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Royal Artillery’s first female colonel tells University about her trailblazing career in combat

THE first ever female colonel for the Royal Artillery joined the University of Chichester’s Women’s Network in February to talk about serving on the front lines.

Colonel Sam Shepherd MBE, a veteran of more than 20 years of military service, gave a deeply personal presentation on what she expected of the Army versus what she got alongside the highs and lows, with a focus on leadership in a male-dominated environment.

Though something of a trailblazer within the Armed Forces, Col Shepherd saw her success as “business as usual” as well as being able to provide a role model that her generation was missing.

Commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1997, her long career has seen he serve across the UK and Germany, while being deployed on operations in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Macedonia and Afghanistan. She said that her success is down to being a people-person, as is the Army itself, and emphasised ability over gender but noted the value and importance of peer support.

Col Shepherd also mentioned that the Army preferences talent over gender, and there are more women in the Army now as compared to when she first joined, with more roles available to women, adding that it is very much an equal opportunities employer, although there is always more that can be done.

She was not only at the front of something of an organisational revolution but very much involved in leading change for the Army. In relation to gender equality, she saw herself as no different to her male colleagues, so there was no reason for others see her as different.

Col Shepherd was speaking virtually to the University of Chichester’s Women’s Network, which offers peer support to both academic staff and professional services staff, regardless of grade or role. Also an avid sportswoman, she is a passionate rugby player – a blind side flanker – and has represented the Royal Regiment, the Army and the Combined Services.

Katie Akerman, the University's Director of Quality Standards who Coordinates its Women's Network, said: "Sam’s presentation was, in turn, humbling and inspiring, funny and sad. The Women’s Network was very grateful to Sam for her presentation and will next be meeting for a coffee catch-up to think about their next speaker to be invited.”

For more about the University’s Women’s Network contact Katie Akerman at k.akerman@chi.ac.uk.