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Celebrating International Women's Day at National Friendly

To mark International Women's Day, we're taking the time to commemorate all the achievements that the women of National Friendly have accomplished, who has inspired them along the way and what motivates them to keep going in the world of work, and in life!

We spoke to women throughout the Society, asking them to share their personal inspirations, the best decisions that they've made for themselves, what's really important to them and what's the best advice they've used to get them where they are today. 

Dawn, Executive Assistant – “Persevere regardless of the barriers and hurdles in life that you have to overcome”

I have been inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst due to her tireless efforts to gain the right for women to vote and believe in the Women’s Social and Political Union’s slogan of “Deeds not Words”.

If you had asked me what my biggest achievement is a few years ago I would have said being recognized by my peers as the PA of the Year in 2010. However, I consider achieving my degree in Business Studies to be my biggest achievement to date. I’m the only member of my family that has a qualification and I’ve made my parents really proud.

What is most important to me? Making the most of my free time to be creative (photography/baking/knitting/artwork etc).

To become a PA instead of a chef (which was my original career choice) is one of the best decisions I’ve made. I love the job that I do and the role I play in helping the business achieve its goals.

Emma, Marketing Manager – “Try to enjoy what you do and always put 100% into everything”

Without a shadow of a doubt, my biggest inspiration is my mum: my best friend. I look back at my childhood with extremely fond memories and I feel very lucky because of this. As a child I remember saying to my mum “I want to be a child forever,” because I knew even then how good I had it. She brought me up to have strong morals, manners, a sense of humour and confidence, which I believe are key qualities that have helped me to be successful today. We have a great relationship where I can tell her everything, probably too much sometimes! And if I ever need anything, I can rely on her to always be there. I hope I can give my child the same wonderful upbringing.

My mum’s positive outlook and strength also inspires me. She has suffered two huge losses in her life – her father and my beloved step-father, but she has never lost her zest for life. She pushed forward, opening successful businesses and continuing to be a great mother.

My biggest achievement to date was gaining a first class business and marketing degree. I have always been determined and ambitious and when I want to achieve something I will ‘eat, sleep and breathe’ that goal until I achieve it. However, this wasn’t an easy feat; during my time at university my beloved step-father passed away. Although I’m determined, there were times I wanted to give up, but with encouragement from my family and knowing that my step-father would have wanted me to strive to do my best, I successfully continued my degree, giving it my all.

My life and priorities have changed a lot this year; I am now expecting my first child! Therefore saving for my child’s future and setting up a family home are the most important things in my life now.

One of the best decisions I’ve made for myself was leaving a large corporate company to join National Friendly. At National Friendly I have gained so much confidence as I have been given the platform and opportunity to really demonstrate my skills whilst learning a lot along the way.

When I first started I was ‘thrown in at the deep end’ if you like; after a few weeks I was asked to recruit and manage a new marketing executive: a completely new experience for me. However I am very grateful that my manager gave me this opportunity, had confidence in me and provided the support and training I needed to develop.

National Friendly also recognise and reward hard work. A year after joining I was promoted from Campaign Manager to Marketing Manager and now have overall responsibility for the marketing team and strategy. This was a personal goal I wanted to achieve before I was 30.

Not only do I love my day-to-day job and responsibilities, progressing in my career has allowed me to live a good lifestyle and now puts me in good stead to start a family.

I’ve chosen a career that I love and as a result I do a better job, it doesn’t feel like work. Having said that, in all jobs there will occasionally be times where a task is required which isn’t the most exciting, however by putting 100% into these tasks I still get a sense of achievement and satisfaction; often I will prioritise these tasks too. I would recommend this tactic to everyone.

Imogen, Sales Support Administrator - “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends”

The female that I aspire to be more like is Emma Watson because she studied at Brown University, became a successful actress at quite a young age & has modelled for Magazines like Teen Vogue whilst being a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

My biggest achievement to date is gaining fulltime work after 2 months of being a Temporary Sales Support Administrator, and a year of being on Universal Credit.

The most important thing to me at the moment is to progress at work and improve my confidence.    

The best decision I’ve made for myself was to agree to do the 10k this May, and the best advice I’ve received was from Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone which I’ve used to better myself is “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

Lisa, Head of Risk & Compliance – “Network, network, network!”

There are so many inspirational women of our time, it is quite difficult to choose just one. There are notably three women I have admired over the years (and yes, I am showing my age here)…

- Team GB athlete, Jo Pavey MBE, for her drive and dedication to master her skills, to continue to excel in top flight athletics and take time out to have a family; to Jo age is no barrier;
- Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, for always conducting herself with elegance and grace, and using her platform to spotlight key issues; and,
- Performer, Suzi Quattro, for showing the world that women can rock too!

One of the most inspirational moments for me, was Billy Jean King winning her tennis match against Bobby Riggs in 1973. For me, this was not about the ‘battle of the sexes’, this was about not letting anyone tell you, or make you feel, that you are inferior to another; use your strengths, your abilities to achieve your goals and your dreams.

In addition to work and family life, I have become more involved in volunteer work, to use my skills and knowledge to support youth in the community. I co-founded, and trained as Welfare Officer, for a local youth football club and more recently, became Governor of a local academy for 11-16 year olds.
My wonderful family are the reason I do everything, so ensuring I have a good work life balance to be a mum, while progressing my career and professional development, is incredibly important.

What is the best decision I’ve made for myself? Joining the fantastic team at National Friendly of course!

My best advice to other women would be to work with peers inside and outside your organisation/industry. This will not only provide great insight and shared experiences, but facilitate personal growth and development.

Louise, Sales Support Team Leader - “If anyone says I can’t or won’t do something, I will 100% make sure I do it!” 

Jennifer Lopez is my inspiration.  She was from the Bronx and Hispanic, yet battled through and made it as not only a great Latino singer but broke in to the US and UK charts, and also made a career in movies.  She is almost 50 yet has the body of a 21 year old.  She works extremely hard to have a career and to maintain an amazing figure whilst also being a mother.

My biggest achievement is raising my son as a single mother and him turning into a fine, hard working adult who is known and recognised for his people skills, especially with the elderly.

The most important thing for me in life is to be able to look after my family. I see my 92 year old Nan every week, I am saving for my sons 21st Birthday and along with my husband using all of our savings/energy on doing up our home to enable a better future for us as a couple and our family. 

Losing 3 stone and joining the gym has been the best decision I’ve made for myself. I am fitter now I am in my 40s then I have ever been, and my health is very important to me. 

I cannot really think of any advice as such but what I do know that has made a difference is people telling me I can’t or won’t do something. If anyone says I can’t or won’t do something I will 100% make sure I do it! I was told by a now ex-boyfriend that I didn’t have it in me to shed 3 stone. 9 months later and 43lbs lighter I showed him I can and have done it.

Rachel, Compliance Manager – “There’s no point doing a job by halves; do it well, and to the best of your ability, or don’t do it at all”

When I was in nursery and the teacher asked what we all wanted to be when we grew up, most of the other girls said things like “nurse” or “mummy”. I said I wanted to be a truck driver. I’d seen the Yorkie Bar ads and thought it looked brilliant doing that all day, driving big trucks, waving to your friends and the best bit - eating chunky chocolate. My teacher (a woman) told me scornfully that women aren’t truck drivers. I was outraged, even though I was only about 6.

I went to an all-girls school and despite classes from another era such as domestic science, needlework and typing (yes, seriously) I loved science and aspired to be a chemical engineer. Then a careers adviser recommended I study physics instead at university, saying it gave a better grounding. I took the bad advice but regretted it part-way through my course. I dropped out to give myself a gap year and a re-think, worked at a call-centre, got promoted quickly, and didn’t go back. Roll on a couple of years to a Sunday evening reading the local paper and an ad for a building society job I fancied with just half an hour until the phone line for applications closed. I thought: what the heck, just go for it. Picked the phone up, and ended up getting the job. 

Several internal role changes and two toddlers later, when I was working on complaints about financial advice, it dawned on me that I wanted to become a financial adviser. So I studied and passed, got accepted on the adviser programme, and for a few years worked in different branches around Bristol. Juggling family and work demands, I next worked for an advice firm, but in compliance this time. I’ve worked in various capacities in this field ever since, each adding to my experience, finally coming to National Friendly some ten years ago.

I can think of many women who have inspired me and it’s so hard to choose. For example, I’ve been reading various ebooks lately written by women who have ridden around the world on motorcycles: the ground-breaking Elspeth Beard, local nurse Jacqui Furneaux, fearless Steph Jeavons, amusing Lois Pryce, refreshing Michelle Harrison and hapless Chantal Simons. As a motorcycle rider myself, their stories of endeavour and courage and their huge sense of adventure and fun make me wish very much to follow in their tyre treads. But probably the female I most aspire to is my dear colleague Annette, with whom I worked closely, but is with us no more. As well as her enormous beam of a smile that lit up her face and her zest for life (she used to run uphill to Lansdown from central Bath, and do the kind of mountain climbing where you hang on with just your fingertips and toetips!) she seemed to know instinctively just the right things to say and do, and would warm up any room she occupied. She made the people around her want to do their best for her in return. I admired her immensely for her humanity and still miss her very much.

I find it hard to rank my achievements – each of them is important for different reasons. They include having and raising my children through ups and downs, and seeing them venture into the big, wide world as happy, well-adjusted and successful adults; running my first 5ks and 10ks, and getting the cycling bug, having hated both previously; learning to ride, and own, a 750cc motorcycle just three years ago and being enraptured with the freedom and thrill of it; and being deeply in love with the most wonderful man in the world and knowing he feels the same about me. And so many more things I could list.
What is most important to me? My family. Always. Also my health. And totally making the most of life. 

I work to live, not the other way around!

My best decisions plural for myself include giving up smoking fifteen years ago (worst decision was starting in the first place!), buying a second-hand fold-up bike for commuting years ago and discovering a whole new perspective on the world with my husband and getting fit at the same time (worst decision being not discovering cycling sooner), and most definitely asking him for motorcycling lessons for my birthday, and then putting in for my tests, after seeing other women riders and wanting to be doing it for myself too (again - worst decision being not doing it years ago).

My grandad always used to say “a job worth doing is a job done well.” Although, grammatically, my grandad’s Bristolian version makes no sense, I know exactly what he meant, which is that there’s no point doing a job by halves; do it well, and to the best of your ability, or don’t do it at all. And I think it rings as true for me now as when he used to say it to me as a little girl. If you have to do something, or if you choose to do something, always give it your all, and then you have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done it as well as you can. Why do any less? And when I take a step back to evaluate, if I think I didn’t do a job as well as I could (for example, when learning to ride my motorbike and making goofy mistakes), I will learn from the experience so I can perform better next time.

Lucy, Content Marketing Executive – “When you’re on the wrong train, you get off”

My grandmother is definitely one of my biggest inspirations in life – from a rough beginning, she has worked her way up from poverty and has lived a life full of adventure, love and happiness. She is a testament to what perseverance and a positive attitude can do for you!

Moving across the country and making a new life for myself has definitely been one of my greatest achievements to-date. When I left university, I had no plans or direction, so I took what would be seen as the “safe” option, and moved down to Devon to be close to my long-term boyfriend as I figured things out. As much as I loved living with him, having fun with our friends and generally soaking up the laid-back West Country lifestyle, I knew that I was unhappy. Media jobs were few and far between, I was a five hour train journey from my family and friends, and no matter how many people surrounded me I felt incredibly isolated and alone. 

After almost two years of working in a job where I was undervalued and mistreated, I made the biggest decision of my life – I quit my job, and made plans to move to Bristol. One year on, I work in a company that truly appreciates my work, I am so much closer to my friends and family, and my boyfriend and I have found a new life in a city which is brimming with colour and possibilities!

My priorities now are a balance between progressing at work and making the most of this new city I live in. I want to make the most of this time where I can try new things, and explore all that Bristol has to offer!

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is from my uncle. When I was at university, it all felt wrong – the course wasn’t right, the city was unwelcoming and it felt like a dark, heavy cloud was fogging my judgement. I wanted to move to a different university, but I was scared to say “I quit”. My uncle said, quite simply: “When you’re on the wrong train, you get off”. It is never too late to accept you’ve taken a wrong turn, and make those steps to get you back on track. Just do it, and do it today.

Isabelle, Broker Sales Support Administrator – “Don’t ever stop learning and growing as a person and whatever you do, give it 100%”

Simone Veil is one of my biggest inspirations: A survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp where she lost part of her family. She was also a French politician and was best known for pushing forward the law legalizing abortion in France. The first woman to be elected President of the European Parliament. Also one of the few woman to be buried at the Pantheon in Paris.

Being able to live and work in a country that is not my birth place is my biggest achievement to date. I feel privileged to be multilingual as it does bring more opportunities to reach people and understand where they come from.

Work and family are both important to me. You need to have a good balance as you spend most of your life at work. 

Taking redundancy from my previous 12 years old job and joining National friendly is one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself. It was time for a change and I am glad I made that choice!

Rachael, Sales Support Administrator– “You only get back what you put in to life”

My mum is my biggest inspiration. Bringing up 3 ‘bratty’ children as a single mother and always working to give her children the absolute best of everything, even though that meant she was going without herself and it would not bother her, when I have children if I am half the women/mother she is I know I’m doing well.

My Family means the world to me, especially my 10 year old nephew and 6 year old niece, so they have Aunty Rachael under their control! I’ve also bought my very own home this year, so they now have a space to come to visit!

Late last year I had to make the decision to move from a company I was very comfortable at. As I struggle with “change” I found the thought of moving to a new company a very daunting decision, but 5 months on I think it was the best decision I have made! 

Nicky, Senior Sales Team Leader – “Always believe in yourself, never put yourself down - JUST BELIEVE”

My mum is the person who inspires me, and continues to do so! After 15 years of marriage to suddenly being divorced, she raised 3 young girls working 3 jobs. However still had time for school assemblies, parent evening etc. 

Always encouraging my sisters and I, helping us believe we can achieve anything in life if we put our minds to it. Always there to guide and give advice now I have children and grandchildren of my own. She never seems to grow old. I sometimes forget she is 70 as she is so young at heart! 

Never letting my dyslexia get in the way of anything I want to do is one of my biggest achievements. It may take me a little longer to understand things, however I get there in the end.

My family is definitely most important to me - spending quality time with my children and grandchildren, helping them achieve their goals just like my mum did with me. Also, being able to have me and hubby go on weekends away having a happy balanced life.

Moving jobs in the last year after working for the same company for 11 years is the best decision I’ve made for myself. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know, but not in this case. I made a big leap and I was scared and nervous - I felt like a teenager going out in the big world again. It has been the best move ever for me. I have been promoted within the first 6 months. I have the trust and friendships of all the people I work with. I don’t have the pressure I had with my last job, which means a happy Nicky in a happy work place, and a happy Nicky as a wife, mother, grandmother and daughter at home.

Annie, Retention Administrator – “Be a survivor, not a victim”

Florence Nightingale is one of my biggest inspirations. She founded modern nursing and was a statistician, which was remarkable for a woman of that day. She even invented the “Pie Chart”!

Having my 2 children, and raising them, mostly alone, but always being able to work and balance a career with family life is one of my biggest achievements, and at the same time representing Wales and Cardiff playing women’s pool! 

My children and job are most important to me at the moment. I’m always trying to better myself to provide my family with more. I’m also hoping that that is setting an example to them.

Exactly one year ago today, I fled a bad relationship. It resulted in me losing my home and being homeless, with my then 5 year old daughter. We were in a Women’s Refuge for months, and were continually needing the police in preparation for court, and I was dealing with the CPS and all sorts of problems. In less than a year, we have a beautiful home, I have an amazing new career and my daughter is extremely happy. We secured a conviction and a restraining order so I feel comforted that future women are safeguarded from ever having to go through the same thing but, most importantly, I feel that by standing up for myself, and not accepting that it is ok to be treated badly, that I have set an example for my daughter to follow so hopefully, she will always stand up for herself too.

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