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Words: Barbara Young
Featured in the October 2020 issue

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Influential women in senior management are being invited to help support each other within a new networking initiative called GLOW. Barbara Young meets founding member Kerrin Wilson, Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, to find out more.

Senior female leaders in Lincolnshire have teamed up to launch a new networking circle for prominent high level executive women in the county.

The aim of the aptly named GLOW (Greater Lincolnshire’s Outstanding Women) is to promote positivity in the community in an effort to encourage and inspire the county’s next generation of female business talent.

The initiative, which is described as “part social, part sharing, part learning and part networking occasions”, is the brainchild of three respected high flyers: Nicky van der Drift, chief executive of Lincoln’s International Bomber Command Centre; Caroline Killeavy, chief executive of YMCA Lincolnshire and Kerrin Wilson, Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, who all share impressive career track records and common goals.

The idea of the county’s first targeted network group aimed at supporting talented senior women in business, came together last year after the trio found themselves discussing their career experiences while chatting over drinks one evening.

Kerrin, who is married to former Labour MP for Sedgefield Phil Wilson and lives in Nettleham, admits it came almost as a bit of a relief when the three friends discovered that when it came to tackling career challenges, they each shared similar experiences.

“That evening I posed the question, ‘surely it’s not just us having these experiences because in Lincolnshire there’s loads of fabulous women, but I don’t hear their voices loud and proud,” remembers Kerrin. “I wonder if there’s an opportunity and interest in developing this into more of a wider network than just the three of us?”

Kerrin explains that while the three friends recognised that there were already several network groups for junior staff, there was in fact “nowhere for women at the top of their organisations to go; somewhere that offers a safe space where you can let off steam without worrying that it might leak”.

Since its launch last year, GLOW has enjoyed a positive response from a growing number of influential female senior leaders, many of whom already successfully juggle challenging high impact careers and home lives.

However, feedback has shown that the collective experience from many successful professionals who hold high ranking positions is that being a boss can be an isolating and lonely place.

According to Kerrin, many members have said that because of the positions they hold, they feel professionally isolated. Many also place the needs of their organisations and business interests ahead of their own personal development and wellbeing, which is why she believes female voices need to be heard much louder. “Women are very good at just getting on with it and feeling like they don’t want to make a fuss,” she explains.

Shared experiences
As an organisation based on the sharing of experiences, trust and support, GLOW isn’t open to everyone, and those who request to join need to have a sponsor.

“GLOW has two purposes – the first is to offer a safe and secure support network for women who are at the top of their game and secondly, as a role model of what successful women look like to help inspire young women growing up in and around Lincolnshire,” explains Kerrin. “After our first meeting hosted by Caroline Killeavy at the YMCA in Lincoln where 20 women turned up, many said, ‘Oh my God, this is so needed; I’ve never been able to talk to anybody about a particular issue’  and that they didn’t have an outlet of support.

“We heard many stories of similar experiences shared by women. For example being a member of a board, which is predominantly male, and not having their voice as a woman heard, respected or appreciated. Others told us about boys’ club type groupings, the upward bullying that you experience as a female chief executive in a male environment, or when you find yourself being sidelined in a networking environment when people speak to the guy in your group and not you.

“This is not about men bashing – we get lots of support from all parts of society – it’s more about making sure that all of those positive attributes that women bring to their leadership roles are celebrated and recognised.”

Kerrin says that initially she was surprised at how much this group was needed.

“Everyone has said that GLOW is something they would like to explore further, so it was brilliant to feel as if we were doing something positive. We’re all strong, powerful women and we’ve worked hard to get where we are, but we also recognise that it can be a challenge when you need a support network where you can reveal and discuss your vulnerabilities in safety and away from your workforce.”

Fellow founding member Caroline Killeavy agrees: “Our vision is that the network would offer support and informal networking opportunities,  such as shadowing each other to get a different aspect of the world outside of our own business areas. We’d like to create a safe and supportive environment, without adding huge pressures in our very busy lives.

“It’s light touch – no ‘membership’, commitment, heavy agendas – just a space for us to share, learn and relax with like-minded people.”

Dealing with challenges
Having served in the police force for the past 27 years (joining Lincolnshire Police in her current role in 2018) 52-year old Kerrin has experienced a remarkable career to date, which as a dedicated professional has served her well.

After joining Northumbria Police in 1992, Kerrin transferred to Cleveland Police before joining North Yorkshire Police briefly as Chief Inspector and going on to be promoted to Superintendent at Durham Constabulary in 2013.

“Working in quite a male dominated environment, I’ve recognised and had to tackle some tricky situations and leadership challenges,” she says. “Bringing my experience to the table and sharing some of the trials and tribulations of my world enables other people to think they don’t constantly have to crack everything and be on their own because you can get support from elsewhere and overcome the challenges.”

Kerrin’s notable policing career includes operational uniform, CID and specialist roles, including head of tasking and co-ordinating command; safeguarding; volume crime; diversity unit; local area command and neighbourhood policing.

A memorable highlight was time spent serving on secondment to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as the director for training the Iraqi Police based in Baghdad, which she describes as “my best and worst year of my life”.

“It was the best year because I had amazing opportunities and made some difference to the whole programme that was being delivered, bringing some much needed British sensibility to policing.

“The programme was originally being delivered by the military, but the military don’t do policing, they do soldiering, so my contribution was a change of tact and a change of approach.”

Kerrin says it was a special time in her life as she also got to meet some “fabulous people, made lifelong friends while also making a difference in a world that I didn’t think I would ever experience”.

“Sadly, it was also my worst year because there were the senseless killings, including losing those in my team, as well as Iraqis who were working with the coalition being murdered just because they were working with us and wanting to make a better life for themselves. It was heart-breaking.”

At the end of her year in Baghdad, Kerrin was awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service medal from the US Army, the first issued to a non-US citizen in the conflict, which she still treasures.

Kerrin has also worked around the world as an expert in hostage negotiations, including reviewing police operations during a New South Wales terrorist incident in Australia.

She is a keen advocate of the equality agenda, in particular supporting BME and women’s aspirations within the police service.

“I’ve been a big believer in networking groups for all of my service, especially for minority groups who quite often don’t feel as if they’ve got people who look and feel and think like them,” she says.

A better life
Growing up in Jarrow, South Tyneside, Kerrin is proud of both her ethnic background and working class roots. Raised in a council house by her hard working white English single parent mother as the child of an Indian English-born father, Kerrin describes herself as “a Geordie and a woman of colour”.

“I’m from a really humble background, nothing was handed to me and I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am,” she says. “After school, I wanted to be a fashion designer, but when my mum died when I was 17,  I wasn’t able to afford to go to college. Instead, I joined a YTS scheme with a local wholesale manufacturer and retail firm in the North East where I worked my way up to regional manager. I stayed for seven years, but then realised that I wanted to do something more socially responsible, which was either teaching or policing, and as a great fan of Inspector Morse on TV, policing sounded more exciting!”

Kerrin is passionate about public service and doing the best for communities, especially for those who can’t help themselves.

“Coming from a background of poverty myself, the issue for me was always about safeguarding vulnerable people and wanting to make a better life for people.

“I’m immensely proud of British policing,” she says. “Having worked all over the world and with police forces from different countries, I see the absolutely brilliant police forces that we have here in the UK.

“Quite often they get bashed by the media, but we’re probably one of the only countries in the world that don’t have routinely armed police and we police by consent because we work with our communities. Keeping communities crime-free and safe isn’t just the role of the police, it’s down to all of us.”

Recently, Kerrin was appointed as an ambassador for the Institute of Directors, a trailblazing new role.

“I’m humbled to have been asked,” she says. “My ambition is to work with business directors to understand some of their challenges and what they can do to positively impact the criminal justice world and policing.”

Back to GLOW and Kerrin is keen to get the group’s message across, especially to the next generation of business leaders.

“It’s not only about supporting each other, but also about the future of women and girls in Lincolnshire.

“Within our county, we’ve got some fabulous women leading businesses, but we need to recognise that they’re not as prominent in the public arena as we would like them to be,” she says. “We want to change this so every girl and young woman in this county sees the contribution female leaders make and feel inspired to go and do the same. 

“As our Twitter handle states: Aim High, Dream Big and Be Mighty.”

If you would like to know more about GLOW
Email: glowlincs@gmail.com
Follow on Twitter: @glow_lincs
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/groups/8933919/

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