In a new series to celebrate 100 years since women won the right to vote, the Gazette is speaking to high profile women in North Devon to find out more about the challenges and triumphs of being a woman in 2018...

As the chief executive officer of Devon Air Ambulance Trust, Heléna Holt has always wanted to make a difference in the world.

She worked in the hospitality and social sectors, before getting her first ‘real’ job running a mental health work experience charity in North London. She has been CEO of Devon Air Ambulance Trust since October 2007.

But Heléna says the gender pay gap and opportunities for women in the charity sector still need to be tackled.

What challenges have you faced both professionally and personally?

Personally, the greatest challenge is always balancing the needs of my family with my work commitments and making sure both thrive. I am lucky that Devon Air Ambulance is a very family-friendly employer.

Do you think there are still challenges due to gender?

Yes, I’m quite certain of it. Even in the charity sector, there is still a significant gender pay gap, although the latest evidence from the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations pay survey shows that this is narrowing.

In the charity sector there is some evidence that the gap is gradually reducing but even here there is a long way to go.

Are there as many opportunities for women as men, and has this changed since you first entered into your profession?

I don’t think there are but I do think things have improved a little since I started out nearly 30 years ago.

What is encouraging is that there is more and more pressure on employers of all sorts to address the many ways in which women are treated differently to men; from the huge pay differentials between the BBC’s top reporters or sports stars, to the fact that women still make up less than a quarter of UK boards of directors and are still massively over-represented in under-valued roles like caring.

What advice would you give your younger self in terms of career, life, etc?

Pretend you know what you are doing until you do and you will surprise yourself.

Do you use your right to vote, and why/why not?

I registered for postal voting to make sure I would never miss my opportunity to vote. I do see it as not just a right but a duty and never more so than this year, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 2018.

What’s the best thing about being a woman in 2018?

It feels as though there is a real opportunity for men and women to really embrace the current movements challenging abuse, harassment and discrimination and to create a better society for our daughters and our sons, and that is exciting.

Recent developments such as the #MeToo and #NotOkay movement have prompted more openness between women and a realisation of just how extensive a problem abuse of power is.

This in turn has given people strength to stand up to bullying and harassment in all its forms.

I am hopeful this will lead to positive change and more and more men and women calling out such behaviour.

It isn’t about a battle of the sexes as this affects all of us who believe in common decency and treating others with respect.

Have you ever faced discrimination/harassment in the workplace/outside of work because of your gender?

I have been lucky that the only incident I’ve faced at work was being patronised by the boss of the children’s home I worked in.

When I asked for some formal training he patted me on the head and said ‘you don’t need to worry about that’. I don’t believe the male employees were given better opportunities but I am quite sure they wouldn’t have been belittled in that way.

More in the series...

Alison Lander, North Devon’s chief inspector

Jenny Wallace, head of paid services at Torridge District Council