Inspirational Women to Celebrate: International Women’s Day 2023

Today women are celebrated across the globe and at Design Insider we felt that it was important to take the opportunity to celebrate inspirational women across the commercial interiors sector.  

“Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness about discrimination. Take action to drive gender parity. International Women’s Day belongs to everyone, everywhere.”

Enjoy all 12 Inspirational Women interviews here

We invited 12 women, each with a different role within our sector, a set of questions in order to learn more about their inspiration, how they inspire others and the different gender equality could make to commercial designers, suppliers and clients.

We began by asking each Inspirational Woman to introduce themselves which enabled Dids Macdonald OBE., CEO of Anti Copying in Design and Vice Chair of the Alliance for IP, to tell us about why she founded ADIC and her team’s vital work in preventing copying in design:

‘Our consistent campaigning has improved design law, not least spearheading a change in the law in 2014 making the intentional infringement of a registered design a criminal offence. Many call it infringement, I call it a sanitised word for theft.’

Dids Macdonald OBE

We also learnt about Lucy Arndt, Head of Sustainability at Dodds & Shute’s incredible achievements in her past role, aiding global brands to reach their net zero targets:

‘I have worked in sustainability for over a decade, spanning various roles and industries such as leading a team to achieve 40 million tonnes of carbon avoided through climate finance by helping companies such as Shell, British Airways, Chanel, L’Oréal and Ben & Jerry’s implement net zero; impact reporting and climate action within a FTSE top-10 oil and gas company; and forest conservation in Kenya.’

Michelle Smith explained the breadth of her role as Associate Designer at M Moser Associates in London:

‘My role includes a myriad of responsibilities. I currently help manage and mentor a team of over 20 designers, technical designers, and architects. I sit across resourcing, fee writing and pitching for new work. I provide the overall direction and coordination of projects and have experience in both consultancy and design and build realms. One of the main things I enjoy about the role is bringing in new clients, establishing a good rapport that leads to repeat work and building our portfolio of projects.’

Michelle Smith

When we asked each Inspirational Women about what it felt like to be inspired by, and inspire, people around them Sarah Dabbs, Associate Director at SpaceInvader, explained the impact of inspiration on creativity:

Fiona Napier, Sales Director for Edmund Bell, spoke about the enjoyment she takes from the people she works with:

‘For me, being inspired means taking genuine interest and pride in the achievements or just day-to-day excellence of those around me. I enjoy the people around me professionally a lot nowadays. Each team member is on their own journey of development and it’s great to see and share in their progress, their pride in their new abilities, their newfound confidence.’

And, Carolyn Mitchell, Sales & Marketing Director at Hypnos Contract Beds Ltd & Chairwoman at Commercial Interiors UK, motivated us with a vision of an inspired future:

‘There is one word for me that describes the feeling of inspiring and being inspired, and it is excitement! Excitement about a vision for a better future, where everyone can make a difference, by being the best we can be.’

Carolyn Mitchell

One of the questions we enjoyed reading the answers for the most was when we asked our Inspirational Women who inspired them! Their answers were varied, and in many cases perhaps unexpected:

‘Queen Elizabeth II was an inspirational woman. She was an amazing figurehead, leader and mother. It feels like she didn’t compromise at any of her roles, in life. Thrust into a role at a young age, having just lost her father, she saw through her commitment to the end. I admire her courage, strength and determination.’ Nadean McNaught, Managing Director, NaughtOne

Kate Mitchell, Commercial Lead, Timorous Beasties

‘… a collective called ‘Women and the Wind’ – a group of young mavericks exploring the connection between nature and the environment by undertaking a voyage across the North Atlantic on Mara Noka, a 50-year-old wooden catamaran. The voyage is currently being made into a documentary, looking at the ‘ever-changing state of the sea, in all its splendour, and duality—shifting between gentleness and rage’, whilst showing how that ‘reflects our own humanity and opens us to contemplation on our relationship with the most unknown parts of ourselves and the planet’.’ Claire Menzies, Chairwoman, Istoria Group

Michelle Obama

‘For me Michelle Obama is a wonderful role model. Her poise and grace as the first lady was second to none. Being able to support her family while being in the public eye and have her own interests and career is an achievement in itself, but also finding time to think about others and to pursue charitable work is amazing!’ Rose Campbell, Head of Design & Marketing, Newmor Wallcoverings

Rose Campbell

‘Most recently Jacinda Ardem, New Zealand’s recent Prime minister, she challenged the stereotype of male and female leadership, and stayed true to herself.’ Carolyn Mitchell,Hypnos Contract Beds Ltd & Commercial Interiors UK

We must also mention the two extremely deserving votes for Vivian Westwood!

Vivienne Westwood (1941 – 2022)

Many of us working in the Commercial Sector look to our peers and leaders for their advice and mentorship. We asked our Inspirational Women what three pieces of advice they often give to the women they mentor. From all of the answers here are our top 3:

  1. Firstly, challenge yourself! We all have a responsibility to constantly upskill, learn, be open and connected. Your goal does not need to be a director or senior manager position but to be the best version of ‘you’! – Harsha Kotak, Founder, Women in Office Design (WOD)
  2. Keep your head down, clearly define and focus on your goals, do not get distracted by what is socially constructed and perceived as the general goal. – Emily Marzocchi, Interior Designer, G.A Group
  3. Be truthful! In our industry, problems can arise with production, design, lead times and supply, and of course human error can cause these things to occur. If this happens, and it’s your fault, admit the mistake from the outset and set about resolving it quickly. You gain more trust and respect if you’re truthful and you will probably solve the problem more quickly. – Kate Mitchell, Commercial Lead, Timorous Beasties

Kate Mitchell

If we could sneak in a forth piece of advice it would have to be: Finally, and most importantly – never give up. You will get set-backs. Nothing is more certain, but you have to take out your chisel and chip away at them. Your curiosity and desire for what you’re doing need to outlast the knocks that will come your way, so you must always see set-backs as temporary and, in the long run, surmountable. – Claire Menzies, Chairwoman, Istoria Group

Claire Menzies

We finished our questions by asking our Inspirational Women if greater gender equality would  create a more sustainable future for our sector and what would that entail?

‘Absolutely it would however, this must start with us as women ignoring unspoken rules. Often, we hold ourselves back by our own limiting beliefs about others view of our place in the world. When you are not afraid, when you know who you are and the value you bring, nothing will stop you.’ Carolyn Mitchell, Hypnos Contract Beds Ltd & Commercial Interiors UK

‘Absolutely! Sustainability is all about collaboration, championing change, strong communication and problem solving all of which are capabilities that recent research shows women leaders are rated higher on during a crisis (which we are currently in from a climate and biodiversity perspective). On the flip side, globally, women often bear the brunt of climate change impacts, pollution, poverty, and many other issues. Therefore, the female perspective is critical to developing and implementing effective solutions to systemic sustainability issues.’ Lucy Arndt, Head of Sustainability, Dodds & Shute

Harsha Kotak, Founder, Women in Office Design (WOD)

‘For me, gender equality is choosing the right person for the job, and making sure nobody feels like something is out of reach for them. If you’re doing your best, anybody can excel regardless of gender.’ Nadean McNaught, Managing Director, NaughtOne

You can enjoy each of our interviews in full by selecting the links below:

Dids Macdonald OBE., CEO, Anti Copying in Design & Vice Chair, the Alliance for IP: Click here

Lucy Arndt, Head of Sustainability, Dodds & Shute: Click here

Sarah Dabbs, Associate Director, SpaceInvader: Click here

Nadean McNaught, Managing Director, NaughtOne: Click here

Harsha Kotak, Founder, Women in Office Design (WOD): Click here

Michelle Smith, Associate Designer, M Moser Associates: Click here

Claire Menzies, Chairwoman, Istoria Group: Click here

Carolyn Mitchell, Sales & Marketing Director, Hypnos Contract Beds Ltd & Chairwoman, Commercial Interiors UK: Click here

Emily Marzocchi, Interior Designer, G.A Group: Click here

Kate Mitchell, Commercial Lead, Timorous Beasties: Click here

Rose Campbell, Head of Design & Marketing, Newmor Wallcoverings: Click here

Fiona Napier, Sales Director, Edmund Bell: Click here


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
View all posts by Alys Bryan →