‘Inspire inclusion’ is the theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) this year, something women and businesses across Surrey have been championing for years.

And to mark today’s global holiday, Catherine Powell, Farnham Residents county councillor for Farnham North, and Paralympian Rachel Morris reflected on their journeys breaking down barriers as a chartered chemical engineer and athlete, shedding light on the ongoing struggle to inspire inclusion in male-dominated environments.

Cllr Powell said: “Inspire inclusion – I have lived most of my life hoping that by breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes I would inspire others to follow in my footsteps initially into engineering.

“I am a chartered chemical engineer and when I became a Fellow of the IChemE I was one of only 40 female fellows in the UK.

“I was the first female engineer at work to come back after having two children and have spent my entire working career trying to break down barriers at work in an environment that is dominated by men.

“Even as a project director, as recently as 15 years ago a new member of the team walked into a meeting and asked me if I was there to take the minutes. Various other people in the room nearly choked on their coffee.”

Paralympian Rachel Morris MBE said: “For girls with a disability they are facing further barriers and as a female athlete with a disability I was fighting a system that saw me at the bottom of all the squads. 

“Everyone has barriers in their life whether physical or placed through others, by society or our minds. It’s what we do with them that matters and it’s how we see them that enables us to change our perception of ourselves despite other peoples views or expectations of us.

“Support, enable and include are three words which work towards changing other people’s approach towards the barriers people put on me because I have a disability.”

A Waverley Borough Council (WBC) spokesperson, said: “At WBC, we are committed to ensuring that all who live or work in Waverley are given equal life chances. The council will be holding one of its regular Time To Talk staff awareness sessions on Friday, March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day.”

By Michelle Monaghan