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In 2014, I launched our first women’s network with the support of our Chairman Robert Swannell who is fully engaged in the work we are doing to support the progress of women.  

The network was set up to promote the progress of women, provide informal mentoring and networking opportunities, give access to a range of female role models and create a forum for discussion to explore and address the career challenges women face. The network has been a huge success with over 1000 colleagues now members. I am delighted that a few men have joined too!  

An overwhelming aim is to inspire our women. Each month we invite speakers to share their story with our network. We’ve heard from many fantastic women who have left us all feeling truly inspired. 

Katie piper

I was delighted to recently welcome Katie Piper to present to the network, held at our office in London. Katie attracted a huge audience due to her popularity and truly inspirational story. Katie is a best-selling international author, inspirational speaker, TV presenter and charity campaigner. She is also a young woman who has rebuilt her life after surviving a brutal attack in March 2008 at the age of 24, in which she was raped and had sulphuric acid thrown in her face. 

In 2009 she went on to set up her own charity The Katie Piper Foundation. Simon Cowell supported Katie in her mission by becoming the patron and remains actively involved to date. The charity’s vision is a world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of well-being.  

Katie is an inspirational role model to many, and her bravery and determination has been recognised with a number of awards. She was voted Woman of the Year 2011 and most recently received a special recognition award at The Pride of Britain Awards in London.  

We were left truly in awe of Katie, with one colleague explaining that Katie had changed her whole outlook on life! These experiences really touch the lives of many, something I am very proud to be able to facilitate and support. Katie provided the audience with many powerful messages…. 

Never underestimate the strength of the human spirit... 

Katie talked about the “zest” being taken out of her life following her horrific attack. Her amazing human spirit pulled her through and is something that no one could take away from her. Although her attackers scarred her on the surface, they could not reach her incredible soul or spirit. Katie left us all believing that our human spirit is one of the most powerful tools we possess and can help us through our lowest times.  

The word ugly becomes irrelevant… 

Katie explained the importance of having a positive mental attitude and filling your head with powerful and positive thoughts. There are many situations where we don’t always believe what we are telling ourselves, but if we say it often enough we will eventually believe it and live it. Katie gave a powerful message about choosing to be a survivor, not a victim.  

Taking control back...  

Katie’s incredible journey proved how she changed something so negative into such a positive for her and many others. She spoke about how the insensitive comments from the general public and the resistance to her differences made her determined to change her life and others for the better. 

Katie left us feeling truly inspired by her incredible story. Her messages really resonated with our company values - we aim to make sure everyone is offered the opportunity to achieve their full potential, realising that our differences make us stronger, thus encouraging everyone to be whoever they want to be. 

Many of my colleagues were left feeling so inspired and impressed by Katie that following the event they attended the recent Ideal Home Show in London to fundraise for The Katie Piper Foundation. The show was very successful for the foundation and of the 47 volunteers the foundation had, 26 were from M&S. We were delighted to be able to support such a great cause and show our appreciation for Katie’s inspiring session. 

Leading ladies

(Katie featuring in our Britain's Leading Ladies' campaign in 2013)

Related blogs: 

Our differences make us stronger

The Times Top 50 Employers for Women: we made it again!

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