It all started with a phone call between KMPG’s Amy Woolf and University of Manchester student Melissa Leigh – a connection made and handy parallel for the UJS Women’s Network‘s How Do They Do It? inaugural launch event that gave female Jewish students a chance to hear from, and network with, successful Jewish women from a wide range of fields.

“I felt that we needed to be engaged with more female Jewish role models,” Melissa says of the scheme, conceived as part of UJS’s drive to become more open, accessible and inclusive to the needs and identities of its members, with events also planned for the LGBT+ and Disabled Students Networks in the near future.

The Women’s Network aims to promote, engage and inspire young Jewish women in both their careers and the community and How Do They Do It? gave us the first chance to see the initiative in action and speak to those involved in setting it up.

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Melissa Leigh introduces UJS Women’s Network’s inaugural event.

Held in KPMG’s Canary Wharf conference rooms, attendees were first treated to an exhibition of work by a selection of young Jewish female artists, setting the tone and displaying the huge wealth of talent that the scheme hopes to harness.

After a brief welcome from both Amy and Melissa, attention turned to the panel for a Q&A with Board of Deputies Senior Vice President & co-founder of Mitzvah Day Laura Marks, MP for Liverpool Riverside Louise Ellman, KPMG partner Roberta Carter, HSBC solutions architect Lisa Saper and Reed Smith partner Helena Nathanson, chaired by WeAreTheCity founder Vanessa Vallely.

Questions were put to the panel from both Vanessa and the audience, tackling common myths and covering such diverse topics as coping mechanisms, impostor syndrome, the differing roles of the ‘mentor’, maternity leave, female Jewish identity and the risk of positive discrimination.

With a wide range of experience and viewpoints represented by the panel, unique perspectives quickly became a running theme for the evening, as did the need to be active and visible in taking control of your career and community life.

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The event featured a selection of artwork by young Jewish female artists.

As the lynchpin of UJS Women’s Network, founder Melissa Leigh is aiming high and believes How Do They Do It? is just the start in positioning Jewish students at the forefront of gender diversity.

“I think one of the main issues was that young Jewish women don’t have access to professional Jewish women who work in male-dominated careers,” she says. “It can be quite intimidating.”

Key to success of the project, Melissa stresses, is getting students who have benefited from a professional mentorship to take up the mantle themselves.

“The long term aim is that those who were mentored could then become mentors for 6th form students, empowering future generations and giving back to the community.” [divider]

In the following months UJS Women’s Network will be helping individual campuses to run their own events and focus on setting up mentorship networks across the UK. If you have any questions about the UJS networks or would like to get involved, please e-mail: campaigns@ujs.org.uk or connect with UJS Women’s Network on Facebook.