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IWD 2024: University Chancellor on overcoming adversity

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Published on 08 March 2024

University of Sunderland Chancellor Leanne Cahill (Photo: Ana Frantz Photography)
University of Sunderland Chancellor Leanne Cahill (Photo: Ana Frantz Photography)

As part of International Women’s Day 2024, University of Sunderland Chancellor, Leanne Cahill, is reflecting on her career journey and overcoming adversity and remembering the woman who inspired her the most.

Leanne, CEO of retail company Bravissimo and proud Sunderland alumna, became the University’s Chancellor last summer.

Born and raised in Sunderland, Leanne began her career on the shopfloor as a Marks & Spencer trainee before specialising in finance. She has since held a wide range of roles at Legal & General, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Travelex.

Leanne joined Bravissimo in October 2017 as finance director. She was promoted to managing director in September 2018, becoming chief executive officer in December 2020.

In 2023, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from the University.

As well as being a woman in leadership, Leanne is from a working-class background and has a limb difference as she was born with one hand.

In a video message, Leanne has shared her own insights and offered advice to young women facing challenges, especially those related to disability.

“I think we need to reframe the conversation and focus instead on the skills that people can build in everyday life when they’re coping and thriving with a disability,” she said.

“When you realise you have the capacity to cope and to succeed against adversity, that builds self-belief and resilience – and they are leadership skills. So disability can actually be a positive and a strength when we’re looking at who can become a future leader.”

Leanne’s full video was played at the University’s International Women’s Day event at Hope Street Xchange, City Campus, on Friday 8 March. 

Organised by the Chairs of the University’s Women’s Staff Network, together with their senior sponsor, Professor Abigail Moriarty, the event will include an array of inspirational women speakers, including the University’s Chief Operating Officer, Andrea Walters, CEO of the Foundation of Light, Lesly Spuhler, Academic Tutor and Co-Chair of the University’s Pride Network, Charlotte Feather – plus many more.