiration is PJ Harvey. “Her output is consistently amazing, intelligent and challenges expectations of what a female solo artist can record and produce. She doesn’t give a fuck and does everything her own way, answering only to herself.”

As a designer, my job is to have ideas, solve problems and seek to change things for the better. The countless amazing women I come across doing this across all fields get me excited about the possibilities of creativity. Hats off to you ladies.


The way these women have made change in their various fields has encouraged us to think of ways that we can encourage balance in the workplace – and in the way they’ve influenced us, we’d like to influence other women.

With this in mind, we’d like to offer four mentoring spots to women who are working in our industry or looking to break into it. These mentoring sessions will consist of an hour-long coffee with one of us, alongside general advice/support as needed. If you’re interested, drop us an email telling us why you feel you’d benefit from mentoring to


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