The original Merseyside Woman Of The Year and now event organiser of the awards ceremony, Ellen Kerr reflects on her personal journey from winning the accolade to being part of the operational team.
“The Merseyside Women of the Year awards are so special to me. Not just because I’m one of the organisers, but because I know how many wonderful women there are in this beautiful, diverse region, doing incredible things every day.
I also know just how much of a leg-up the awards can give to these women, a platform to do more, make connections and really achieve their dreams. I know because I’ve experienced it – I was the very first Merseyside Woman of the Year, way back in 2003.
I’m still to this day not sure who nominated me, but I have my suspicions. I’d been nominated for my work as Manager of Women in Business (WIB) at Business Link. I loved the job and grew the network rapidly – seeing the members succeed both in their business and personally was so rewarding.
What I didn’t realise when I took the job was that it was dependent on new funding being found. When the funding was withdrawn, I found myself facing redundancy and I was devastated. As I sat with the Head of HR, after going through all the formalities, I remember looking him in the eye and asking the biggest question on my mind: “What will happen to the network?” – I knew how disappointed they would be with the disappearance of the events and the training.
The HR manager was taken aback. He said it was the first time he’d been in a redundancy meeting and the person being made redundant had asked about someone else and not themselves. In the end I was offered another role within the company and I decided that I would take on the WIB network myself, as a not for profit and kept the events and networking going.
The support from the members was incredible and some of those women – over 20 years later – are still my friends. When I won MWOTY and the Business & Commerce category, my career was going well, but I’d lost my young nephew to a brain tumor and it was a terrible time for me and my family. It made for a very bittersweet year.
The acknowledgement was truly amazing, though, and gave me so much confidence and belief in what I was doing was right. I was in the local paper the day after the awards and my phone didn’t stop ringing. That’s when my husband came out with the immortal line “this award – was it Woman of the Week?” when I told him it was for the year, he replied “oh no, only 364 days to go.” He still has the scar 16 years later!
The awards ceremony had been so humbling, and I’d been in awe of all the other women’s stories. Inspired – and never one to be shy or quiet – I decided I wanted to get involved and help make it an even better event. I knew just how huge a difference recognition makes from both a business and confidence perspective are huge and I wanted to help other women improve, grow and be the best version of themselves. I went on to win three other awards which has been amazing recognition for my work in supporting women.
Sixteen years later MWOTY’s mission is to keep doing just that. The event is now run by women, for women. We aim to create a legacy each year using the platform we have created from where women can be seen, heard and most importantly be found.
Sometimes our Finalists aren’t the women who actively seek the limelight and more often than not are very happy in the background, making sure it all happens but not looking for the recognition but the difference they make in their community, business and others’ lives is enormous.
If there’s one thing that MWOTY has taught me, it’s that the women of Merseyside are exceptional beings! Every year is different, and the awards reflect what is going on in society at the time, but one constant is when we open the nominations the most amazing humans are sent to us.
Over the years we have been able to platform hard hitting issues such as male suicide, female genital mutilation, young people being affected by legal high use, older people dying due to lack of heating, domestic abuse and everything in between. We know that through the MWOTY platform we have saved and changed lives and we’re very proud of that.
To have had an influence and made a difference to the female landscape in the City region has been incredible. We have been criticised for being ‘too soft’ and ‘too soppy’ but that’s just not accurate, we’re proud to be known as the platform to find ordinary women who are involved in making the extraordinary happen. The place where they are seen, heard and found.
This year, as well as all the usual excitement, we have been asked to be one of the partners of RISE alongside other wonderful organisations such as Blackburne House, Women’s Organisation and Northern Power Women. To me it’s a fantastic opportunity and it not only aligns with MWOTY’s values, but is goes right back to the things that I aimed to achieve WIB – empowering and inspiring women to be the very best version of themselves and achieving equality in all areas of their lives.”
– Ellen Kerr, the original MWOTY and event organiser
If you’d like to find out more about Merseyside Women of the Year, visit their website: merseysidewomenoftheyear.co.uk, follow them on Twitter via @MWOTY or Instagram via @mwoty_awardsor like them on Facebook.