December 4, 2023

Insights from Insights23: Women in Justice

Heather Ross
Insights Engagement

The Women in Justice Insights23 event, held 3 October, brought together MoJ Permanent Secretary Antonia Romeo and HMPPS Director General CEO Amy Rees. They were joined by a panel which included Carlene Dixon (HMPPS Director of Women) and Sarah McKnight (Deputy Director Reducing Reoffending) aimed at exploring the experiences of women working in justice and the support available for their development, and how HMPPS currently supports women in prison. 

Hosted by Gill Attrill (Deputy Director, Insights Group), the event in Petty France drew over 70 participants from various roles across HMPPS and MoJ. But what was their motivation for attending? The opportunity to listen, learn and be inspired by senior women in leadership roles, as well as connect with female colleagues in person. Lily Leeming, a Deputy Lead in Serious and Organised Crime Operations, expressed the empowerment found in the panel’s open conversations in a challenging space where only 18% of SCS are female. 

The panel discussions left a lasting impression. Anna Owen, Head of Radio and Music in Prisons said “I absolutely loved the event. All four speakers were open, unashamedly honest, funny and hugely inspiring. They weren’t afraid to talk about their mistakes and insecurities as well as their successes. It was just so refreshing”.   

Attendees resonated with discussions on overcoming 'imposter syndrome,' turning self-doubt into strength. Brogan King, an MoJ Policy Advisor, found reassurance in the acknowledgment that imposter syndrome is normal and can be used as a tool for personal growth, ‘an edge’ as Antonia described it. It was reassuring to many that imposter syndrome is not the preserve of less experienced grades with Carlene Dixon, acknowledging that “frankly if ever there was a time in my career where I had imposter syndrome it was this - being on the panel with these strong, highly competent and very successful women!”.

Carlene went on to reflect how the event provided reassurance that many women have faced similar challenges, whether related to gender bias or family circumstances. While progress has been made, there was a collective recognition that more work needs to be done, including issues with unacceptable behaviour, and how hard it is to shift this within our culture. She also highlighted the brilliant  “opportunity to talk about women in the CJS, who are amongst the most vulnerable in society, to highlight their different needs and so the importance of doing things differently at times.” Gill Attrill appreciated the reminder of the challenges for women within the justice system, their complexity of need and the distance we still need to travel to offer high-quality services.  

The event also focused on inspiring the next generation of female leaders through coaching, mentoring, and leadership roles. Conversations around career progression, including shadowing opportunities, sparked further engagement. Sarah McKnight welcomed the outreach from colleagues for follow-up discussions, emphasising the importance of creating a community of mutual support. 

The impact of the event was evident in the newfound sense of community and support. Anna Owen expressed her belief that she could reach out to any woman she met at the event for work-related issues. Camilla Glennon, Regional Counter Corruption Lead, found the event empowering and thought-provoking, expressing a wish to bring her entire team for insights from senior females in the organisation. Antonia remarked that HMPPS and MoJ are highly purpose-led organisations with a work ethic characterised by a desire to serve the public and how much she enjoyed participating in panel and hearing the inspirational stories from her senior colleagues. Sarah added that she “felt honoured to be asked and proud to be part of a team that value these events”. Carlene remarked “what a brilliant way to spend an hour at work!”. 

Highlighting the significance of women supporting each other, Helen Seymour, Head of Drug Strategy at HMP Onley, appreciated Antonia's use of a quote from Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State: "There is a special place in hell for women who do not help women."  

Amy Rees noted “I was thrilled to be joined by such inspirational women on the panel and to also see so many colleagues take the time to join this event. It is really important that we take the opportunity to have these honest conversations, not only about how far we have come but also where we need to maintain focus to make HMPPS great place to work for everyone and provide the best services for the women in our care and in turn protect the public and reduce reoffending. I hope everyone who attended took something meaningful away from the event.” 

Even the only male attendee, William Munt, a Band 2 Admin from HMP High Down, found value in gaining a broader understanding of the challenges women face in the workplace. In the words of Antonia and Sarah McKnight, William's presence as the only male ally at the event was indeed "awesome," emphasising the importance of a collective effort in fostering a more inclusive and supportive working environment for everyone. 

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