Former apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton on females in business
THE campaign theme for this year's International Women's Day was "Be Bold For Change". And one woman from the north who exemplifies this idea is Derry native Dr Leah Totton.
Five years ago she was a relatively unknown 24-year-old doctor in a busy London emergency room. Today she's co-owner of two hugely successful cosmetic skin clinics in England - with one Lord Alan Sugar as her business partner.
In 2013 Leah applied for and won BBC's The Apprentice, going on to be the overall winner and cashing in on a £250,000 prize which she used to start her first "Dr Leah Clinic" in London.
Since then, the business has been named the "Best Cosmetic Clinic" at the coveted My Face My Body awards in 2015 and a second location was opened in Essex last year.
Last week she was speaking in front of a packed audience at the inaugural Women in Business Female Entrepreneur conference in Limavady.
Although much of the event was geared towards highlighting the gender disparity in business, Dr Totton said she hasn't personally felt that her gender has hindered her career.
"I think that there are two reasons for that, first of all there's probably an element of my personality which comes into play," she explained.
"I've read before about women being shushed in business meetings, but that's certainly never happened to me.
"Another element is that it's a reflection of the times and we have moved on, but there still is a bit to go."
When asked whether or not there was a difference between females in business in the north when compared to England, the 29-year-old entrepreneur said there were contrasts in terms of personality and attitudes.
"In particular in Northern Ireland there's an issue with woman putting themselves forward, there's a hesitancy there and I'm not even sure its just women," she said.
"For instance, in my business talks, when it comes Q and A sessions in London and in the mainland UK, you can't get off the stage because everyone's so confident to ask questions.
"If more than one or two hands go up in an Irish talk I'm surprised."
Alongside the likes of Tina McKenzie, chief executive of the multi-million pound Staffline Group, last week's conference showcased many successful female businesswomen from the north, something Leah Totton says we can expect to see a lot more of in the future.
"I want more empowerment for Northern Irish woman. We've got a lot to offer," she said.
"Our grades in terms of academia are consistently higher than in mainland UK. We have a lot of exceptional individuals."
When it came to the prospect of opening a clinic closer to home, Dr Totton did not rule out the possibility.
"I'd love to, but at the minute I have to make a decision based on business figures, and London is the hub," she said.
"It's a financial bubble in London and I'm keen to saturate that as much as possible, but we'll see."