3 inspiring women, 3 inspiring talks

17 December 2018

Rhian-Mari Thomas shares her thoughts on how students can help build a sustainable future



Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas is an inspiration for those who wonder how they too can forge a successful career built from their passions. Founder and Global Head of Green Banking at Barclays, Rhian-Mari headed to Hurlingham Academy for a special campaign talk, as part of the Great British Plastics Challenge.

”I care about the environment” Rhian-Mari said ”and I want to share why with you today”.

Rhian-Mari who holds a PhD in Physics from Trinity College, Dublin said her interest in science was sparked at school.

”I wondered, why don’t we float off; what is keeping us firmly to the ground?”

Of course, she was referring to gravity but it was an important message for the students that lifelong passions are often bred at school.

Starting out with a desire to become a science writer, Rhian-Mari had a change of paths and headed to Barclays where she has since worked for 18 years.

Founding Barclays first Green Banking Council, Rhian-Mari is shaping a new area of sustainable banking. Passionate about building a sustainable future, Rhian-Mari implored the students to think about the impact plastic pollution is having on the environment and to have a go at taking up the plastics challenge.

Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean, which Rhian-Mari equated to the weight of 44,000 jumbo jets – a staggering figure.



Also an advocate for diversity and inclusion, and former winner of Barclays Woman of the Year Award 2014/15, Rhian-Mari said that it’s harder for women to reach the top but that should not stop young girls from aspiring to reach it.

Her 3 pieces of advice for the students:

  • Play to your strengths
  • Don’t tell yourself you can’t do something
  • And don’t be afraid to take risks


Ritula Shah, BBC Radio 4 presenter inspires students to aspire for more


Over in Bromley, BBC Radio 4 host of The World Today and award-winning journalist, Ritula Shah was making preparations to give her 5th talk as part of Speakers for Schools.

”It’s not who you are, it’s who you become” – Ritula began.

A strong and valuable message for the year 7 and 8 audience of Bishop Justus students.

”If you had said to me when I was your age I would become a journalist, I would’ve said no!”

Ritula’s incredulity a nod to the value of believing in yourself and what you can achieve.

”How many of you watch the news?”

 A peppering of hands raising.

”I hope after today, you’ll look at the news.”




Ritula’s talk was a homage to the power of what you can achieve if you put your mind to it. Throughout her talk, pictures of successful women were projected including the Queen, Beyoncé, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Nadiya Hussain winner of the 6th series of the Great British Bake Off.

”All these women have come from different backgrounds, they’ve all worked really hard. They’re doing amazing things. You should think about how these women have done it. How did they come to what they do?”

Ritula’s advice?

”Ask yourself some questions: what would you like to do? It may change.”

”Be prepared to have an open mind. If you get ideas of what you want to do, write it down. Think about goals, what you want to do and how you might get there.”


Journalist and broadcaster, Penny Smith speaks about the power of trying new things and doing what you love


”Follow you passions” – announced Penny Smith to a packed room of students. 

”If you do, it will give things back.”

The broadcaster and journalist told the students at Westminster Academy that it’s important to ”do what you want to do even if everyone else around you thinks it’s weird”



An avid traveller, Penny was brimming with enthusiasm for her talk which focussed on identifying your passions in life and using these as a pedestal for building your future career. Penny also shared some of her incredible stories from her many travels from being robbed in Thailand to dog sledding in the Arctic circle. The underlying message of her inspiring anecdotes truly shone through.

”If that makes you excited – go and do that” because ultimately, ”grades can only get you so far.”

In a world where it has never been more important to make yourself stand out, Penny’s advice is invaluable.



So what advice Penny would give to budding journalist?

  • Keep writing
  • Don’t be afraid to approach people
  • Make yourself stand out – don’t be afraid to use humour even

Penny was also asked what advice she’d give to her 14 year old self?

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff – it didn’t matter the boy I fancied didn’t fancy me back
  • Be true to yourself
  • Get rid of friends who don’t make you very happy


We would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas, Ritula Shah and Penny Smith for taking the time to give such wonderful and important talks this term. Thank you very much to Hurlington Academy, Bishop Justus and Westminster Academy too for being such fantastic hosts.

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