Strength, resilience and role modelling: defining the makeup of female leadership | NCFE

What can we help you find?

Strength, resilience and role modelling: defining the makeup of female leadership

It’s essential to recognise the integral perspectives that female leaders can contribute at every level of the decision-making process – not only on International Women’s Day, but year-round. At NCFE, we're privileged to have a wealth of female talent in leadership roles, each contributing to our collective mission of advancing vocational and technical education and making an impact through inspiring others. 

Here, we hear from six female leaders from across the organisation to gain their unique perspectives and insight into what it means to be a woman in leadership, the mentors that have influenced them on their career journeys, and their advice to other young women. These leaders are: 

  • Katie Hume, Head of People Services at NCFE 
  • Isha Sachdeva, Head of Research and Insight at NCFE 
  • Julie Hyde, Director of External and Regulatory Affairs at NCFE 
  • Allison Jones, Head of PMO at NCFE 
  • Helen Ketteringham, Chief People Officer at NCFE 
  • Kelly Miller, Head of Audit, Risk and Assurance at NCFE. 


Q: What does it mean to you to be a female leader? 

Katie: “Being a female leader means being a role model to the young people around you – nephews and nieces and family friends. Role modelling not only that females can be successful leaders, but also role modelling what that leadership can look like – it can be diverse in terms of gender, but also in terms of leadership style and approach.” 

Julie: “It means demonstrating competence, resilience, and the ability to inspire and guide others towards common goals. Female leaders often contribute diverse perspectives to decision-making processes and can serve as role models for breaking down gender barriers.” 

Isha: “For me, female leadership is all about having a testament to resilience, empathy, and a growth mindset – one where you sometimes have to defy expectations or break barriers. That's how you'll pave a path for generations to come. 

“When reflecting on this question, I realised the extent that the challenges a female encounters through her leadership journey are unique to her gender. For example, it could be about navigating through a bias in the workplace, breaking stereotypes, or even answering societal questions about whether it's ‘time to take a break and start a family’.  

“My leadership journey has been no different navigating these hurdles – but what I have found is strength and empowerment from the women which surround me.” 


Q: Are there any female role models or mentors who have inspired or supported you during your career journey? 

Allison: “Sometimes somebody has been a mentor to me and not even realised it, and other times I've gone and asked people to be my mentor and just help me and guide me a little bit. I'm going to shout out Lindsey Gibson, our Director of Transformation at NCFE, who has been a fantastic mentor while I've embedded myself into this organisation. No question has been too silly – so, thank you very much, Lindsey.” 

Helen: “I've been inspired by women all of my life. I’m grateful to my parents and grandparents for a solid foundation of morals and values. My sisters and I have grown up close, embracing life's possibilities, and coming back together to support one another. I'm also full of adoration for my two young daughters who share three mantras for what they call the wonky moments in life, which are: try your best, don't give up, and ask for help.” 

Kelly:One of our trustees has been an amazing mentor for me, telling me to put my ‘big red pants’ on and go for it! She's inspired me to be better, braver, and to also become a Governor in a local college, so I can support the way she has.

"There are also male role models who have really supported me for example, at NCFE, I felt safe and comfortable enough to talk to my male boss about early menopause, making him aware of the challenges that I might face. And similarly, I really like this advice from our male CEO: A little bit of doubt is a good thing, as it makes you question and challenge yourself. Never let it be too much though'".

Julie: “For me, I’ve had some significant role models in my life from a family perspective. Both my grandmothers were independent, resilient women and my mother who balanced a successful career and family, having moved away from her extended family with my father and a very young family of their own. There have also been many women in my working life who have unwittingly influenced me by being significant role models.” 

Isha: “My journey into leadership began right in my own home with my mother as my guiding light. She taught me that true leadership is standing tall in front of the face of adversity. She’s a real example of how empowered women empower other women.” 


Q: What top tips would you offer young women who are taking their first steps onto the career ladder? 

Helen: “If I was to share some career advice to other women, three things come to mind. Number one, use your intuition. Tune into your energy and lead the pace as you navigate the highs, the lows, the twists and turns of both work and life. Two is around self-awareness; know your strengths and your areas of difference and label them as your superpowers, then go and sprinkle them everywhere! Thirdly, believe in yourself. Back yourself and give self-doubt a volume button that only you can control. That way, may you grow the confidence to make a difference wherever it makes you most happy.” 

Kelly: "Surround yourself with supportive peers, managers and tutors. The importance of taking on feedback and seeking out learning opportunities can’t be understated!"

Julie: “Continuously develop your skills and stay updated on industry trends. Remember that confidence and assertiveness can contribute to your professional growth and success. Ensure you strive for a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout – it's very important to take care of your wellbeing and prioritise self-care.” 

Isha: “Don't underestimate the power of guidance. Seek out mentors at an early stage and tap into their wealth and knowledge. It's going to be incredibly useful throughout the journey to have a mentor, to have people who you can look to for support during the toughest times.   

Katie: “I’d like to share some advice from a book by Mary Portas, titled Work Like a Woman, which rings true with me: ‘It’s understandable you feel you need to fit in at the beginning of your career, now is the time to start realising you don’t always have to’ and ‘Don’t be afraid of your ambition – you’re entitled to it’. I highly recommend this book!” 

Allison: “Three things I would say are: believe in yourself, build your network, and be bold and brave.” 

For me, female leadership is all about having a testament to resilience, empathy, and a growth mindset – one where you sometimes have to defy expectations or break barriers. That's how you'll pave a path for generations to come. 

Isha Sachdeva, Head of Insight and Impact, NCFE
Children Playing Mat(1)

Learner stories: "Skills and knowledge that will last a lifetime"

Abbigail Parkin of Scarborough Sixth Form College is currently studying for an Education and Early Years T Level. We caught up with her to see how the T Level is preparing her for higher education and beyond. 

Women In Coding

Celebrating pioneering women in STEM

Our Subject Specialist for Digital, David Seddon, honours the achievements of some key technological milestones in history that were pioneered by women working in STEM.

IT And Digital Network Cabling (2)

International Women's Day 2022: New research shows the digital sector is ‘not a welcoming space for women’

New research gathered from more than 1,000 women has revealed that nearly 4 in 10 are discouraged from entering the digital sector, supporting the need to #BreakTheBias this International Women's Day.