28/11/2012 13:05 GMT | Updated 27/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Dressed for Success but Stressed!

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. To kick things off, we held the Inspirational Women of the Year Awards gala in association with the Daily Mail and supported by Sanctuary Spa.As I admired some of the fabulous designer gowns on parade that night I reflected on my slightly more formal appearance at the Women in Business Super Conference a few days earlier. I had been very much on show as the last speaker on a stage in front of 500 eminent and successful businesswomen and obviously wanted to make the right impression.

I had been asked to speak on the theme: 'Dressed for success but stressed!' - which of course threw me into a quandary about what to wear.

I made the audience laugh by telling them about how stressed I had been writing my speech. I somehow got through a bar of chocolate, a giant cookie and a bag of popcorn.

Then, as I went out of my office I realised my entire staff had been discussing what I should wear to the conference. There were three favourite outfits but being the voluntary/charity sector I ended up in a composite compromise outfit - well, the third sector is all about compromise!

There were lots of young women at the conference and inevitably the issue of Women's Lib came up. I am old enough to remember the sixties and the politics of the day. What younger women often don't realise is that feminism was about breaking down barriers so that women had choices limited by capability and inclination not gender. The great goal was to have equal choice and an equal opportunity to achieve it wasn't about 'having it all' or having to DO it all.

If you wanted to stay at home and raise a family that was fine, if you wanted to combine work and family that was fine, if you didn't want a family at all - that too was fine.

It was meant to emancipate women not punish them or make them feel guilty if they didn't manage everything perfectly.

I was also asked what I wished I had known at 20. For me it is the knowledge that occupations and marriages were both things one grows out of unless very lucky!

My other advice for younger women was to look after their health - if you aren't well you won't do well.

Some shining examples of women who have chosen to enjoy their lives despite great obstacles along the way were the five finalists in our Inspirational Women of the Year Awards (IWOTY).

The finalists enjoyed a star-studded event with the likes of Meera Syal, Fuse, Charles Worthington, Strictly's Craig Revel-Horwood, Darcy Bussell and Kristina Rhianoff along with Kara Tointon, Jenni Falconer, Amanda Lamb, and many more.

Also out in force were Olympic golden girls Anna Watkins, Alex Danson, Natalie Seymour, Helen Glover, Sarah Storey and Katherine Granger.

The five IWOTY finalists had been chosen from the hundreds of nominations made by the public to the Daily Mail.

They included a bereaved mother who helps sick children, a tireless environmental campaigner waging a personal fight against cancer and the first person with a double-lung transplant to sail across the Atlantic.

The overall winner was mother-of-four Shelley Gilbert, 49, who had set up a counselling group Grief Encounter in 2003, and wrote a best-selling work-book to help children to cope with the loss of a parent or close family member.

All these women left me truly humbled and we all had a fantastic night.

Right - on to the next project!