Introducing the finalists shortlisted for our w&h Amazing Women Awards 2021... From extraordinary entrepreneurs to women who are smashing the glass ceiling, these fabulous females are making a difference.
Every year our w&h Amazing Women Awards showcase the incredible achievements of the amazing women who, in midlife, continue to overcome obstacles, defy expectations, and alter perceptions. In this unique and challenging year, we’ve never been prouder to present these awards.
Here we reveal the shortlisted finalists for the Amazing Women Awards 2021 in the categories of:
- Brand New Directions (amazing female entrepreneurs)
- Smashing the Glass Ceiling
- Changing Our Country
- Don't Tell Me I can't (the women refusing to take 'no' for an answer)
- Celebrities Doing Good (the stars who use their platform to raise awareness for great causes)
Last but not least we have our reader nominated award. This is an award for women who are making a difference in their local communities—the nominees and listed in a separate article where you can also vote for who you think deserves to win a 2021 Amazing Women Community Hero Award
W&H Amazing Women Awards 2021 finalists
Brand New Directions Award
Awarded to extraordinary entrepreneurs
1. THE MATCHMAKING MAGICIAN
Karen Mooney, 60, is the founder of dating agency Sara Eden.
Before setting up Sara Eden in 1988, after friends complained their careers left them little time for relationships, Karen worked in Royalty Protection. With £2,000 ($2,755) of savings and 50 pals as clients, she targeted time-poor professionals looking for love. Today Sara Eden (opens in new tab) boasts thousands of matches, has 1,000 clients and an annual turnover of over £1.2m ($1.7m)
Karen says, "I’ve always believed in balancing profit with providing a good service—part of matchmaking is considering family dynamics to get the right fit. We have a friendly team—my manager has been with us for 29 years—and we select staff who care and think outside the box.
'We embrace change too; clients have been telling us that the pandemic has made them think long and hard about their lives and what they really want. Switching from face-to-face interviews with potential clients to virtual interviewing has allowed us to recruit members from overseas as well as the UK. Over the past year, we’ve had a 60% growth in inquiries, which is amazing."
2. THE FASHION GURU
Seema Malhotra, 50, is a stylist and owner of Forever Unique.
Seema started out buying old fabric at London markets and reselling it. In 2008, she and her husband Sandeep established Forever Unique (opens in new tab). Her styles have been worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Lorraine Kelly, and Holly Willoughby.
Seema says, "The biggest lessons I’ve learned are to trust your gut, invest in people who share your passion, and that there’s no such thing as a mistake—it’s all a learning curve. When I look back to our humble beginnings, as glorified market traders, I see we thrived off the environment. Our garments naturally generated huge demand.
"Nowadays those pinch-me moments—when I see our garments on A-listers such as Miley Cyrus and the Duchess of Cambridge—remind me how far we’ve come as a brand."
3. THE COMMS QUEEN
Rachel Clacher CBE, 53, co-founded Moneypenny (opens in new tab) in 2000 and has grown the business to be the world’s leading provider of outsourced switchboard, Live Chat, and customer contact solutions.
Rachel's company has an annual turnover of £50m ($69m) and has won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Her initiative WeMindTheGap (opens in new tab) offers placements to young people who have not had the same opportunities as others.
Rachel says, "Flexibility, empathy, networking, and great communication are feminine traits that can be harnessed to make brilliant entrepreneurs, but too often, women are held back by a lack of confidence. If we develop self-belief there will be more of us out there.
"My mission is to develop the national conversation on social mobility, encouraging every business to create opportunities for young people."
Smashing The Glass Ceiling Award
4. THE BRAND DESIGN MATRIARCH
Mary Lewis, 71, is widely considered to be the mother of modern brand packaging. Thirty-five years ago, she set up her agency Lewis Moberly (opens in new tab) in her sitting room. Today it designs identities for the likes of Waitrose and Moët & Chandon.
May's many achievements include being the first female president of the global industry association, Design and Art Direction (D&AD).
Mary says, "Brand design puts you at the leading edge of social and economic change—you tell stories that give meaning and value to people and the brands they buy.
Great leadership is about making people want to do what you want them to do. It involves a sense of humor, interest in people, an infectious competitiveness, and single-minded confidence.
"The creative industries are typically driven by talent, not gender. There’s still work to do, but as men participate in paternity leave, there’s a greater understanding of the demands of work and family life."
5. THE PUBLISHING PIONEER
Kate Wilson, 56, cofounded Nosy Crow, an award-winning independent children’s publisher, in 2011. Starting with a handful of books 10 years ago, Nosy Crow (opens in new tab) now publishes 120 titles a year and generated £22m ($30m) in 2020.
Nosy Crow is known for its innovative approach, including its Stories Aloud (opens in new tab) initiative, which provides free audio versions of all its picture books. Its list has a wide appeal that challenges stereotypes, and it works in partnership with the National Trust and the British Museum.
Kate says, "In Nosy Crow, we have been able to build an organization from scratch, and being an independent company means that we’re not in thrall to corporate finances. I love being able to do what we think is the right thing.
We published Coronavirus: A Book for Children (opens in new tab) about Covid-19, illustrated by The Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, as a free e-book three weeks after the first lockdown. It’s been viewed millions of times and there’s now a print edition. We are passing the profit from that to NHS Charities Together.
"We think hugely carefully about the messages we are giving to children—books are powerful because they shape minds!"
6. THE CHARITY SUPREMO
Michelle Vickers, 56, is CEO of the Head & Neck Cancer Foundation (opens in new tab), and has had a stellar career in not-for-profit organizations, including Sport England and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
Her innovative leadership has created a culture of equality, and she continues to change lives, fundraising for pioneering treatments.
Michelle says, "I never thought I’d have a senior role—not because of my capabilities, but because I believed, as an Anglo-Indian woman of color, it wouldn’t be allowed.
"Things have changed, but unconscious bias still exists, as does the glass ceiling. If one exists in your workplace, make sure you’ve done everything to ensure you’re brilliant at your job—find a business mentor, for example. But, if nothing changes, go somewhere that deserves to have you on board."
Changing Our Country Award
7. THE LEARNING CAMPAIGNER
Kate Griggs, 55, founded Made By Dyslexia (opens in new tab), a charity that transforms perceptions around the way we value people with the condition.
Through its partnership with Microsoft, the organization has made training for teachers available across the globe, and supporters include Sir Richard Branson, Keira Knightley, and Jamie Oliver—all of whom are dyslexic.
Kate says, "I’m dyslexic, as is my husband, so we weren’t surprised that our son was too. However, I was shocked to discover that in 30 years, nothing had changed in the education system. Dyslexia doesn’t have to be a barrier to achievement—40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic!
"Our charity offers free training for teachers. We are also working to show business leaders how the specific skill set dyslexics possess can benefit a workplace."
8. THE EQUALITY WARRIOR
Ann Cairns, 64, is global chair of The 30% Club (opens in new tab), which lobbies to get more women into top corporate jobs. The initial target of 30% has now been achieved in the UK and Ann, who is also executive vice chair at Mastercard, has set her sights further, adding ethnicity targets to the task.
Ann says, "We’re a country with a great education system, great talent, and equal amounts of women and men graduates. Why wouldn’t we want women of every colour and background rising up through the corporate world?
Across the top FTSE 350 companies, we have 34% representation in the boardroom, so we’ve now moved to executive level.
"My other mission is Girls4Tech (opens in new tab), which aims to keep girls studying science and technology. Tomorrow’s world will have many jobs in tech industries, so we need girls to keep up their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects."
9. THE ARTS CHAMPION
Supriya Nagarajan, 55, founded Manasamitra (opens in new tab) with the dream of taking South Asian art forms to new audiences in the UK.
Working with diverse groups, including refugees and people with mental health issues, she collaborates with schools and community groups through initiatives such as her 100 Human Voices (opens in new tab) project.
Supriya says, "Since the pandemic began, we’ve proved that we cannot live without the arts. Art sustains us and has the power to change lives.
Through my Women Composer Mentoring Project, I’m mentoring a group of young women from minority backgrounds, and it has been fantastic to help them create their own platforms to bring creativity and joy to people through artistic expression."
Don't Tell Me I Can't... Award
Awarded to women who, through determination and grit, have notched up incredible achievements and made a difference to others
10. THE AGEISM WARRIOR
Psyche Thompson, 53, is a presenter and actress whose credits include Holby City and Silent Witness. A growing influencer on social media—with her YouTube channel amassing thousands of views and followers over the past 12 months—she is on a mission to change perceptions within society and the media about age.
Psyche says, ‘Society is so image-led nowadays, that everyone seems to think you should be on the scrapheap by the time you’re 50. I have a growing social media following, which I’m using to spread positive messages and show that how old you are is irrelevant, and most definitely not a barrier to growth and achievement.
I used to believe the problem began with “the suits” at the top, so I would talk to high-level executives about unhelpful labelling and pigeonholing, but women put limitations on themselves too. I’m here to help women question this and change their mindset.
Women contact me from around the world and I answer every message in order to offer positive advice and support. That might be a quick chat or something more practical, such as helping set up work experience for people who want a new direction.
When women say, “I can’t do this because I’m too old, too fat or I’m black,” I help them see that this isn’t the case at all.’
11. THE BODY TRANSFORMATION GURU
Angela Middleton MBE, 58, began weight-training in 2019 and has now entered her first bodybuilding competition. She has also created a bespoke programme, Your Body Means Business, to help others smash their fitness and business goals.
A serial entrepreneur and recruitment guru, Angela’s companies have generated £100 million in her career. Known as ‘The Careers Queen’, she also runs the podcast IWant2BA.
Angela says, ‘I’d always been a healthy eater and active, but as I entered my 50s, I felt everything was going downhill. The tipping point came in 2019 – my father died, my ex-husband was poorly and I felt really low.
My adult son was home from America and had a very specific food and weight-training regime. I wanted to know more, so he introduced me to his trainer. It was hugely daunting walking into the gym where hulking guys hauled huge weights. “I can’t do that,” I said to the trainer. “Yes you can,” he replied.
For the first few weeks, my inner voice did its best to sabotage things, but after a couple of months, I could see my body was dramatically changing shape. It turns out we all have a set of abs and lovely muscles, it’s just that usually we walk around with a thin duvet of fat covering them up. I’ve learnt that you can change that at any time.
Three years on, I look and feel better than ever. People were so fascinated by my transformation that I built a programme to help others be the best versions of themselves, starting with health and fitness.’
12. THE PUBLIC SERVANT
Mimi Harker OBE, 55, has been a district councillor in Buckinghamshire for 16 years, and was the first female Asian Mayor of Amersham between 2011 and 2013.
She campaigns to improve her local area, preserving catchment areas, saving Post Offices, conserving the green belt, and has an OBE for services to her local community and to women from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Mimi says, ‘Everyone told me I couldn’t get into local politics – because of my background, age and being a mum. They were wrong. Like most women, I can juggle family and work commitments, and I wanted to do all I could to improve the community I’ve lived in for three decades.
Besides being the first female Asian mayor in Amersham, I have also been vice-chair and then chair of the district council I still serve. My first successful campaign involved halting parking charges in an area where they would have killed retail businesses.
I’m also proud of having introduced the Silver Sunday scheme to celebrate elderly residents and help them re-engage with the community.
Most recently, I founded the Bucks BAME Network, providing a voice to BAME organisations in the area. Local politics is still a male-dominated realm, but women often just need encouragement to get involved. All you need to succeed is the drive to want to make a difference’.
Celebrities Doing Good Award
13. THE CRISIS CHEERLEADER
Imelda Staunton, 65, is a multi-award- winning actor. Since 2011, she has supported and volunteered with Crisis, the national charity for the homeless, appearing in a film to promote the Christmas appeal.
Crisis works side by side with people experiencing all forms of homelessness, offering education, training and support with housing, employment and health.
Imelda says, ‘I’d been donating for years after seeing an advert about Crisis at Christmas. Then, three years ago, my family volunteered at a Crisis centre on Boxing Day, so I rolled my sleeves up and got stuck in.
It’s not just a meal they offer, guests who attend the centres can access all the things they need – a hairdresser, a chiropodist or a doctor.
We’ve returned to volunteer since and I’ve also been involved with campaigning and fundraising. The work Crisis does is year-round and it’s astonishing.
Whenever I go into a centre and see hundreds of people, I feel ashamed, not personally, but of this country, for allowing homelessness to be so rife.
The problem runs deep, it’s about the lack of social housing – there has to be affordable, habitable housing. People don’t want much – heat, running water and somewhere that’s not riddled with damp or about to collapse.
I’m not a politician, but, as with most actors, we know what our worth is in terms of our public platform and if that helps, it’s great.’
✢ To get involved in the latest campaign, visit crisis.org.uk/stayawake
14. THE ALZHEIMER'S SOCIETY AMBASSADOR
Actor, comedian and writer Meera Syal CBE, 59, has been working with Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading dementia charity, since 2013.
Alzheimer’s Society works tirelessly to challenge perceptions, fund research, and improve and provide care and support.
Meera says, ‘My father was diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. He passed away in September 2018, but the support we received from Alzheimer’s Society was invaluable, particularly from the advisors on the dementia connect support line.
In 2013, I reached out to the charity to see if I could help and to make sure people know that support is available. Being an ambassador gives me an enormous sense of pride. I was one of the first in the country to become a dementia friend, launching the campaign with my good friend and fellow ambassador, Jo Brand.
There are now over four million dementia friends across the country, which is fantastic. I also enjoy taking part in various fundraising activities, and this year I’ve signed up for Trek26, which I’m really excited about.
I am determined to give all I’ve got to make a difference. Hundreds of thousands of families in the UK are impacted by dementia, and they shouldn’t face this alone or without support.’
✢ To get support or get involved, visit alzheimers.org.uk
15. THE GUIDE DOGS CHAMPION
Susie Dent, 56, is an author, lexicographer and presenter on Countdown. She became involved with Guide Dogs (opens in new tab) in 2019 when she worked on the Powers of Description campaign, which encouraged the public to volunteer to become a My Sighted Guide.
Susie continues to raise awareness for the charity, which is completely reliant upon donations and legacies. Guide Dogs supports adults and children with sight loss to live the life they choose, thanks to expert advice, dedicated volunteers and staff, and life-changing dogs.
Susie says, ‘We have been welcoming a Countdown audience member, Craig, and his guide dog, Bruce, to the studio for many years now. Through Craig I’ve come to appreciate the enormous difference that Bruce has made to his life, so when I was approached by Guide Dogs to do the training and raise awareness of the My Guide service, I jumped at the chance.
The charity enables sighted volunteers to guide those with sight loss through new environments, and to increase opportunities for social interaction. I can’t recommend the work they do highly enough, and I have also seen just how loved these animals are.’
✢ To donate or get involved, visit guidedogs.org.uk (opens in new tab)
Whose footsteps are our finalists following in? Read about last year's winners, in our article about 2020's Amazing Woman Awards.
Michelle Hather has been writing for and editing magazines and national newspapers for more than 30 years. As a working mother, breast cancer survivor and eco worrier (if not quite a warrier) she focuses mainly on issues around women, families, health and the environment.
As well as journalism, Michelle's time is spent plotting grown-up backpacking trips with her husband and helping university students navigate the changing world of media.
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