By Charlene Laidley
“You can’t determine where you start in life, but you can determine where you will end up.” – Charlene Laidley
I have always been unbound by the limitations imposed on me by others and by the circumstances around me. I was called a ‘dreamer’ when at 14, I told my single mother who was working three jobs to support me and my younger brothers, that one day I was going to go to New York and work in the luxury fashion industry – she laughed and told me to stop thinking “above my station”. Herself being the daughter of caribbean immigrants, and watching her own mother struggle to survive in the UK, it was outside the realm of what she thought was possible.
With the help and support of my school teacher, Mrs Webb (who I now know to be my first mentor) I applied for a scholarship to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and through hard work and determination I succeeded. Four years later, after instrumental roles with Burberry and Clarins, I became the first woman of colour to join the senior leadership team of LVMH Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy – The world’s largest luxury goods conglomerate.
Many young people from disadvantaged parts of UK society have big dreams for their future as I did. If all they had was the view of the world around them, it would be very easy for them to conclude that there’s very little point in dreaming, that it’s either too hard to achieve their dreams or that there’s just no-one to help them.
I strongly believe mentors matter, and that women role-models from diverse backgrounds matter. That’s why I have dedicated over 10 years of my life to the economic empowerment of women in the UK. By making time to go out into the community; working with schools and young people, by providing mentoring, sponsorship and training – I share with them my experiences and the lessons I have learned with the aim of helping them believe that they have what it takes to become a leader in whatever field they choose. I am living proof that it is possible to overcome hardship and the challenges of society to excel and succeed. Together I believe we can bring hope and inspiration to empower girls and young women from all parts of society, to become the worlds future leaders.