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Career women: We profile two high-flying achievers

HIGH-FLYING: Funke Abimbola and Charlene Laidley

AS PART of a new series in The Voice, we profile black career women making great strides in their respective fields.

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FUNKE ABIMBOLA FRSA is a senior lawyer and leader, leading the UK & Ireland legal team for a major international pharmaceutical company.

Funke is currently the most senior black lawyer working within the UK pharmaceutical industry and one of the most senior globally.

She is also a recognised diversity campaigner within the UK legal profession and the proud mother of a 13 year old son.

1. I am inspired by... My parents. I was blessed with two hard working, high achieving parents who really believed in me and never considered that my gender or anything else would be a barrier to my future success. My parents supported me becoming a lawyer (including privately educating me and paying for me to study law as an overseas student), even though they would have dearly loved for me to become a doctor like them! I saw how hard they worked.

2. My role model is... Again, I would have to say my parents because of the example that they both set for me. Things did not come easily to them but they both made a success of their medical careers - in my mum’s case, she has had two successful medical careers!

3. The best part of my job is... The best part of my job is... The opportunity to lead and develop a talented team that plays a pivotal role in supporting our organisation. I lead a diverse team of legal and corporate compliance individuals.

4. In my spare time I like to ... In spare time my spare time I like to ...spend as much quality time with friends and family as I can. I also devote a significant amount of my personal time to spearheading and supporting a number of initiatives to improve diversity within the UK legal profession.

5. I would tell my younger self... Never doubt your ability because you will get there in the end. Although my parents supported me and never doubted my ability or potential, many recruiters told me that I would never make it in corporate law as it was too competitive for a black woman.

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CHARLENE LAIDLEY, is CEO of The Latiénne Communications Group, founder of The FutureProof Foundation, a founding member of The Women’s Charter for Business and an appointed UN Women ambassador for women’s economic empowerment.

Born in Newton, Birmingham, to hardworking parents of Jamaican heritage Charlene began her career in fashion retail working for the high-street chain New Look. With a dream of working in communications in the luxury fashion industry, Charlene applied for a scholarship to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and through months of hard work succeeded.

Charlene has spent more than 10 years campaigning for women’s rights in the UK. She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts in recognition of her contribution to promoting UK excellence internationally, enterprise, and women’s economic empowerment.

In 2008, Charlene was honoured as part of Black 100+ an exhibition celebrating black achievers in modern day Britain whom have made valuable contributions to society.

When Charlene’s not working you’ll find her competing in world marathons, practicing yoga and indulging in her love of Caribbean vegan cooking.

1. I am inspired by... Strong women with high integrity who live and lead through life with purpose and meaning. Women like my mother who with the little she had raised me and my brothers to be three wonderful, loving human beings. Women like Rosa Parks, Michelle Obama and Karren Brady who all, in their own unique ways have achieved success against all odds.

2. My role model is... Russell Simmons. He has achieved phenomenal success in his career but what I admire about him the most is his humility, wisdom and compassion. He is a living example of someone who has seen a great deal of success (and failure) yet at 58 years of age, still remains positive, pure and unhardened.

3. The best part of my job is... Helping my mentees to make their ‘impossible possible’. Inspiration is nice but it’s not enough. Through my foundation, The FutureProof Foundation I mentor a select number of professional, ambitious working women each year, providing them with the support.

4. In my spare time I like to ... Run marathons around the world. Forget the tour guide - It’s the best way to see a city. And after you’ve given the city your all, quite literately, by pounding through those 26.2 miles - you do kind of feel you’ve earnt the right to call part of that city ‘home’. When I’m at home in lovely Marylebone I love to cook.

5. I would tell my younger self to... Make time for NOW. Yes, be focused, be hardworking but make time for fun and the wonderful people who you are meeting along the way - it’s not time lost or wasted.

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