From academia to technology to law, this is a list of black British women who are being hailed as trailblazers in their respective fields. Their hard work and commitment has earned them places on power lists and their successes speak for themselves. Not to mention they have made history on the way to the top.
Karen Blackett, OBE
Karen Blackett was named the Britain’s most influential black person by the 2015 Powerlist, being the first business woman to achieve this. She is the CEO of the UK’s biggest media agency, MediaCom, and has spoken out about the racism and sexism she has experienced in her 20 years at the company. At the start of her career she was an obvious minority in an industry dominated by white, middle-class men, but in a recent interview with the Independent, she said that ‘neither colour nor background is a barrier. When people ask me for career advice I say do the job you are doing well, keep learning, and the rest will follow.’
In 2014, Sandie Okoro was listed by the Guardian as one of ten women ‘changing the face of the City’. She is currently the global lead lawyer for HSBC Global Asset Management and until July 2014 was President of International Lawyers of Africa, an organisation that enables young African lawyers to work for the world’s most prominent law firms. These were just two of a number of endeavours that afforded Okoro the Chambers in Europe Award for Excellence for an Outstanding Contribution to the Legal Profession. This year, not for the first time, she joined Karen Blackett in the top ten of the Powerlist 100.
Baroness Valerie Amos
Baroness Amos only last month became the first black woman to lead a UK university, after she was appointed head of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Speaking to the Guardian earlier this year, she said she wants to address the underrepresentation of black academics in UK universities, and she also launched the Amos Bursary in 2009 to support young men completing higher education. Baroness Amos was appointed a Labour Life Peer in 1997 before becoming the first black woman to sit in the Cabinet in 2003. She accepted the position at SOAS after spending five years as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN.
Kanya King, MBE
Kanya King inspired widespread appreciation of black music when she founded the MOBO Awards in 1996. At a time when an awards ceremony dedicated to genres of African and Caribbean origin would not have been expected to succeed, she successfully pitched the project to Carlton Television, and only six weeks later – during which King funded and organised the entire project herself – the awards show was launched. Since its inception, the MOBO Awards has launched the careers of countless artists. King was awarded an MBE in 1999 and has featured in several power lists, including Real Business Britain’s 100 Most Entrepreneurial Women.
Anne-Marie Imafidon has been called a ‘child prodigy’. She passed two GCSEs in Maths and ICT before even starting high school and was only 20 years old when she was awarded a Masters in Mathematics and Computer Science from Oxford University. But far from burning out, Imafidon continued to climb the ladder of success, working for companies such as Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs, and a lot of her ventures centre upon promoting the work of women in science and technology. Recently she launched the project Stemettes to encourage young women to get involved in these industries. Still only 25 years of age, Imafidon was named one of 2015’s most influential women in IT.
Feature image by Zoe Collins