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Profile8th March 2023

Ark celebrates International Women’s Day 2023

As the world celebrates Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day 2023, it’s important to reflect on women’s strides towards gender equality and acknowledge the work that still needs to be done. We spoke with some fantastic women working across the Ark network who shared their inspirations, stories and reflections on the role of women in their life and what this day means to them.

“Happy International Women’s Day! Today is not just about celebrating the achievements of the past, it’s also about recognising how much work remains to be done to ensure that young women everywhere can grow up free to realise their potential.”

Lucy Heller joined Ark in 2004 and was appointed CEO in 2012

“Research suggests that the ‘motherhood penalty’ makes up 80% of the gender pay gap, with men spending just a third of the time that women spend on unpaid work. At Ark Start nurseries, we’re not just about closing the achievement gap for the very youngest children. We also provide flexible and affordable childcare that enables parents, but especially mothers, to go back into the workplace feeling confident that their children are in a secure, loving and joyful environment. I know that when my children were little, childcare arrangements dominated my thinking and my budget, but I was lucky to be well supported here at Ark. This is not the case for everyone: I believe that childcare should be part of our social infrastructure, which is why I’m so passionate about the work we do making high quality childcare accessible to those who need it most, and advocating for system change.”

Katie Oliver joined Ark in 2006 and is Director of Ark Start

“My mum is the biggest inspiration in my life, not just through my career. After her parents passed away at a young age, she had to leave formal education by 14 to look after her siblings. Coming from a disadvantaged working-class family in the north, my mum was never afforded the educational opportunities we endeavour to deliver to the young people we serve in Ark schools. My mum (alongside my wonderful dad) raised three children while often working two or three jobs and instilled within all of us the importance of gaining a good education, making the most of opportunities that come our way and, most importantly, the values of compassion, kindness and resilience. As a result of her unwavering love, support and hard work, my brother and I were the first generation in our family to attend university. I have never been so proud and thankful for my parents as when I graduated with my history degree from the University of St Andrews.”

Lyndsay Harris joined Ark in September 2022 as Director of Pastoral and Inclusion.

“One of the most fundamental reasons to celebrate International Women’s Day is to stand for all the under-represented women in our world. In addition to ongoing gender disparity, we live in a society where war, patriarchy, racial inequality, poverty and politics leave many women voiceless. Therefore, it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day as a woman in a free, democratic society and show solidarity with women who can’t currently represent themselves.”

Kelly Emery has been at Ark for 13 years and is Procurement Assistant.

“I have been lucky to work with many inspirational women in various roles and have learnt so much from them over the years. My Regional Director, Gail Peyton, is one of these standout women. Gail has developed my improvement strategy and inspired me to do the hard work – to get into every detail, flush out the problems, work on every small thing, and to systematise and therefore truly bring about change that can be sustained.”

Caz Brasenell is Ark Kings Academy’s Executive Principal, overseeing the secondary and primary phases.

“My first manager taught me so much and was fantastic. She approached everything logically and calmly and worked through each problem in a very disciplined way. She taught me to try to remove emotion from decision-making and to always aim to be fair and objective. I love the advice about good leaders building future leaders, which I try to embody in my role.”

Liz Tyler leads Ark Curriculum Plus, which works with 750 schools across the UK.

“Outside work, my biggest inspiration is my mother. Despite being raised in poverty and unable to complete her degree in Economics, she’s run many successful businesses, lived on three continents, and raised three children.”

Timse Patel is Senior Data Analyst in the Insights Team, supporting senior leaders in the network and our school to make good decisions.

“There is so much that I’m proud of, such as getting my degree in my late 30s as a single parent while working. When she isn’t driving me mad with her untidiness, my daughter makes brave and bold decisions that have changed her life. I’m also proud of where I have got to in my career. I didn’t have a great education, which is one reason I feel so connected to our mission.”

Liz Dawson is our Director of Governance and works across Ark Schools and Ark.

“I encourage my female scholars to explore science as a choice of education or profession across all year groups. As a science teacher, I often address my students as scientists, doctors, researchers, and professors to truly broaden their horizons and the scope of what they can achieve with hard work and resilience. I encourage girls who are inquisitive in the world of science to go a step further and do research that they can present in front of their class. Fundamentally, I set them the highest expectations, and I love to instil a passion for science in girls and women.”

Kemi Anigiobi has taught chemistry, biology and physics for three years at Ark Evelyn Grace Academy.

“The most important piece of advice I’ve been given was recently at a Presenting with Impact session. We talked about posture and how women are often conditioned to lean to the side to make themselves appear smaller and disappear into the background. The session’s leader told us that women shouldn’t be afraid to take up space and that we should assert ourselves by having the confidence to stand up straight and tall!”

Catherine Tate is the Systems Administrator for HR and oversees the processes and system, including MIS and data requests.

“Women are powerful figures in my Irish culture, heritage and society. Fierce women were everywhere and highly regarded, whether in the stories of Brigid the pagan goddess or Queen Maédbh of Connacht, the music of Sinead O’Connor or the Cranberries, or observing trailblazers in political leadership like Countess Markievich, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese to name a few. The church would work hard to degrade the place of women in Irish society and shroud many aspects of womanhood in shame, but my own experience, at school, for example, had quite remarkable women (usually nuns) who weren’t afraid to break the rules and instil in us a healthy sense of rebellion and independence. I try and hold onto some of that spirit in my working life!”

Margaret O’Shea is Director of Extended Curriculum, leading on sport, music and our broader enrichment programmes.