WOTY Where Are They Now?: Ellen Kerr

In the first of a brand new series celebrating the Merseyside Women of the Year (MWOTY) award’s tenth anniversary, we go back – back further than ten years – to where it all began – with the original MWOTY and the event’s co-organiser, Ellen Kerr.

You were the original Merseyside Woman of the Year 17 years ago. So what’s this about a tenth anniversary?

Well, I won the title in 2003 for my work as taking over the Women in Business (WIB) at Business Link, after funding was removed. I loved the job and grew the network rapidly – seeing the members succeed both in their business and personally was so rewarding. I wanted that to carry on.

I’ve been involved in the awards since then, but in 2010 the reins were handed over to Jean Gadsby and I. Truth be told, the event was going to disappear from the city events calendar. It had made such a difference to me that I decided I wanted to ensure that other women had the opportunity to be seen, heard and found.

The MWOTY platform is based on our key values and I believe that women need a supportive, open, honest and transparent place to just be themselves. That’s what we offered in 2010 and it’s what we still offer today.

Ok, got it. So, how did winning MWOTY support the evolution of your career?

It supported it immensely. It was the first award I’d ever received and the day I won was one of the most fantastic days in my life. I have won three other awards since, but the recognition I received from MWOTY  very special indeed.

I didn’t think what I’d done was anything particularly special. It’s just that I wasn’t going to be told what to do when the WIB Network helped so many women grow themselves and their business. So when funding was removed I took over running it on my own.

I worked at Business Link NW at the time and it really made them think about women in business and the products they had to offer this emerging new business. I was asked to be the Women’s Enterprise Manager for the North West region. Winning gave me the confidence and knowledge to ensure that the Women’s enterprise agenda was always front and centre of any Government initiatives when invited to speak with MPs.

Being the Overall Woman of the Year winner gave me a sense of purpose and I have also forged the most wonderful, deep friendships through it too, which I’m forever thankful for.

What’s keeping you busy nowadays?

I am self-employed and I offer a business improvement diagnostic service, which looks at the whole business from the processes, to the people in the firm. Sometimes I come in to fine tune and other times I am responsible for huge cultural change that vastly improves efficiency, effectiveness and ultimately saves money for the company I’m working with.

I have a reputation to be able to deliver what is required and an amazing client base, which I’ve built up over many years. So when they have a problem or a project they need help with they call me. My nickname is Mary Poppins, as once I’ve finished the project it is “practically perfect in every way”. That makes me smile!

As many of you know, MWOTY still keeps me very busy. It is a labour of love, a true passion project and currently I’m on the hunt for sponsorship opportunities to grow MWOTY awards’ reach further and to be able to make it into a self-sustainable business of its own. Ultimately, I’d love it to have specific courses, a specialist network and opportunities to help women grow in confidence and be the very best version of themselves.

Seventeen years is a long time, why do you continue to support the event?

It really gives me satisfaction and great joy to be able to help make a difference for so many women. This is especially true regarding the huge impact of our partnership The Community Foundation for Merseyside and The Women’s Fund.

The Fund is helping very small charities obtain grassroots funding, which will make a massive difference to all ages of women right across the region. It’s such a wonderful legacy and we will continue to support it however we can, as it fits so well with our vision and values for women across the City.

It’s a very special thing to be part of and worth all the juggling, hard work and lack of sleep!

What do you think are the biggest challenges being faced by women in the Liverpool City Region at present?

Some of the available networking is still very “blokey” and women are pushed into playing the man game or not get a look in. There is also a disparity of women in key roles within the city region.

Most of the decision makers are men, which perpetuates the patriarchal model of business. If opportunity is there it should be available to the best candidate not because you support the same football team or go to the same golf club.

But we help to remedy that, providing connections, growing confidence and facilitating profile building. We highlight women from every single area of life. From private and public sector, to charities and social enterprises.

The role models created and supported by MWOTY encourage other women from across all socioeconomic groups to put out their elbows and make a bigger space for themselves, own that bigger space and make it count!

What have been your personal highlights from MWOTY’s last 10 years?

I feel privileged to be able to support, connect and help the finalists not just on the day but for the whole year. To play a part in this transformation is such an honour and it’s wonderful to watch as they become part of our big, connective MWOTY family.

Also building an event that everyone in the city region wants to win, attend and that sponsors want to be part of. The credibility of it is wonderful and we’ve had the same headline sponsor – Michael W Halsall Solicitors – for seven years, which is unheard of within the awards circuit.

MWOTY is still the only awards where they finalists do not pay for their tickets to attend and yes, this is a bonkers commercial decision but I want all of our women to be able to join us on the day and be able to attend. We work hard to keep the tickets as cheap as we can, as we believe that money should not be a barrier to success.

What advice would you give to other women in the region working in your sector?

Never give in. And network, network and…network some more. My successes have been enabled through hard work and having the most amazing network of people around me.

Why should people nominate women for the MWOTY awards?

Because you’ll be giving them a leg up. All of our finalists say it helps them immensely with confidence and networking. It’s been wonderful to watch the collaboration partnerships that have come from being a MWOTY finalist, flourish. Nominate someone and you could help them find a way to work with like-minded individuals with the same values, drive and principles.

The nomination alone adds strength to the nominee and their business or organisation as being recognised for an award is great awareness raising.  The alliances I have seen form have gone on to have a massive influence, creating growth and financial scale within the region. So please, nominate away!

I can’t believe that 2020’s event will be our 10th anniversary. It has been an honour to have met so many truly inspiring women who have gone on and continue to be change agents in their chosen sector. This June’s event might just be the most exciting MWOTY ever!

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