By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

Kirsty McManus
Kirsty McManus

It’s often said that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

Each one of us, no matter our background or circumstances has had to deal with some level of adversity at some point in our lives.

This is especially true at the present time as we all continue to deal with the global coronavirus pandemic – a true moment of adversity that has revealed the very best in people across the world, from the ordinary person volunteering, health and key workers, to world leaders on the political and scientific stage, guiding us all through the crisis.

But we don’t need to look to a global event with huge ramifications to find adversity, more often than that it is something much more local, and personal.

At our Women’s Leadership Conference next month, we’ll be hearing the stories of some inspirational figures whose characters, and leadership qualities, have been revealed through their adverse circumstances.

Take Dame Stephanie Shirley for example, an incredibly successful IT entrepreneur and now devoted philanthropist.

A far cry from the day in 1939 when she arrived, aged 5, in Britain on the Kinderstransport as an unaccompanied refugee fleeing Germany.

The most humble of beginnings but she would go on to found software company FI Group (now Xansa) in 1962, making her a one of the most successful tech pioneers of the century. This despite entering the male dominated business world that prompted her to go by the name ‘Steve’ which sticks to this day.

For iconic environmental activist and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, adversity came in being a single mother of three trying to make a living.

Thanks to the Oscar-winning film, we all now know the story of how, through a twist of fate she stumbled across medical records that would spark the biggest direct action lawsuit in US history.

Through a relentless campaign, she uncovered how hundreds of people in a small town had been poisoned by toxic waste in their water supply over 30 years, resulting in damages worth $333 million to residents.

Another of our speakers, Nagin Cox, drew on her experiences as a child to become one of the world’s most celebrated spacecraft engineers.

Born in Bangalore, India, Nagin grew up in Kansas and Malaysia but felt her experiences showed her how easily people can separate themselves based on gender, race or nationality.

Inspired to do something that brings people together instead of dividing them, she joined the space programme and is now part of the team operating NASA’s rovers as they explore Mars.

Just three stories of incredible women that show ‘great leaders rise out of adversity’ and I look forward to many more at next month’s conference.