Q&A: President of Equity UK Lynda Rooke on women’s leadership

Bristol Women’s Commission’s panel for International Women’s Day 2023 celebrations at city hall explored women’s leadership featuring a range of local leaders, including president of Equity UK Lynda Rooke. Here she shares some of her views on women’s leadership.

How did you get to where you are today?

I was elected and have worked as a volunteer activist in the Trade Union movement for decades. Sheer determination actually.

What do you think makes a good leader?

Calmness, a supporting but firm attitude but don’t be wanting to always be liked; you need a thick skin at times. Expect to be patronised if you have a regional accent.

What’s been your biggest challenges as a woman?

I’m freelance, self employed and work as an actor, the precairity of my job alongside of putting your head over the parapet can be career-threatening.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?

Be brave, be proud of yourself, ignore those who patronise you or talk down, your are never too young and also never too old, take strength from the positives. Seek support from like-minded women, find a mentor.

What women leaders inspire you and why?

I admire Michelle Obama and yes, she wasn’t the President but hey, she’d be great, also any women leaders of trade unions because it’s still a very male environment in fact any women activists. Barbara Castle was always somebody I looked up to. I have a group of strong women allies I’m linked with in Bristol: Fair Play SW is a source of inspiration any day of the week.

Bristol Women’s Commission brings together partners, including Avon & Somerset Police, to identify and tackle issues impacting women and girls. With women’s representation task forces running campaigns in the past, this focus now crosses a range of groups – from women in business to women and girls’ education. Find out more about the work of the Commission here.

Q&A: Trade Union leader Joanne Kaye on women’s leadership

Bristol Women’s Commission’s panel for International Women’s Day 2023 celebrations at city hall explored women’s leadership featuring a range of local leaders, including Joanne Kaye – Regional Secretary of Unison SW. Here she shares some of her views on women’s leadership.

How did you get to where you are today?

I applied for the jobs and worked hard to be good at them. Having been asked on Day 1 of my first job with the union “Who did you s**g to get this job?”, like most women leaders, I’ve worked twice as hard as male colleagues, remained calm under severe duress and kept on going.

What do you think makes a good leader?

Empathy for others and humility. Leaders who think they have nothing to learn are a danger.

What’s been your biggest challenges as a woman?

Reshaping what a leader looks like and managing long hours with three children.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?

Being your authentic self will always be more important than fitting in. Women live in space that was fought for by the women before us and we should always make that space wider and more welcoming.

What women leaders inspire you, and why?

Inez McCormack (from Northern Ireland, who was my first boss. Mo Mowlam and Jacinda Ardern.

Bristol Women’s Commission brings together partners, including Avon & Somerset Police, to identify and tackle issues impacting women and girls. With women’s representation task forces running campaigns in the past, this focus now crosses a range of groups – from women in business to women and girls’ education. Find out more about the work of the Commission here.

Q&A: Avon & Somerset Police’s first female Chief Constable on women’s leadership

Bristol Women’s Commission’s panel for International Women’s Day 2023 celebrations at city hall explored women’s leadership featuring a range of local leaders, including the first ever female Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police – Sarah Crew. Here she shares some of her views on women’s leadership.

How did you get to where you are today?

I have worked with some great people who have inspired me and supported me and from whom I have learned many lessons. I have been given opportunities and I have seized them (even when they didn’t feel like opportunities). I have backed my strengths and instincts (rather than focusing too much on my weaknesses or what my head says). I have worked hard when I have needed to, and I have had a great deal of luck.

What do you think makes a good leader?

I am still a work in progress as a leader. I think I am good at seeing strengths in the people around me, and I am very happy for them to take centre stage and to help them develop. I am much more interested in Team Leadership than individual leadership. I know myself well and I don’t try to be someone I am not. I don’t dwell on mistakes or bad outcomes; I always find the positives and focus on the mission and doing better next time.

What’s been your biggest challenges as a woman?

Balancing caring responsibilities with a big job.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?

Know yourself, back your strengths, listen to your instinct, be resilient and be empathetic and kind in all you do.

What women leaders inspire you, and why?

Dolly Parton. She’s authentic, smart, resilient, philanthropic, indomitable, and hugely successful in a way that has integrity and grace (and creative too).

Bristol Women’s Commission brings together partners, including Avon & Somerset Police, to identify and tackle issues impacting women and girls. With women’s representation task forces running campaigns in the past, this focus now crosses a range of groups – from women in business to women and girls’ education. Find out more about the work of the Commission here.

Bristol Women’s Commission celebrates 10 year anniversary on International Women’s Day 2023

Bristol Women’s Commission and partners joined together at City Hall on International Women’s Day 2023 (Wednesday 8 March) to celebrate a decade of working towards women’s and girls’ equality.

The full commission meeting reflected on the past 10 years – the achievements, the challenges and the collaborations – before looking to future priorities. The hybrid meeting heard from Councillor Geoff Gollop on plans for a committee system to replace the current mayoral system in 2024 and how equalities work features in that.

Established on International Women’s Day 2013, the Commission – Chaired by Penny Gane – was created to help deliver the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life.

It brings together partners from the council, police, NHS, universities, charity sector and business world to identify and address issues impacting women and girls. It has a strong track record of influencing policy, raising awareness of issues and taking – and inspiring – action.

Work undertaken by dedicated task groups – covering education, health, the economy, business and women’s safety – includes the creation of reports, delivery of campaigns and running of events as well as input into national and regional consultations. The Commission remains the only one of its type in the UK.

Penny said: “It was great to reflect on some of the progress we’ve made over the past decade by bringing together partners under one aim – to achieve women’s equality. But we known there’s still a long way to go.

“A lot has changed over the past 10 years – we’ve got more women councilliors on Bristol City Council, we’ve pushed women’s health up the agenda into national and regional policy and we’ve launched a successful Bristol Women in Business Charter to improve the lives of women in the workplace.

“But women’s safety is still a major concern – with one women killed in the UK every three days by men – which is why we’ve been working with the police and other partners to try and address this, including tackling the attitudes and behaviours that lead to male violence. This is something we will continue to do.”

The meeting also heard from Oona Goldsworthy, Chief Executive of Brunelcare and Co-Chair of the One City Homes and Communities Board who spoke passionately about the need for investment in social care – and highlighted how women are disproportionately affected by homelessness and unaffordable housing.

Penny added: “The caring economy has become a key issue and the main focus of our economy task group – we’re having important conversations locally and regionally. Women’s equality will not be achieved unless we invest in caring as infrastructure, we will keep bringing partners together and campaigning on this.”

Bristol Women’s Commission will continue the International Women’s Day celebrations on Saturday, with a women’s leadership panel event at City Hall featuring Equity UK President Lynda Rooke, Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police Sarah Crew, CEO of Voscur Rebecca Mear and Unison Regional Secretary Joanne Kaye.

Find out more here.

Bristol Women’s Commission hosts panel at International Women’s Day 2023 celebration

Bristol Women’s Commission is hosting a free Women in Leadership panel at the city’s official International Women’s Day celebration at City Hall on Saturday 11 March 2023.

The panel, chaired by Bristol Women’s Commission Chair Penny Gane, will feature a range of guests from different areas – all brilliant leaders in their own fields.

  • Sarah Crew – first female Chief Constable of Avon & Somerset Police
  • Joanne Kaye – Regional Secretary for Unison (Trade Union Congress)
  • Rebecca Mear – new CEO of Voscur
  • Lynda Rooke – President of Equity UK currently acting in All Creatures Great and Small

The free event starts at 2pm and will feature a public Q&A element for people to find out more from the guests. If you’d like to submit a question ahead of the event, please contact us here.

The panel forms part of the day of events led organised by Bristol Women’s Voice and partners – starting at 10am and finishing at 5pm – with associated events outside on College Green.

The panel follows a meeting of the full Commission on International Women’s Day itself on Wednesday 8 March 2023 – which coincides with the 10 year anniversary of the Commission, established by the first Mayor of Bristol back in 2013.

To find out more about Bristol Women’s Commission, see here, and to see the full programme for this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations in Bristol, see here.

West of England Mayor meets with Bristol Women’s Commission

Photos by Tina Gue

West of England Mayor Dan Norris has pledged to work more closely with Bristol Women’s Commission to tackle women’s inequality across the region, following a productive meeting in Bristol.

The Mayor was a guest at Bristol Women’s Commission’s meeting of the full commission at City Hall, Bristol, on 11 January 2023.

The main focus of the meeting was the caring economy following our event at City of Bristol College last year – and how investing in caring infrastructure would not only tackle inequality, but would boost the economy and benefit the whole of society.

“A caring economy is a thriving economy that invests in people of all ages – it benefits all.” explained Commissioner Sue Cohen, “There’s a lot of money being invested in Bristol – housing etc – but we are not seeing the social infrastructure that’s needed within that. We need to adopt the concept of a caring economy here.”

Mayor Dan Norris listened carefully to input from members including Economy Task Group chairs Sue Cohen and Diane Bunyan, Bristol Women in Business Charter Director Sandra Gordon and Bristol Women’s Voice’s Chief Executive and Commissioner Katy Taylor.

He replied: “I can see there are some real challenges coming down the line that we need to plan for, and one of those is an ageing population. The challenge is so big that it needs to be met by everybody, not just women.

“Any professions where women are dominant, those professions are not appreciated. It’s about prejudice. That is what the real issue is. What you’re asking for is attitudinal change. It’s outrageous, and that has got to change.”

In terms of his ability as regional Mayor to deliver tangible change on the ground, Dan explained: “I can’t give you a lot of hope about changing in the short-term because a lot of money comes from central government. But there are quite a lot of opportunities coming up because of the way society has changed because of the pandemic.”

He pledged to work much more closely with the Commission in future to address inequality across the region. “I’m weak without your input and I want to be a lot stronger,” he added.

West of England Mayor Dan Norris also offered to return to City Hall to be on a panel for International Women’s Day celebrations with Bristol Women’s Commission and Bristol Women’s Voice on Saturday 11 March. Details to follow…

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2022

Every year, Bristol Women’s Commission launches a local campaign as part of UN Women’s global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 2022 campaign involved city leaders sharing what they’re doing to tackle male violence.

This year’s campaign featured a range of actions from commissioners, from representatives of local and national government, local charity leaders, the police and those running educational institutions. All shared the many different ways they were playing their part in tackling the issue.

During 16 Days, Bristol South MP and member of our Women’s Health Task Group Karin Smyth led an important parliamentary debate for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Find out what was said here.

Bristol Women’s Commission also contributed a guest blog to the Mayor’s Blog. Claire Bloor, Chair of our Women’s Safety Task Group and CEO of SARSAS wrote passionately about how telling women to adjust their behaviour/actions was never going to be enough – and how we need to address the root causes, including a culture of misogyny we allow to persist in wider society. Read the full blog here.

The campaign ran alongside a Nextlink led candlelit vigil in remembrance of those women and girls who’ve lost their lives to male violence. Next Link are part of the Women’s Safety Task Group and Commission Chair Penny Gane took part in their campaign too.

Previous years 16 Days campaigns by Bristol Women’s Commission include sharing 16 different ways we can all take action to tackle male violence; and videos from city leaders with their suggestions for what you can do to tackle male violence.

A big thank you to everyone who took part in our 16 Days campaign, and for the ongoing work you all do to help tackle gender-based violence. Only by working together can we stop this epidemic of male violence.

Bristol Women’s Commission Annual Report to Full Council

Every year, Bristol Women’s Commission presents a report to full council to give an overview of its work and achievements over the past 12 months.

Chair Penny Gane, in her speech to full council every November, highlights the work of the Commission’s Task Groups and give councillors an overview of the wider situation around issues impacting women and girls’ equality in Bristol.

There have been some changes to the make-up of the Commission this year, with the May local elections resulting in some councillors on the commission losing their seats, and having to leave the commission, and some new councillors joining.


Bristol Women’s Commission has worked with city partners on some key events.

We worked closely with the newly-elected Police Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford, as we did with his predecessor Sue Mountstevens, for the first Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Summit in May – which Avon and Somerset Police’s first female Chief Constable Sarah Crew wrote about in this guest blog for us (hosted on our old web pages).

Our Economy Task Group organised ‘A Caring Economy’ event at City of Bristol College in October which brought together people from across the paid and unpaid care sector to talk about the current crisis in social care and explore potential solutions. Read more in our recent blog from Economy Task Group Chair Diane Bunyan.

Chair Penny Gane spoke at a 50: 50 Parliament event sharing the work the Commission did on its successful 50:50 campaign to boost representation of women councillors on Bristol City Council, seeing the number rise from around 1 in 5 to almost 1 in 2 (more on that later).

We also attended and spoke with women at citywide protests, including the March of the Mummies in which hundreds of women marched on City Hall to urge the government and others to take steps to address the childcare crisis. More on that in this Bristol Cable article, which we are quoted in.


Bristol, the UK and the world remains an unequal place for women and girls.

Our campaign pushing for a nil-cap approach to licensing Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) in Bristol proved unsuccessful when the Licensing Committee voted against it in July. We co-produced a report with Safe & Equal Bristol which outlined the link between sexual entertainment, objectification and entitlement and male violence and secured support from city leaders and organisations but the pro-sex industry lobby won the support of the media and all bar one councillor in the Licensing Committee. Read our response to the decision here.

Later this month (25 November – 10 December), we will be running an online campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which we’ll be encouraging commissioners and partners to get involved with to shine a light on the action being taken, and action that could be taken to address male violence against women and girls in Bristol.

The Commission has supported the citywide anti-drink spiking campaign as drink spiking continues to prove a significant issue for women, including students. We were pleased to hear from some University of Bristol students who planned and delivered their own powerful ‘Never Have I Ever…’ campaign in the city centre.

We are also supporting ACORN’s campaign to ensure appropriate public toilet provision – which particularly impacts women and girls, and are urging the council to revisit the community toilet scheme approach which many say is failing them.

Influencing national policy

Bristol Women’s Commission’s Women’s Health Task Group has fed into the new national Women’s Health Strategy – the first of its kind. After contributing to the consultation, we were very pleased to see almost all of our recommendations taken on board by the government. Locally, we are working on a refresh of the Women’s Health Chapter in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) – another first of its kind in the country.

Womens representation

Following the May elections, we’re pleased to see that the make-up of the council remains much more balanced post our 50:50 campaign than before – with around 40% female councillors. We undertook an important survey of outgoing councillors to understand the barriers and issues for women wanting to be councillors. Lack of time and an unwelcoming culture for women was a common theme which needs addressing.

In the business world, almost 40 businesses are now signed up to the Bristol Women in Business Charter, which cover 35,000 employees in the city. It has resulted in more women appointed to boards, coaching programmes established for inspiring female leaders, and more flexible approaches to the working week to accommodate working parents.

Read Bristol Women’s Commission’s 2021/22 full report to council here.

Bristol Women’s Commission event: A Caring Economy – Who Cares Wins!

By Diane Bunyan, Chair of the Economy Task Group

Bristol Women’s Commission’s Economy Task Group‘s successful event – A Caring Economy – Who Cares Wins – took place on 17 October 2022.

It brought together childcare and social care providers paid and unpaid; City of Bristol College delivering care qualifications; policy makers; grassroots groups and women’s organisations; receivers of care; Parenting in the Pandemic community researchers; political representatives; academics and employers – to focus on what would need to be in place for Bristol to invest in the caring economy.

The Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy led by the Women’s Budget Group defines the vision of a caring economy as one that:

  • Has the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the planet at its heart.
  • Values the care that nurtures us all.
  • Ensures that no one faces discrimination, violence or poverty.

Bristol Women’s Commission Economy Task group picked up the mantle along with the event’s sponsors – City Of Bristol College, Fair Play South West, Bristol Women’s Voice, and the University of Bristol, who came together in solidarity with one another for a Caring Economy for Bristol.

We shared experiences and heard from inspirational speakers demonstrating the vision of a thriving economy with care at its heart, investing in childcare social care and in the social infrastructure more generally, so that all may thrive in society. We are all cared for at some point in our lives and many will provide care so why is it ignored and marginalised?

We heard positive examples of employers who attract and retain staff when they invest in childcare and time to care, making it possible for women to combine work with caring responsibilities and so move forward in their careers; how a career in care is fulfilling especially with support for professional development; and how person-centred care, putting the service user at the centre and listening to their expertise, delivers a better service for everyone.

At the same time participants were without doubt – we are in the throes of a care crisis.

Speakers underlined the impact of low wages and poor prospects resulting in many staff leaving employment in both childcare and social care; funding from government both local and national being cut so care employers are not able to offer the wages and conditions they would want. Carers recounted how the needs of those receiving care or providing informal (unpaid) care are not being heard and how they are pushed to the margins especially with the cost of living crisis.

The workshops identified the changes required to make Bristol‘s economy one with caring at its heart – a cultural change that values care; a circular economy keeping investment in the local community through procurement based on social value; any new regeneration developments in the city to have childcare written into them; parity in pay between health and social care workers; overcoming time poverty with paid leave for carers.

These are just some of the demands to go forward into a Caring Manifesto for Bristol that Bristol Women’s Commission’s Economy Task Group will be drawing together with all those who contributed to the day.

Watch this space…

Photos by Tina Gue

Bristol Women’s Commission – tackling women’s inequality in Bristol

By Penny Gane, Chair of Bristol Women’s Commission

Bristol signed the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life on International Women’s Day 2013 at a noisy and celebratory event. 

Bristol Women’s Commission was subsequently created to bring together partners to identify and address issues that have an impact on women and girls and stand in the way of equality. It is the only commission of its type in the UK.

The  Charter states that:

“Equality of women and men constitutes a fundamental right for all, and an essential value for every democracy. In order to be achieved, this right needs not only to be legally recognised, but to be effectively applied to all aspects of life: political, economic, social and cultural. Despite numerous instances of formal recognition and progress made, equality of women and men in daily life is still not a reality. Women and men do not enjoy the same rights in practice.”

It recognises that local authorities are well placed to action the structural changes and promote the cultural changes needed to achieve equality for women and girls, and Bristol Women’s Commission has a key role to play in embedding this equality into decision making.

The Commission is made up of members who dedicate time to coming together to share experience, evidence and perspectives and explore issues which stand in the way of women’s equality.

Working as part of core task groups – Women and the Economy, Women’s Safety, Women in Business, Women’s Health and Women and Girls’ Education – partner organisations and experts in the field work together to ensure women’s equality is at the heart of decision -making through evidence-based reports, campaigns, workshops and inspirational events. 

Current  Commission members include the NHS, Avon & Somerset Police, University of Bristol, UWE Bristol, City of Bristol College, headteachers, umbrella organisations such as Voscur and Business West, as well as the TUC, Bristol One City and Bristol City councillors.

Over the past decade, we have helped move women’s equality up the agenda through:

  • Successful campaigns, such as a 50:50 campaign to boost the number of female councillors from 1 in 5 to almost half
  • High profile events, such as securing funding from the Government Equalities Office for a year long programme of Centenary celebrations in 2018 to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage including the spectacular march to College Green on February 6th to commemorate the Representation of the People Act. Sixty six thousand women and girls participated in the events which were jointly managed by us and commission members Bristol Women’s Voice and the total reach including print, on-line and broadcast was 23 million!
  • Bringing together council leaders and women experiencing domestic abuse which has enabled more women suffering domestic violence and abuse to access social housing
  • New initiatives such as the Women in Business Charter, established by the Commission in 2019 and now a highly active  Community Interest Company with many business signatories leading the way in women’s leadership in the workplace
  • Evidence-based reports such as ‘Delivering an inclusive Economy Post Covid-19’ which highlights actions to support women’s employment post-covid. 
  • Influencing policy by working with city leaders which has seen a chapter on women’s health included in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment – the only one in the country
  • Influencing national policy through strong evidence based responses, for example the National Women’s Health Strategy which tackles female conditions as well as promoting the need for professionals in the sector to believe women
  • Organising conferences for girls across the city with inspirational role models from different sectors as well as a mentoring scheme for aspiring women leaders in education

Bristol Women’s Commission will continue to  work to redress women’s inequality in all its different forms so that Bristol becomes a more equal city where women thrive in what has been a man’s world for far too long.