Women’s Day


Celebrating the Women of Le Manoir

At Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, we’re dedicated to empowering and bringing together extraordinary women. Learn about the pioneering women working at our Oxfordshire hotel as they share their expertise, stories of success and challenges faced along the way.

Our Pioneering Gardeners

After spending two decades working as Senior Cabin Crew for Virgin Airlines, August Bernstein decided to follow her dreams. A passionate gardener, seed grower and homegrown food aficionado, August wanted to embrace an altogether different, more sustainable lifestyle, which led her to pursue her passions professionally. “I honestly believe when you find your passion in life, and if you are brave enough, you can achieve anything with determination, drive and hope,” August reveals.

She joined Le Manoir as a Kitchen Gardener in 2019, before becoming a tutor at The Raymond Blanc Gardening School in 2021. Since May 2022 she has led the school as its Head Tutor; with her infectious enthusiasm she makes learning easy, whether you’re delving into the properties of soil or growing botanicals for home-infused cocktails.

“Gardening makes me feel whole,” August says. “It is a learning adventure every day, meeting inspiring characters and beautiful friends at every turn. I feel thankful to have found this love and I look forward to meeting many more people in the gardening community this year.” Last year she began studying for a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies, further proof of her commitment to all things green-fingered.

August is also a business owner. She created Seed Explorers, which encourages families and children to embrace the magic of growing your own food, reflecting the garden-to-plate ethos of Le Manoir. In each Seed Explorers box, you’ll find colourful seeds, activities, growing advice, a collectible pin and magnifying glass. “I want my children to go through life with the basic skills and knowledge of how our food makes that transition from seed to something spectacular on our plates,” she says. “In turn this connects my girls with nature and teaches the importance of the circle of life.”

But August isn’t the only inspiring woman working in the gardens of Le Manoir. Anne Marie Owen has worked as our hotel’s Head Gardener for 39 years, having first joined the team in 1985 as a student gardener for six weeks during the summer holidays from her studies at a horticultural college. She never left, and at the age of just 24 she became Head Gardener of these beautiful grounds.

Working closely with Raymond Blanc, Anne Marie carefully and expertly developed the hotel’s beautiful and varied gardens, along with the heritage orchard. From the mushroom valley to the serene English water garden, a stroll through our verdant grounds is sure to be one of many highlights to your stay. Anne Marie’s creativity is the progenitor of these magnificent creations, helping Le Manoir blossom into the beauty it is today.

Have you ever admired the beautifully fragrant and eye-catching floral arrangements dotted in and around our heritage hotel? These are the work of our Head Florist, Suzanne Bladon, and the rest of her talented team. They bring the hotel’s ethos of beautiful seasonality to life with each creation — whether a fireplace arrangement, a stunning wreath or a bridal bouquet.

An avid lover of seasonal styling, Suzanne also leads a series of fascinating floral workshops and demonstrations throughout the year at Le Manoir, lending her years-honed expertise to budding florists. Interactive and educational, Suzanne’s love for floristry is infectious.

The History of International Women’s Day

On a cold February day in New York City in 1909, thousands of women congregated together outside of a Brooklyn church as writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman readied herself to address the crowd. Mostly made up of garment workers who were emboldened to protest against unfair pay equity, long hours and their lack of ability to vote, the disgruntled throng consisted of both suffragists and socialists, all dedicated to achieving a fairer working environment in conditions that supported their talents and respected their rights. Taking the stand, Gilman espoused that while “it is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood, home should mean the whole country, and not be confined to three or four rooms.”

Inspired by these stateside happenings, the following year, the German delegation of 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen suggested that annual Women’s Day protests-cum-celebrations be held across Europe, with the first such day taking place the following year in 1911. In the following few decades, IWD was predominantly a left-wing movement. But as the years passed, International Women’s Day transitioned from being a socialist cause to one that was embraced by all political leanings, mostly due to the global feminist movement of the late 1960s. IWD became the mainstream global holiday we see today when the United Nations adopted it in 1977.

While it's important to look back at where it all began, this historic day in 1909 focused on a small subset of women, while celebrations today focus on intersectional feminism: not looking at women as a monolithic bloc, but taking into account a myriad of factors that affect different women including race, gender identity, disability, religion and class. In recent years, organisers of IWD, including the United Nations, have highlighted a specific theme; for example, 2013 focused on ending violence against women, while 2022 celebrated the women working in sustainability and fighting climate change.

International Women’s Day 2023

The movement has gone from strength to strength and this year's theme, #EmbraceEquity, calls out discrimination and commits to a more gender-equal world. Whereas ‘equality’ means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities, ‘equity’ recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

#EmbraceEquity invites us to challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias and seek out inclusion through collective activism — from grassroots efforts to wide-scale momentum. “Forging gender equity isn't limited to women solely fighting the good fight,” states the organisation’s website. “Allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women.”

At Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, we hold an annual celebration of International Women’s Day within our bucolic grounds with inspiring speakers and panels. Our 2023 event was no different, with a stimulating discussion shared between both attendees and an inspiring group of speakers. £30 from each ticket sold for the event was donated to Smart Works, a sum which was then matched further by Le Manoir. The UK charity’s mission is to give women the confidence they need to reach their full professional potential, providing self-belief training and practical tools for interviews, employment and entering the workplace.

We were joined by Kate Hardcastle MBE, a leading business expert on consumer insights, who regularly shares her knowledgeable commentary on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, and Forbes magazine. Kate Stephens, CEO of charity Smart Works, also joined our panel. Rethinking clothing as a powerful tool, Stephens helps unemployed women to dress for success and provides sartorial advice, treating each individual with empathy and helping people boost their self confidence through her remarkable foundation.

Joining them was Cherish Finden, a multi-award winning pastry chef who may have seen judging on Channel 4’s Bake Off: The Professionals and as a mentor on Celebrity Masterchef. With each and every one of her delicious and innovative creations, Cherish strives to push the boundaries, and notes that elements of her upbringing in Singapore are always evident in her work.

Our final guest and moderator was Monica Chadha, an inspiring business leader and coach, who advises several companies across the UK. In 2022, she was appointed to the Board of the British Film Institute by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and has been named one of the top 50 Women to Watch in the UK in the Female FTSE Board Report.

The discussion focused on a variety of topics including the role of women in sporting industries, the power that comes with admitting vulnerability, the role of clothing as a tool of professional empowerment, male allyship, and the essentiality of media literacy in a digital world. “The most meaningful thing a woman can do is advance her sense of possibilities,” Monica stated in her introduction, and the energy in the room felt like a palpable practice of this mantra. Across an hour as the snow flurried past Le Manoir’s picturesque conservatory, the panel discussed how International Women’s Day can function as a day grounded in truth and not hype, especially in a world where it has become codified as a regular event in the business calendar.

Kate Hardcastle spoke passionately about the salience of having “signposts and role models in male-dominated industries,” citing The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick as an influential mentor. Meanwhile, Kate Stephens discussed how her charity celebrates the importance of female-led community support and empathy as a means to professional empowerment. All women on the panel expressed how precious human emotion is and spoke about its role in the workplace, especially when it comes to making connections, improving on confidence, and receiving praise, feedback and constructive criticism.

For Cherish, the key to her success was integrity, passion and innovation. “You have to follow your heart and your instincts,” she said. “I will never settle for average — I always want to turn the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. I think outside the box, and sometimes I throw the box away.” Despite being unapologetically strict and precise in her kitchens in her admirable pursuit of impeccable standards, above all, “you need to be very genuine,” Cherish explained.

In terms of overcoming negative critique and not allowing it to knock self-confidence, Monica stated the importance of “never taking criticism from someone you wouldn’t go to for advice,” and being at peace with the idea that “perfection is never a destination that you will arrive at.” When it comes to advocating for improvements to diversity in the workplace, Kate Hardcastle spoke about the importance of humbling yourself: asking questions, staying informed, being patient and having the passion and integrity to follow through with your words and channel them into tangible actions.

Despite coming from different backgrounds and disciplines, what was evident across the discussion was the inestimable, meaningful power of events of these kinds, upon which discussions are based on respect, care and the pursuit of professional excellence. As International Women Day continues to expand to become more layered, specialised and inclusive, it reflects how the role of women in business is an ever-evolving topic worth studying and celebrating.

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