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The women of WOW

WOW: Women of The World (WOW) festival US delegation (Photo credit: Maro Emuh)

UPON ENTERING the Southbank Centre to attend the Women of The World (WOW) festival, I was excited at the thought of spending the day amongst women who continue to influence and change the world through defying gender and racial bias with intelligence and poise.

The annual festival, which includes events and artist appearances from women around the world, is supported by Bloomberg and prides itself on bringing together leading voices across culture, business, politics, art and activism, and providing a jam-packed programme of enlightening talks, debates, music, comedy, poetry and networking.

Founded in 2010, it is the largest women’s festival in the world with festivals in over 30 countries.

The three day event included a stellar line-up, with appearances from Hackney MP Diane Abbott and writer Reni-Eddo Lodge to singer Laura Mvula and writer Afua Hirsch.

With the event taking place during Women’s History Month and the centenary of women’s suffrage, the energy and excitement was felt throughout the space. But what also remained was a reminder of the importance of giving a platform to marginalised voices and how far we have to go.

Refusing to be bound by such labels and lack of representation, attendees were introduced to members of WOW’s US delegation - Erika Irish-Brown, India Gary-Martin, Arlene Isaacs-Lowe, Mave Houston, Camille John, Julia Brown and Bershan Shaw - who engaged in the debate about the condition of women and girls from around the world.

Led by award winning leadership expert India Gary-Martin and hosted by Jude Kelly CBE, these luminaries are not only models for other women to follow but also pay it forward to pave the way for women of all races.


India Gary-Martin (Photo credit: Maro Emuh)

“WOW’s principles are based upon the intersectionality of gender, race, economic and social chasms,” said Gary-Martin. “It provides an international platform for women and girls from around the world to have thoughtful dialogue through considered debate and artistic expression. I’m delighted to lead this delegation of exemplary executives who are changing the world everyday.”

The Voice spoke with the powerful businesswomen to discuss overcoming adversity, the importance of female leadership, and advice they would give to the younger generation of girl bosses.

Arlene Isaacs- Lowe, Global Head of CSR & President of Moodys Foundation

Arlene Isaacs-Lowe is recognised as a leading global executive with expertise in strategic planning, risk management and finance. Over the course of her 30 year career, she has driven growth and profitability for major financial services firms and has been heralded as one of the Most Powerful Women in Business by Black Enterprise.

“I got involved in the WOW festival through India Gary-Martin, and it's really a very different perspective to be a part of the festival and understand the intersection between women in various disciplines and how powerful that can be in terms of the aspect of female empowerment,” said Arlene.


Arlene Issacs-Lowe (Photo credit: Maro Emuh)

This year marked the first time Arlene joined the WOW US Delegation, and she has used the opportunity to reflect heavily on her career and the difficulties she’s had to overcome throughout it. “It would be unusual to find women who ascended to positions like I’m in and to not experience some level of bias,” she stated.

“I think part of the journey is how you handle those challenges and react to them. For me one of the most significant aspects of my career journey was always being my best. For most of us our parents always said you have to be twice as good just to be at the table.

“I would particularly advise younger women to take more risks early in their career. Understanding how to meld your passion and expertise is a powerful tool in regards to career progression. If you can integrate those two things it is a recipe for success.”

Mave Houston, Head of Design & UX Research, Amazon Audible

Dr. Mave Houston recently joined Amazon Audible as the Senior Director and Head of Design & UX Research, and previously founded Capital One’s first UX Research Team and Research Capability, transforming their ability to deeply understand people and their money related behavioral patterns. “One of the highlights of my career was at Capital One where I founded there research program. It started off as something that was going to be small - at least that’s what they thought,” said Mave.


Mave Houston (Photo credit: Maro Emuh)

“Growing that from one research lab to nine across the country was amazing because the labs became this beacon for information and I grew this global team.”

As a key leader and one of the few prominent black women in the STEM industry, Mave is passionate at seeing more female leaders in that sector.

She said: “In STEM, there aren’t as many women in leadership positions to look up to. I have a saying and its ‘if you can see it you can believe it’ - so if you don’t see it it can be really difficult, and that’s why I’m passionate about changing.”

Bershan Shaw, TV Personality, Business & Leadership Coach, Author

Bershan Shaw is a pioneering motivational speaker, who specialises in coaching executives and training teams in many areas, including financial services, legal, technology, and consumer products. Her unique background combined with her enigmatic personality and confidence is second to none - not to mention her dynamic presenting style, humour, real-world techniques, and practical strategies.

As a two-time breast cancer survivor and businesswoman, Bershan has overcome many adversities and uses her skill to encourage others to do the same. “It’s about speaking up and I feel like now is the time for women to have this confidence and courage to just speak up,” she said.


Bershan Shaw and Camille John (Photo credit: Maro Emuh)

“We’ve been afraid for so long and we need to stop living in that fear. We’ve been placed through our biases, our belief systems and what we’ve been taught as little kids to not speak up or rock the boat but in order to make change you have to speak up.”

Camille John, Senior Vice President, Bank of America

Camille John is the SVP of Business Strategy within the Global Commercial Bank at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The finance expert also speaks at events that drive responsible growth and serves on the board of Fair Chance and is a founding member of Black Women Ready to Lead - a leadership development network focused on mid-career level multicultural women.

Speaking to The Voice, Camille discussed her excitement to be involved in this year’s WOW Festival. “This festival is something you can’t even describe. I’m happy to have experienced it first hand and help be ambassadors and to bring the message and excitement back to the US.”

Julia Brown, Chief Procurement Officer, Carnival Corporation

Julia Brown is Chief Procurement Officer of Carnival Corporation & Plc overseeing strategic sourcing and supplier relationship management. She works closely with the company's ten brands to procure goods and services across $9Bn spend and currently serves on the board for the Executive Leadership Council (Washington DC) and is a member of the Governance committee.


Julia Brown (Photo credit: Maro Emuh)

As one of the six women in leadership at Carnival Corporation, Julia has a lot of advice for women facing adversity in a male-dominated industry. She said: “In the last 25 years, I’ve worked in a variety of organisations which again have been quite male-dominated.

“So what is really critically as a woman is how you create the right brand for yourself and continue to perform,excel and transform so that you can be successful in these environments were you tend to be the ‘only’ or one of a handful.”

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