Things are changing with women in a male orientated industry.
The climb toward equality has been going on for a long, long time. We’re often told that equality has been achieved but reality tells us that most women are still on a ledge some distance from the summit. So, take heart from these five women who refused to be intimidated by male domination in their chosen field and who struck out to achieve outstanding success.
1. Irina Krush – American Chess International Grandmaster
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1983, Irina Krushhas been playing chess since the age of five. In 1989 her parents emigrated to America bringing Irina with them. At 14 she became the youngest ever winner of the United States World Chess Championship. Since then she has dominated a game traditionally played by men. She argues that in order to succeed in the world of competitive chess, you have to develop ‘masculine skills’ such as competitiveness and analytic thinking. She says that women are socialised to work in social groups and that chess is a solitary pursuit. She also says that playing chess has made her a more complete person.
‘For me, chess is a fight, sixty-four squares where you lay out everything you have, and I believe in my ability to fight, because it's really just a function of your ability to give everything you have, to put it banally, 'to do your best.' I want to make the maximum effort, whether that means pushing myself to find the best moves, being resilient in defence, or overcoming any psychological weakness that can come up during a game: inclinations towards cowardice, towards giving up in difficult positions, or slacking off in better ones.’
2. Danica Patrick – Racing Driver
Danica Patrick has consistently competedagainst men and beaten them in this most macho of sports. She has also used her success on the track to act as spokeswoman and has developed a successful media career, appearing on TV shows, commercials, music videos and video games. In 2008 she won the Indy Japan, making her the only woman to have won an Indy Car Series. Her third place in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 remains the highest placing in that race, achieved by a woman. Currently, she competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and in 2013 she was the first woman to win a Sprint Series pole position. This qualified her for the 2013 Daytona 500 and her subsequent eighth place is this highest placing achieved by a woman in that race.
3. Kristen Bicknell – Poker Player
At a young age Kristen Bicknell has already achieved acclaim for her achievements in the poker world and recently she became an ambassador for partypoker. The list of the top ten earning players of all time is currently comprised only of men, but with more than $925,000 in live game cashes she is making a mark in a world that is seeing an increasing number of talented female players emerging.
4. Clare Smyth – Chef
Clare Smyth is a familiar face in Britain, appearing as she does on shows like ‘Masterchef’ and ‘Saturday Kitchen’, but her fame is not down to being a TV chef, it rests on the fact that she is first female chef in Britain to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. She left school at sixteen, determined to pursue a career in catering. She began her working life at Terence Conran’srestaurant, Michelin House, in London and then went on the gain a wide range of experience before winning the title ‘Young Cornish Fish Chef of the Year’. In 2002 Gordon Ramsey offered her a post from which she went to become Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey from 2012 to 2016. In 2013 she was awarded an MBE and in 2017 she opened her own restaurant ‘Core’ in London’s Notting Hill, to general acclaim.
5. Fran Wilkinson – Lifeboat Coxswain
The crew of an RNLI Lifeboat is made up entirely of volunteers apart from the coxswain: Fran Wilkinson is the first female coxswain of a lifeboat in Britain. Daughter of a fisherman, Fran joined the RNLI at seventeen, only 8% of the RNLI workforce are women.
‘The reality is that you are surrounded by men. At first, I felt I had to prove myself. Once I felt I had, it was fine. But the most important thing is that you are doing the job properly. Being in a crew, you get pulled into a very strong team who fully trust each other. I wouldn't have been able to get this far without help from the other members. Male or female, it's not for everyone. And it's definitely not glamorous: you should see me after a rescue in really bad weather.’