Following a welcomin 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.
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
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
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!
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.