On Friday 14 October we were delighted to welcome some of our alumnae for an evening at the University Women’s Club, Audley Square, London, where we were treated to talks by some of the many outstanding female alumnae of St Johns.

Following a welcoming speech by President Maggie Snowling, highlighting the success of the 2000 Women Campaign and its continuing efforts, Janine Gibson (1990), editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed UK was our first speaker.  She gave us an exciting and honest insight into her acclaimed career as a journalist. 

Women's Networking October 14th 2016 - Janine Gibson

In the spirit of her role as leader of Buzzfeed UK, she presented her talk as a ‘listicle’ of some of the things she had learned as a journalist.  Starting at the Guardian, she was later responsible for launching the Guardian US, where she oversaw the Pulitzer Prize winning revelation of the Edward Snowden leaks.  Her work has also included launching and editing the mediaguardian.co.uk website.  She advised on the importance of following your own rules, and not being drawn by glamour, noting that when she first went to the US it was seen as something of a doomed position, which she of course turned into a huge success.  She credited her determination to follow what she loved, citing her early love of television and her conviction in the importance of online media as key to the success she has experienced. 

Our next speaker was Barbara Slater OBE (1982), the BBC’s first ever female Director of Sport.  Following an early and highly successful career in gymnastics (among other achievements she represented Great Britain in the Montreal Olympics, 1976) she started working in the BBC Sports department after graduating from St John’s. 

Women's Networking October 14th 2016 - Barbara Slater

She told how she nearly missed her interview for the position, as her invitation had been sitting in her pidge at St John’s all summer!  She strongly believes she was given the position as it was thought ‘about time’ that a woman worked in the department, which made her even more determined to prove herself capable, something she has clearly achieved, being made Director of BBC Sport in 2009.  Despite having faced discrimination during her time at the BBC, such as being denied entry to golf clubs where she was directing the broadcasting of competitions, and being asked when she would be leaving when she got married (it being thought implausible that a married woman would also have a job!), she has risen above it, and championed the importance of diversity in sports television.  She noted that she is keen to create an environment in which women can achieve, and that output is far stronger for being diverse.  But, in her words ‘the job isn’t done yet’, and she encouraged women to leave their environments in a better state than they found it.

The evening ended on a playful note, with a talk from self-titled ‘Quiz Mistress’ Lesley-Anne Brewis (2000).  Having studied Modern History at St John’s (where she was JCR President), where she discovered a strong love of all things quiz based (she was also Captain of Quizzes), she set up a quiz company with a friend, and has now presented quizzes in such diverse places as on top of a Routemaster Bus, museums, and at Madame Tussauds, where she was disconcertingly positioned next to a wax-work model of Simon Cowell! 

Women's Networking October 14th 2016 - Lesley-Anne Brewis

She emphasised the importance of making the most of opportunities that presented themselves, and that one’s degree need not dictate one’s career.  Studying at Oxford had brought her a love of knowledge, which she carries through into her job.  Her talk was then followed by a quick demonstration of her work, as each table was given a buzzer, and were challenged to answer a set of questions.  This was a fun end to a great evening.

Each of our speakers championed the importance of following your passions, making your own rules; as Barbara Slater put it, you’ll be good at it because you care about it.  We are hugely grateful to these three marvellous women for sharing their insights, experience, and advice with us which, alongside the opportunity to meet and catch up with fellow alumnae, made the evening a really memorable occasion.

We are grateful also to St John’s alumnae Ann Hyman (2008) and Marta Szczerba (2008) and Eyedea for helping to organise the event.