Ahead of this year’s inaugural ICE-P Conference, we interviewed Dr Amanda Cottrell OBE. Amanda is Patron of both Visit Kent and Produced in Kent, Director Visit England & former High Sheriff of Kent. Having served as a magistrate for more than 20 years, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from the University of Kent, and was invested with the OBE in 2011 in recognition of her services to Kent. Amanda is an ICE programme supporter and will be a speaker at this year’s conference. The interview was devised and conducted by Ragini Khanna during her work experience with Kent Innovation and Enterprise.
You are patron of Visit Kent, trustee of Canterbury Cathedral, a Kent Ambassador and co-Patron of the East Kent Stroke Foundation and much more. Can you reflect on how your journey has been so far?
I have led a very normal life. I am mother to four children and a grandmother too. My husband passed away in 1996, when I was 53 years old. I was, in a way, on my own. I thought to myself ‘what am I going to do now?’ So I just started slowly one foot before the other.
The high point was when I was appointed High Sheriff of Kent in 2006. The High Sheriff is appointed by the monarch and represents her in all matters of the law. This was a start and from then I began to take on more things. After finishing this role, I was asked to be part of Visit Kent, I was chairman first for ten years and now patron. Then, I was given honorary degrees from The University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University.
Now, a grandmother at 77 I feel satisfied. It is a wonderful feeling to be so involved in a place like Kent. It has been a great adventure along with other adventures like going to America with the university and working with The Cathedral. It has all been great. My life seems fulfilled at the moment.
You have achieved so much in your career. If you had to start over from scratch, having the experience that you do now, what would you do differently?
Well, from my perspective, my journey was very unexpected. I didn’t initiate it and I am still surprised by it all. When the university offered me the honorary degree, I was so stunned and delighted. But I believe that when you get an opportunity you grab it and although I didn’t create the opportunities, I broadened them out and made the most of them.
I don’t think I would do anything differently. As I wasn’t expecting it, I am very surprised and grateful for all these incredible opportunities to have come my way. I brought up four marvellous children and have a great family. For me, this has been an achievement in itself. I am very proud of it all.
Were there any main obstacles that you faced in your journey towards success?
For someone like me, there are two main aspects that could potentially have been a barrier- age and sex: one I was over 65 and two I am a woman. However, fortunately for me, I did not encounter any of that at all. These two factors have not been a hindrance to me. Even when I went to India for a visit, I was asked to be guest of the Sikh leaders, so I went to Punjab. There was no reference made to my age or sex and there were no differences made.
It sounds like you’ve travelled a lot. Do you have a particular highlight from your travels?
I went to Delhi when I was in India and stayed with the High Commissioner and we met with the Prime Minister. The purpose for this trip was to form a partnership with the Punjabi community. There is a large Sikh community in North Kent so the Punjabi community in India were very keen to set up an exchange programme with the police officers: the Sikh police officers from India would come to Kent and the Sikh police officers from Kent would go to India, to learn a bit of the language and culture and so on. I absolutely loved India and loved Punjab.
You have had a range of experiences in your career, what do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Definitely there are barriers for many people, be they a woman or from a minority race. But I know so many people in this country that are doing so well that I feel we must be careful not to create a problem where there is none. The more we speak of it as an issue, sometimes the more it can become an issue. I do think though that in the generations growing up now, there is not so much of a problem. Being a woman, you start like anybody else. It’s all about perception isn’t it? How we perceive one another. Therefore, the answer to your question is ‘we must not create a problem when there isn’t one’.
You are an inspiration for so many women out there. Who do you think inspired you the most?
I think both my grandmothers have been my inspiration. One of my grandmothers was catholic, she was a regular at the Catholic Church and had helped in the building of a church. She built clinics teaching women birth control in the Welsh mining communities, which did not sit very well with church and they considered excommunicating her. However, she said if they excommunicated her she will cease contributing to the new church so she continued opening clinics and went on to become one of the first women mayors in Wales. My other grandmother also taught me a great deal. She was American, born in 1870 just after the American civil war, and she has been great role model for me too. They were both strong women fighting against all odds.
My four children have also been so encouraging. We encourage and advise each other. My eldest son now is 50 years old so that is about half a century of encouragement and support. They all live very close to me but because of my very busy schedule often have to book appointments to see me which they find very amusing!
Drawing from your experiences, what would be the one piece of advice that you would like to pass on to all the young women out there?
My advice to all women would be to seize every opportunity that comes your way. Forget the fact that you are a woman. When you go in for a job interview, or any situation where you are nervous and need to prove yourself, try and forget you are a woman. You are you. Everyone is the same. The world is changing, you are not in any sense lesser than anybody. You are building on the foundation that your ancestors fought for. Have courage and confidence in yourself and don’t give up too easily. I mean I’m at the age that I am and I’m still working full time and have absolutely no intention of retiring anytime soon.
Lastly, what is your spirit animal and why?
Oh I’m glad you asked me this. I think my favourite animal would be a harvest mouse. These little creatures weave nests. I feel they are so brave because they are so little yet they manage to survive and build their life in a frightening world. They are full of courage and an absolute belief in themselves.
Amanda will be presenting at the Inspire Challenge Excel Conference on the 26th September, with a talk entitled “Suffrage and Ceilings (glass or otherwise). To book your tickets visit the Kent Online Store: https://bit.ly/2zyPoTK