On International Women's Day, we take a look back at this feature from a previous issue of Women Together that highlights the incredible achievements of women across Scotland. If you'd like to meet inspiring women in your area, why not look for an Institute near you?
Today women make up 49% of Scotland’s workforce, and are achieving new level of success at work, even in once male-dominated fields.
Careers for women have been transformed and women can now aspire to any role with gender no barrier to fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.
But when the SWI was founded back in 1917, it would have been unimaginable that women could join the military and climb the ladder to hold top positions, aspire to senior posts within the Church or have jobs that take them into dangerous waters to save those in peril on the sea.
International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March and we celebrate five women who have achieved success in careers that 100 years ago women could only have dreamed of doing.
Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) Heidi Ramsay (38) of the Royal Logistics Corps (RLC), serving with 2 Close Support Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Leuchars, holds the most senior soldier rank in the British Army.
I always wanted to be a fire fighter but at 5 feet 4 I was two inches too short to join the civilian fire brigade so I decided to find out if the Army were recruiting into the Defence Fire Service.
At this time they did not have women serving with them but I discovered that the Army were recruiting, and looked into a career in the Army in more depth. As a teenager I went to Air Cadets so I already had an interest in the military life. Once I had made the decision and had enlisted into the Army, I left school aged 16 and a half and embarked on a career which has so far spanned 22 years but started with basic military training at Pirbright, Surrey.
Aged 19 I was a Physical Training Instructor putting 30 plus soldiers in a squadron through daily physical training. I’ve recently qualified as a skydiver and have enjoyed countless other sports too.
After reaching the rank of Sergeant I returned to the technical side of my trade. Serving in the Army has given me the opportunity to serve in the Falkland Islands, Kenya, Germany, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Highlights of my career have been my promotions, a Brigade Commander’s Commendation, and receiving my Long Service and Good Conduct medal. The hardest part however was leaving my then 4 year old daughter Keira for 7 months whilst deploying on a tour to Afghanistan. At stages you sacrifice family time during tours and courses but the flip side of that is the Army provides stability, an enjoyable career and a pension.
I now assist with the running of the RLC Stores Troop which consists of 33 soldiers. Our role is to provide all equipment spares to the Battalion to ensure maximum deploying capability.
As a WO1, I’m now in the process of applying to become a Late Entry Commissioned Officer which will result in holding the rank of Captain if I am successful. This will give me the opportunity to embark on a new type of career with the same benefits and opportunities.
Elaine Mair (45) and Gil Sutherland (39) from Findochty, near Buckie, joined the volunteer Buckie RNLI crew last June after spending six years with the town’s volunteer Coastguard team. Away from the RNLI, the pair work together at a local vet’s surgery.
Elaine: “We both fancied a change from the Coastguard after six years, to be honest.
“We went out on the William Blannin in May for a trial run and that just made our minds up. Everyone’s been so welcoming here, it’s so relaxed. It’s been a brilliant experience and we’ve met so many new people and made new friends.
“As part of the crew training we’ve had the chance to learn a lot of skills; while there is some cross over between the RNLI and the Coastguard – for example, first aid and rope handling – it’s completely different, but the most important part, of course, is saving lives.
“For instance, we’ve just done a radar course – something neither of us knew anything about before we joined – and we’re looking forward to our first aid course in Perth in February.
“There’re so many paths any crew member can take so we’ll both probably wait until we’ve been to training at RNLI HQ in Poole before deciding which routes we want to take.
“We have two training sessions a week, one on Thursday evening and the other on Sunday morning, which is a mix of theory and practical stuff.”
Gil: “It’s been magic, we’d both recommend it to anyone. It’s very equal opportunities, there’s no doubt about that.
“The whole crew get on regardless of age or whether you’re male or female, everybody mucks in and if you need help or advice you just have to ask.
“We both enjoy the hands-on aspects of being in the RNLI. For example, we recently were on a passage taking the William Blannin down to Girvan for a major refit, which was a fantastic experience. We even had a shout [call-out] on the way down from the Belfast Coastguard.
"Everyone has a vital role, whether it’s on the crew or the fund-raisers who work tirelessly as the RNLI is run solely on donations.
“The Lifeboat has a Heritage to be proud of and it's a great family to be a part of."
Image by Buckie RNLI.
Constable Olivia Lee (36) is a police officer with Police Scotland’s Armed Response Unit in Edinburgh.
I didn’t join the police until I was 30. I left school and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I worked as a florist for a few years then I went back to study and did a university degree in accounting. I knew accounting would be financially rewarding but I wanted personal satisfaction too so I applied to Strathclyde Police.
Working in a very busy and very diverse community in Lanarkshire, I found myself in all sorts of situations from dealing with more routine aspects like vandalism and shoplifting to siege and hostage situations with firearms units.
In dealing with a situation where someone is suddenly running at you with a knife, it becomes very clear it is your responsibility to resolve this scenario. Serious situations brought out the best in me and I responded and performed well in these high pressure environments.
I spoke to my supervisors and they were happy to support my application to the firearms unit and I went through the application and interview process and was successful. That was when the hard work started, with a 10 week firearms course.
We were tested on shooting, tactics, decision making under pressure and given judgemental scenarios. I dug deep, passed and was offered a position with the Armed Response Vehicles in Edinburgh.
It’s a great team and very supportive. There are five teams in all providing round the clock response all year round. We are permanently armed and able to respond to spontaneous incidents which could be anything from a robbery where the suspect may be in possession of a gun, to going into a house where we believe a suspect is armed, to dealing with mental health cases where a vulnerable person may be considering harming themselves with a weapon.
We also carry out day-to-day security patrols around the capital and the wider community, including at Edinburgh Airport. We have a Glock pistol as our side arm and a CED (Taser) device.
Women shouldn’t be pigeonholed as we all have a wide range of skills and talents – if there are opportunities, then why not take them and develop yourself?
Karla Stevenson is Watch Manager at Knightswood Community Fire Station in Glasgow.
I love my job. I started my career as a retained firefighter at Beauly fire station in 2000.
After applying five times to become a whole-time firefighter I managed to finally beat the tough bleep test.
The intensive 12-week training was hard going but thanks to my retained background, nothing phased me – I was given my first firefighter post in Oban in March 2008.
I progressed and became Crew Manager at Cowcaddens in 2013, which was a lot of responsibility, but the team work ethic of the Fire Service meant that I was fully supported in my new role.
It was nice to have that trust and to know that people had faith in my ability. I was very proud.
Our crew were called to various emergencies such as fires at high rise tower blocks but we also enjoyed working with communities, which included giving talks to school children.
They did get a surprise when they saw a female firefighter. I will never forget one little boy who admitted ‘I have never seen a lady fireman before’.
At the start of the talk, most of the boys would put their hands up when we asked who would like to be a firefighter. After our talk, you would see a lot of the girls holding up their arms too.
Rev Fiona Mathieson is a Church of Scotland minister at Carrick Knowe Parish Church in Edinburgh.
I have been working as a minister for the past 30 years. Currently I am the Minister of Carrick Knowe Parish Church in Edinburgh. It is my job to serve the people who live in my Parish (all the people in the community which surrounds us whether they are members of the church or not) and to serve and lead our active busy congregation.
Every day is different. On a typical day in the morning I will be in my study at the manse writing sermons and prayers for the Sunday service, writing other services such as funerals, arranging meetings, dealing with mail and answering e-mails and calls.
In the afternoon there may be a funeral to conduct or people to visit.
There are evening meetings to ensure that the congregation is governed properly and planning meetings. I also might pop in on one of the groups who use our building (we have four to five hundred folk in our building every week). Or I could be at our book group which leads to some fascinating discussions, as do our Lent and Advent study groups.
I love the people and being at the heart of the community. It’s a privilege journeying with folk and hopefully being a channel through which God can connect with people - it is humbling and awe inspiring.
Image by Eve Conroy at No.1 Magazine.