As a bit of a feminist, I couldn’t let International Women’s Day slip past unmarked. People are fascinating and times are changing, as barriers to women are being smashed down. So I was delighted to speak to these three inspirational Sussex women recently.
Vanessa Cuddeford – speaker coach and presenter
Vanessa is Brighton born and bred and she had an impressive career in TV. She’s worked as a TV anchor for BBC news and on national shows like ITN news and GMTV before going on to be the main news anchor for ITV in the West Country. At the height of her career, she was anchoring shows five nights a week.
That was until she was hit by a fear of public presenting and stage fright.
Yup, it happens to us all. In Vanessa’s case, this was brought on when she choked whilst on air. It was just a moment, but she felt devastated by it:
“I’d always wanted to be a journalist and as an anchor, I thought this was my dream job. But suddenly, I had stage fright although I realise now that it had been creeping up on me for some time. It started to become an obsession. I was under a lot of pressure at the time and was acutely aware my every move was being watched for a potential national role. But my fear became so bad that I would manipulate the autocue or make sure I had fewer lines to read than others. I was surviving not thriving and I would dread going to work.”
In the end, it got so bad that when Vanessa took maternity leave, she also took a career break and went on a personal deep dive into how to conquer her fear. She spoke to other people and underwent Cognitive Behavioural Therapy BT whilst freelancing and offering corporate communications coaching.
“While I was coaching, I realised I was meeting a lot of women who were in the same position I had been in, terrified of public speaking. There are so many things that can knock our confidence, from meeting room set ups that don’t suit introverts, to imposter syndrome and the menopause. And it’s very easy to blow things out of proportion. That’s what happened to me. Gradually, I developed my own system for overcoming fear and in fact, going from dreading presenting to loving it. Fear of presenting in many ways is a natural instinct. We’re hard-wired to want to belong and have an instinctive fear of judgement. There isn’t necessarily a quick fix but there are concrete, repeatable processes and techniques that I’ve developed which anyone can apply to their speaking, and by doing so, you can turn something dull or complex information into something persuasive or inspiring.”
These days, Vanessa has helped hundreds of professional women overcome nerves and self-doubt and become confident, compelling speakers so they can advance their careers. Many have gone on to complete Ted talks and are now seen as experts in their field.
So does she have any regrets about leaving broadcasting:
“Absolutely not. I have 100% found my purpose and what better thing could I be doing than other women to thrive and succeed?”
You can find out more about Vanessa at: https://www.vanessacuddeford.com/
Deepika Koushik – winemaker
Deepika had a love of microbiology and chemistry and was thinking of going into a career in brewing in India until a chance visit to a vineyard in Bangalore.
“The minute I saw the tank room and the barrel, the vineyards and the lab rooms. I was captivated and I knew I found what I’d been missing. That combination of science and of art.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Deepika headed to the University of California where she took a Masters in Viticulture and Enology and where she also had a chance to work at the Dehlinger Winery in the Russian River Valley. From there, Burgundy was next, and Chateau de la Tour, a vineyard established in 1890, and the largest proprietor of the Clos de Vougeot. Here she was awarded the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin Award (2019). During Covid, Deepika was trapped in London before she was eventually able to move on to Rathfinny Wine Estate in East Sussex.
Nowadays, she is a winemaker at Plumpton College, and most days you’ll find her teaching, in the winery or in the labs.
When asked whether she had been intimidated by the idea of entering what has been a previously male-dominated industry, she said:
“I didn’t even think about it. My philosophy is if you like something, just try it. I’ve had no issues in the wine industry and absolutely love what I do.”
You can find out more at: https://www.plumpton.ac.uk
Jo Child – Founder of Co-Women Networking Events
Jo started her career as a childminder, before getting a degree from Brighton University in Hospitality and Event Management. She explains:
“I was naïve at the time, I thought I’d get a job straight away, but I had at least three people tell me they wouldn’t employ me because I was a single mum. Eventually, I just launched my own events business.”
As Jo found her feet as an entrepreneur she was also diagnosed with ADHD. And as she grappled with that she decided to launch the CleverGreen Group which was a hub for sustainable businesses, promoting green start ups. This in due course led to the CleverGreen Festival – a zero waste festival in Brighton celebrating and promoting sustainable living. But doing business meant networking:
“I hated networking. And I knew I had to create something different, where the conversations were real. Being ADHD, I wanted to create an environment where you don’t struggle to fit in and where you can feel comfortable and have deep conversations. But I was just rebranding the business in early 2020 when we went into lockdown and everything had to go online.”
Despite the difficulties of the last three years, today Co-Women is thriving and combines networking with a social club that is all about supporting each other. They host all sorts of events from burlesque, creative workshops, holidays overseas, cinema and theatre trips, sightseeing visits, fitness and well-being classes to Go-Ape.
“I set up a WhatsApp group during lockdown, and when I surveyed members later, the group came out top as one of the most important parts of our community. People want to feel part of something. And they do at Co-Women.”
All women of all backgrounds are welcome and their membership includes women with neurodiversity, all ethnic backgrounds, work from any industry including the adult industry, all physical abilities, all sexualities, religions and beliefs.
You can find out more here: https://www.co-women.org/