In conversation with Durham University’s Women in Business Society

By Claudia Jacob

Durham University’s Women in Business Society (DUWIB) was set up in 2010 with the aim of supporting students in their career development throughout their time as a student at Durham. The Society aims to inform and support students through career-orientated workshops and panel events as well as through events led by their sponsors which include American Express, Amazon, BNP Paribas, EY, Herbert Smith Freehills and PA Consulting. Interview Editor, Claudia Jacob, speaks to Imaan Ahmad, the President of DUWIB, about keeping members engaged during the pandemic, their upcoming initiatives, and the ways in which the Society explores issues surrounding gender diversity in the workplace.

Imaan explains that as well as tackling and supporting female university students thinking about their future careers, DUWIB is, at its core, “a lovely community of hard-working, ambitious women” who aim to foster links between alumni, mentors and their members within the university. She adds that “as a female-oriented society, we hope to offer guidance on issues which particularly face women in the workplace and to promote diversity”. Sponsorship Officer, Tabatha Baylis, has particularly loved being “…part of this network of ambitious and hard-working women” who have “been a great source of support”, albeit virtually.

Alongside a host of events planned with their sponsors and mentors, the team is launching two new initiatives in 2021. The first is their ‘Conversation with…’ series which features female professionals in various different industries, who will offer three pieces of advice and will conduct a Q&A session. Diversifying the range of industries that the society focuses on during their events is an important part of DUWIB’s ethos, hence their guest speakers are from a plethora of professional backgrounds including politics, technology and marketing. By offering the opportunity to hear from industry specialists, DUWIB hopes that their members will feel inspired to pursue their interests, equipped with the necessary skill sets to jump-start their careers.

DUWIB is, at its core, a lovely community of hard-working, ambitious women

DUWIB’s second initiative for 2020-21 will focus on supporting members through the process of applying to internships and jobs, as well as building confidence and discovering individual strengths. Imaan explains that one of the biggest worries their members have when it comes to employment, is the lengthy and sometimes disillusioning process of applying to internships and jobs: “We understand how demoralising rejections can be and the pandemic has made it particularly difficult to stay motivated”.

The initiative will therefore offer practical tips and reassurance to help their members feel prepared. Alongside the event, the team have also started doing Instagram takeovers to offer advice from their own experience of job applications, as well as giving insights into different industries they are interested in. The idea is to create an environment in which students can learn from each other, so as to benefit from the experiences of others.

Imaan explains that the difficulties Covid-19 has posed in terms of hosting in-person events have encouraged the team to think creatively about the ways they use their social media platforms to attract members and to maintain the collaborative aspect of their society which is otherwise difficult to replicate. The executive committee has therefore been putting informative Instagram Stories together, as well as organising online panel events with a wide variety of female speakers.

We understand how demoralising rejections can be and the pandemic has made it particularly difficult to stay motivated

Imaan is particularly proud of DUWIB’s carefully curated mentorship scheme which has fostered meaningful relationships between mentors and mentees alike. She adds that “Some mentees have said they explored a career path they previously hadn’t thought about or felt more confident in interviews through the support and advice of their mentors”. Mentorship Coordinator, Eve Howarth, adds that “a lot of personal time is invested at the start of the year into perfecting the matches between mentees and mentors and it really does all feel worth it when someone tells you about how they overcame a fear or landed their dream internship or job!”.

DUWIB’s social media has also included weekly recommendations of articles, podcast and videos which encourage conversations about the ways in which issues facing women in the workplace also impact other marginalised groups in the workplace. Last year, they partnered with The 93% Club Durham, which is part of a UK-wide social mobility network that empowers state-educated students in order to level the playing field with their independently educated peers. In the future, the team hopes to collaborate more with other Durham societies that focus particularly on driving equality within the workplace.

Ultimately, the team are passionate about empowering female students to learn about different industries, develop their professional skills, and feel less alienated from historically male-dominated industries, as well as providing the support and expertise required to allow women to realise their full potential.

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