Headline Sponsor of the 2024 Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards

Our President and Ambassadors
Meet the Women of the Year Luncheon and Awards President and Ambassadors
Our President
Sally Lindsay
Actress and Presenter

Sally Lindsay first appeared on stage at the Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards in 2018 to present an award to the women of the Suffragette movement, and returned the following year as its keynote speaker.

Sally is a native of Manchester and read English at Hull University where she also got the acting bug.

Sally got her first break in the ground-breaking sitcom The Royle Family. Roles in both Phoenix Nights and Fat Friends followed soon after. Sally then went on to create one of Britain’s best loved barmaids, ‘Shelley Unwin’ in Coronation Street, where she enjoyed a very happy five years.

Upon leaving, Sally moved very successfully into theatre appearing in the sell-out A Taste of Honey and Everybody Loves a Winner at the Royal Exchange.

Since then, Sally has appeared in numerous television shows including C5 hit dramas Cold Call & Intruder, the BAFTA winning Murdered For Being Different, Dial M for Middlesbrough, Still Open All Hours, Ordinary Lies and Moving On to name just a few. With her friend Suranne Jones, Sally created Scott and Bailey for Red Productions, in which she also starred. She also headed up seven series of Sky1’s Mount Pleasant.

Sally’s film credits include Pond Life, and the voice of ‘Piella’ in the Oscar-nominated animation A Matter of Loaf and Death.  Sally is also the voice of Halifax in the mult-award winning C5 animation series The World According to Grandpa.

Sally has also diversified into presenting and fronted the BBC Documentary Emmeline Pankhurst: The Making of a Manchester Militant. In 2018, Sally filmed the documentary series Posh Hotels with Sally and Nigel for Channel 5 which has led to 2 series of Sally Lindsay’s Posh Weekends.

Sally is Creative Director of Saffron Cherry Productions with whom she created, produced, wrote, and stars in The Madame Blanc Mysteries for C5 & Acorn TV.

Committed to inspiring, celebrating and promoting female role models across all areas of society and the business community, Sally will help the Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards continue to celebrate the achievements of women across the UK.

Meet the Directors

Zalena Vandrewala

Zalena Vandrewala is a commercial litigator with Top 50 National Law Firm, Freeths LLP. Having been recognised for her work in the Legal 500, Zalena has conducted and resolved a wide range of commercial and general disputes nationwide over the last 17 years. Zalena is also a mentor for start-up and SME businesses throughout Cheshire and Staffordshire and is passionate about supporting young people in business to help achieve their goals.

Having worked with Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards for some time, in 2009 Zalena was appointed to the Board of Directors. In 2018, Zalena was then appointed to Chair of the Board and Director of the Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards. In her time with the organisation Zalena has helped to grow the audience from 350 to over 600 guests and has been instrumental in forging working relationships with many female representative organisations to further raise awareness of women in business.

Wendy Dean

A true people person, Wendy enjoyed a career delivering impactful culture change programmes across diverse business for over 20 years. As HR Director for FedEx in 2000, the development of “Delivering Peace of Mind” transformed the business in readiness for acquisition in 2006. This culminated in Wendy becoming Personnel Today – HR Director of the Year.

Following the same success, Wendy moved to Steelite International in 2008 becoming Group HR Director and delivering another culture programme in a traditional manufacturing environment that had gone through significant depression since the 1980’s. Wendy introduced “Stepping up to the Plate” in 2009 as a programme of change which created training opportunities for everyone, from employees being able to learn how to read and write, through to a new business foundation degree with Staffordshire University which was open to all employees regardless of level within the organisation. Her passion is to improve links between education and industry and to ensure that business requirements are communicated to education to ensure young people are fit for purpose.

She became instrumental in the acquisition of Royal Crown Derby by Steelite International in 2012 and led the business through a rebranding and new product line programme – which was out of her area of expertise. Culture change, of course, soon followed.

Ready to leave the corporate world, In 2015 set up her own business, Strategi Solutions Group. With culture change at the heart, Wendy saw an opportunity to align three core business streams: People, Marketing and Creative. All working simultaneously to help businesses thrive through change, using her wealth of experience to support every step of this journey.

The company is now an employer of choice in Staffordshire, committing to cultivating local talent, and has gone on to win numerous prestigious awards. Wendy was the winner of Inspiring Workplaces Inspiring Leader 2022, Strategi was a finalist at the Engage Awards 2022, winners of Best SME HR and Marketing 2021, National Business Awards, Personnel Today Awards and the Staffordshire Chamber Awards to name a few!

Emma Elston MBE

Emma Elston MBE, Co-Founder & CEO of a leading waste container repair and refurbishment firm. She is passionate about the creation of a circular economy, and has used this focus to drive success for her business which saves local authorities and waste companies money by refurbishing and reusing waste & recycling containers.

UK Container Maintenance is now the biggest container refurbishment & re-manufacturing company in Britain with Head Quarters in Cheshire.

Emma also devotes significant time mentoring people from all walks of life, either helping them make the step into the world of business or providing them with advice that makes a difference to their outlook.  As a keen supporter of start-up businesses, Emma will often provide considerable investment in those with a bright future.

In 2015 Emma was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List.  Emma’s business motto is “Lead with passion, positivity & integrity. But most of all just be you”.

Our Ambassadors

Kirsty Davies Chinnock

Managing Director of Professional Polishing Services Ltd, Director of the British Stainless Steel Association, Non-Executive Director of ART Business Loans CEO and Founder of Women with Metal Ltd Founder of the Women In Industry Podcast

Kirsty has 35 years experience in the metals sector and as the managing director of Professional Polishing Services she is an expert in finishes for the Nuclear, Pharmaceutical and Architectural sectors and is in demand to consult on projects worldwide.

She is the founder of the Women in Industry Podcast which celebrates women’s achievements in traditionally male dominated sectors to encourage more diversity and to shine a spotlight on those women who are breaking barriers and forging a path. Women With Metal held their inaugural conference in 2023 and is the event for women and allies in the metal and manufacturing sectors to work together to enable equity in the workplace. A passionate advocate for EDI and Sustainability Kirsty is an accomplished speaker and media contributor on these topics as well as an experienced NED.

Kathryn Farmer

Wade Ceramics

Kathryn Farmer left school at 16 years old with no qualifications and started work as an office junior learning secretarial duty. After starting her family, she later moved to Stoke-on-Trent, where she soon became involved with the pottery industry working initially in the HR department.

She later changed her career and moved into local government to become the Lord Mayors Secretary. 10 years later, Kathryn moved back into the pottery industry becoming the brand ambassador for one of the region’s leading manufacturers.

Outside Kathryn’s career, she is very active in charity work and for the past 10 years has been working with and raising money for The Donna Louise Trust, a hospice for children and young adults. In 2015 and 2018, Kathryn took on the role of Land Crew to support both Tower2Tower events, which consisted of 12 people undertaking cycling from the Eiffel Tower to La Havre, rowing from La Havre to Brighton Marina then walking from Brighton to the Tower of London in just four days.

Committed to inspiring, celebrating and promoting female role models across all areas of society and the business community, Kathryn will help the Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards continue to celebrate the achievements of women across the UK as an ambassador.

Sally Penni

Barrister and Founder of Women in the Law UK

Sally Penni is a practicing Barrister at law and the founder and CEO of Women in the Law UK. She is a multi-award winning Barrister for her work in Equality. She is one of the best known lawyers in the North West of England.

Outside of her practice she is a Speaker, Author and Broadcaster and is the host of Talking Law podcast. She also sits as a non-executive director on several boards including Royal Exchange, Arawak Walton Housing Association and Camberwell Park Primary School.

Sally is an ambassador for Women on Boards UK and the Pankhurst Centre Manchester along with Sally Lindsey and others.

Suzanne Linton

CEO - Freestyle

Having co-founded Freestyle, a digital innovation consultancy, in 1996, Suzanne’s driving ambition has always been to find a better way of operating; to deliver great results for customers whilst also recognising the potential in people, regardless of their background. The ultimate aim is to develop meaningful careers as well as brilliant teams.

It is this growth of the individual with trust and grown-up relationships at the heart of the team, that Suzanne believes can deliver great results; achieving a successful balance between both a sustainable business and a sustainable way of living and working. By doing this Freestyle can bring our diverse experiences to solving clients’ problems and challenge the status quo.

The current transition in the workplace to deliver real meaning for people rather than always seeking maximum profit has been a long time coming.
But businesses need commercial success to make it possible to develop individuals’ careers and provide opportunities. Together, successful Enterprise and fulfilled individuals will bring innovative solutions and thinking to benefit society and deliver a better customer experience.

Freestyle’s values have always hinged around always seeking out better ways of operating and delivering success, of being agile and embracing change to deliver outstanding results whilst always being good humans.

Mentoring the next generation of business superstars is part of Suzanne’s DNA and she is committed to inspiring, celebrating and promoting female role models across all areas of society and the business community as an ambassador for the Women of the Year Luncheon & Awards.

Gareth Shenton-Harold

HR Professional and Entrepreneur

Gareth has had a varied career, starting in luxury retail, and spent 15 years as a Human Resource director specialising in learning and development. He is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

He is a professional mediator and seasoned development coach, lending his skills to a number of organisations such as Young Enterprise and The Prince’s Trust.

He has developed a portfolio of businesses since 2012, from working with the Natural History Museum to bring dinosaurs to Blackpool for the first time, to introducing the pioneering co-working space Ziferblat to the UK in 2015, for which he won multiple awards for innovation and hospitality excellence.

He has continued his career as an owner and operator of several award-winning food and beverage establishments; being shortlisted for Employer of Year and producing the Emerging Bartender of the Year at the Class Awards 2022, as well as achieving Top 3 Newcomer in the Top 50 Cocktail Bars of the UK.

He also works alongside his partner as group Operations Director for their property company, Shenton Group, specialising in heritage restoration and co-living developments.

In his spare time, he is a keen yogi and has a passion for outdoor pursuits. He can often be found hiking or climbing to raise money for his charitable passions. He has a history of work with women’s charities and was a Trustee for Elle for Elle, raising awareness and restoring dignity to women in refuge.

Jennie Johnson MBE

Founder and CEO of My First Five Years Ltd

Serial entrepreneur, Jennie Johnson MBE, is Founder and CEO of My First Five Years (MFFY). She was the first female to win the UK Private Business Awards CEO of the Year (2017) and was voted UK’s Businesswoman of the Year (2019).

Jennie founded Kids Allowed in 2003, growing it to become one of the UK’s largest nursery groups, before successfully exiting in 2020. Working with tens-of-thousands of parents, children and childcare professionals gave Jennie the insights which led to her eureka moment in January 2021 – where she saw the opportunity to bring-together technology, science, and research to create an app to support and empower parents through the unique challenges of those first five years of their child’s life.

Within a year of founding, MFFY had raised over £1.5m in seed-funding from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and a number of high profile North West Entrepreneurs.

More details about My First Five Years can be found at:

Dr Sharon Redrobe


Strategic Zoological Consultant, Zoological Society of East Anglia

Sharon was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s New Year Honours List 2017 for her services to Skills, Science and the Economy

As a former winner of the category ‘Business Woman of the Year’, Sharon joined our board of directors in 2021 and is committed to promoting and celebrating the achievements of female role models across the UK and all areas of society and business.Sharon’s efforts have also been recognised through awards including Institute of Directors West Midlands Director of the Year 2016, East Midlands Chamber Team of the Year 2016, Inspirational Woman of the Year Enterprising Women Awards and East Midlands Chamber 2017.

Sue Bancroft

A Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, Sue has 34 years experience as a HR practitioner.

With a background in logistics and the parcels sectors, Sue’s passion lies in people development, with a particular focus on advancing the role of women in the workplace. 

As a HR Director and an advocate for gender equality, Sue has championed initiatives to encourage women’s development in traditionally male dominated environments, aimed at fostering inclusive environments where women can excel.

Clair Heaviside

Co-founder and Creative Director Serotonin Digital Marketing Agency

Mark Smith

Mark Smith joins us this year as an ambassador, having been a long-term advocate of Women of the Year. His career spans the public, private and higher education sectors and has a common theme: creating opportunity for all.

Mark’s journey began in Whitehall, where his insatiable curiosity and knack for problem-solving propelled him into developing solutions for citizens following the urban riots of the 1990s. He quickly became a rising star within government, contributing to innovative projects and earning accolades for creative solutions that brought disparate government departments together. Mark’s ability to bridge the gap between rhetoric and real-world applications set him apart, and he soon found himself at the intersection of technology and opportunity.

Joining the fledgling University for Industry (UFI) team in 1999, Mark worked to deliver online learning opportunities to one million people across the UK – long before internet use was commonplace. His work at UFI also drew on his experience of urban social exclusion, leading him to tackle the dual issues of basic and digital skills exclusion through an innovative approach based on game technology.

After a brief spell remodelling the government’s Small Business Service, Mark moved into urban regeneration, where he saw an opportunity to apply his skills on a broader scale. In leading urban redevelopment programmes, he was pivotal in groundbreaking projects in South Yorkshire and Cornwall that enhanced infrastructure, sustainability, and community engagement. Mark’s ability to navigate the complex landscape of urban challenges garnered him respect among industry peers and local authorities.

Driven to make a tangible impact on broader society, Mark transitioned into higher education, where he assumed roles that blended his abilities with a commitment to bringing Universities together with their public and private sector peer organisations. As a dedicated connector, Mark worked hard to create relationships for the institutions he worked for – Plymouth, Birmingham City, and Aston – and foster a culture of collaboration and shared endeavour, as well as creativity and problem-solving. His dedication earned him recognition from the Vice-Chancellors he served and the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, where he received the President’s medal in 2019.

Mark’s multifaceted career is characterised by his ability to build a common purpose amongst partners, helping them support the communities they serve. His legacy extends beyond the projects he has led; it lies in his positive impact on the individuals and communities she has touched. As an advocate for equality of opportunity, he continues to be a driving force for positive change, having just returned from a joint UN and Foreign and Development Office-backed mission to Pakistan to promote export growth by female-led businesses.

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