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Manchester High School for Girls

Judy Hargadon

Judy Hargadon OBE, Class of 1970, Non-Executive Director

My name is Judy Hargadon.  The only change since my days at MHSG is changing the Judith – always rather stern – to Judy, when I was a student. When I married I kept my own surname, initially for career reasons, and then because everyone told me I should not have kept it.  MHSG had taught me that women are equal to men, and that I could do anything I set my mind to.  As I entered the adult world I learned that not everyone seemed to agree. In my thirties I became a founder, and then Chair, of the Take Our Daughters to Work Day campaign in the UK.

I left MHSG in 1970, having joined for the last two years of the prep school when it was still in Didsbury. The school was at the leading edge of women’s education in Manchester – we were well prepared for University both in the manner sixth form classes were run and in small things like being the year that the trial of the Upper Sixth not wearing uniform began.  Despite focusing on three A levels, we had a very broad programme of arts and literature throughout the seven years. I was generally a compliant, dutiful pupil and broadly very happy.

Throughout my career I favoured evolution from within as a way of change and I believe I learned that at school. The school gave me confidence that I did not know I had which helped when I went to study economics at the University of Exeter, not having studied it at school. I also learned the importance of volunteering and giving back to society at school, as well as from my parents, and have done so throughout my life. As a student I became very involved in University societies. This also helped me begin to build my management skills, leading to a successful application to the NHS national graduate training scheme.  This programme is still run today and I can honestly recommend a career in health care management as a truly enriching and satisfying one, even if very challenging at times.

No longer in paid employment – I refuse to use the word retired  - I volunteer for a number of not for profits at Board and front line level. The one that makes me realise most how lucky I have been is my weekly shift on the National Domestic Violence Helpline. Until recently I was on the Council (Board) of the University of Exeter as a non executive director and I now have a similar role in the Devon NHS Clinical Commissioning Board.

Miss Hilton was the teacher who had most impact on me – she was a wonderful story teller and I learned from her the importance of communication. How you engage others is essential to success, especially in my career in change management where I led many innovations to improve services.  I worked in the NHS for most of my career; my roles were in HR and general management. I was CEO of two different health bodies and then led the National Workforce Modernisation programme. My last role was a public health one, leading the national programme to change school meals after the Jamie Oliver TV expose.  I was awarded an OBE in recognition of my work for children’s wellbeing.

I remain firmly committed to women and men being treated equally.  At University I was told (in 1973) that girls don’t have careers in Industrial Relations(IR). Of course, as a manager in the NHS in the famous Winter of Discontent, my role was largely IR and indeed I later took a Masters at LSE in the subject. I was also often the only female manager in meetings. I learned to keep my head down when they were looking for someone to pour the tea and write the notes. Whilst the world has moved on and I think young women get a more equal start in careers now, I am still shocked at how long it is taking to get equal pay, equal career progression opportunities and equal treatment generally. 

I joined the Women’s Equality Party after hearing one of its founders Catherine Mayer, alumna of MHSG, speak at an alumnae event. A much earlier key life moment came when the school invited the first woman president of the Oxford Union to present at Speech Day, near the end of my school career.  I can to this day remember being energised by her about the full role women could play in society; she was aspirational whilst funny and self deprecating. The courage to invite such an unusual speaker was another mark of MHSG's leading edge.

I was lucky to have two healthy children who, along with my two stepchildren, have brought great joy, and indeed challenge.  I have shared with them what I learned from MHSG and my parents – that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it and work hard.  I’m pleased to say they all have good and enriching careers. My daughters have joined me in public service, one as a paediatrician and the other as a child protection social worker.  They are doing important work to bring about a more equal society, something that I believe those of us who have had luck and privilege on our side should be constantly striving for.