The future's female: The race to be crowned Britain's most inspirational young women

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Hurrah, a story about women who are young, clever, fully clothed, and not victims of crime. Sarah Morrison profiles seven rising stars

They seem an unlikely bunch. But a popular DJ, a musical theatre actress, a trainee nurse, a digital coder, an anti-knife campaigner, a specialist in food waste and an engineer are all in the running to be crowned Britain's most inspirational young women.

All aged 35 or under, they are among those shortlisted for this year's Women of the Future Awards – the largest national search for exceptionally talented women. The hunt unearths the next generation of high-flying women across nine industries, including technology, media, business, arts and science.

The awards' patron, Cherie Blair, said they were "vital" in the quest for equality. "We simply won't get there unless we celebrate the achievements of women here and now," she said. "Celebrating these women will encourage others to follow in their footsteps, to pursue their dreams, and help inspire female leaders of the future."

The awards ceremony takes place on 13 November in London. Here, we speak to seven contenders.

Technology and Digital

Kathryn Parsons is determined to teach people how to code. The 32-year-old founded Decoded – a company which teaches people how to write computer programs in a day – two years ago. The business has just opened a New York branch, and to date, almost 4,000 Londoners have attended courses costing around £750. Parsons says she is "evangelistic" about getting more women involved.

"I wanted to learn coding; I had always worked in digital, but I wasn't a coder. It seems quite scary, indecipherable, like it would take a genius to get to grips with it, yet it underpins absolutely everything we do with our lives. Everyone and anyone can learn these skills and they should. Every day I get more passionate about women and technology. To be an incredible programmer, you need to have great attention to detail, great patience, be collaborative, creative and good at problem-solving. These are not not-female skills."

Community Spirit

Molly Case is a rare type of trainee nurse. When she is not studying at the University of Greenwich, she is writing and performing as a spoken word artist. Her poem "Nursing the Nation" – which celebrates the work of Britain's nurses – went viral after it was performed at the Royal College of Nursing congress this year. The video has now been viewed more than 300,000 times. Case, 25, who also has a degree in English and creative writing, hopes to have a novel published.

"The poem was a response to the unrelenting bad press that all nursing healthcare workers were getting at the time [due to the Mid Staffordshire scandal]. There was no balance and I felt fiercely protective of myself and my colleagues.

"The poem is a celebration of all the little things that go unnoticed and the wonderful things we do as nurses. It's not about covering up the bad things that happen – it's about presenting a united voice."

Media

Neev Spencer, or DJ Neev as she is better known, is the most listened-to British Asian on mainstream radio. The 28-year-old has been hosting her own daily show on Kiss FM for almost eight years. Her goal is to be a television presenter.

"To be successful in radio in this country, you have got to be really strong. For a strong female, there is a fine line between appealing to a male audience and also keeping girls on your side. There aren't too many of us female presenters, so I knew I had that up against me. [But] I told my boss I wanted my own show. I don't want to be a co-host or a sidekick.

"If you are lucky enough to realise your dreams and put a tick against it, I think the goalposts should move. For me, I want to challenge myself. My heart is really set on TV."

Arts and Culture

Charlotte Wakefield won rave reviews for her Maria in The Sound of Music at Regent's Park open air theatre this summer. It cemented her status, at 22, as one of our most promising young musical theatre artists. Previous roles include Sophie in Mamma Mia!

"I love live theatre and my passion is singing and performing, so to be able to do it for a living is a dream. There are lots of amazing characters in musical theatre, but they are not necessarily given to younger actors. I learn something new every day. I didn't go to drama school, so I learn everything I know from other actors, directors and producers."

Science

Lara Small from Jersey is a team leader in manufacturing engineering at Rolls-Royce, serves with the Royal Engineers in Nottingham and is a council member of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Aged 28, she also promotes careers in engineering to young people.

"I want to make sure the next generation knows engineering is a good career. This industry has a huge skill shortage. The job is so rewarding. You get up every day to make a difference; you change something, develop a product, and change what society can do. It's important to be visible in my job. There is more to life for girls than stereotypical roles."

The Young Star

Eliza Rebeiro set up the charity Lives Not Knives when she was 14 years old. She had been excluded from mainstream school, and became used to hearing about friends being stabbed in her home town of Croydon, south London. She began making T-shirts that spread the anti-knife message. Now, six years later, her organisation works with 10,000 young people a year in schools, educating them about the dangers of getting involved with gangs.

"There were a lot of people being stabbed, in Croydon especially. I thought it was normal to receive a phone call saying my friend was in intensive care, until my mum sat me down and said it wasn't. I made a T-shirt saying 'Lives Not Knives' and saw that lots of young people agreed with the message."

Business

Kate Cawley joined her family business, F&R Cawley, seven years ago, and helped them convert food waste into renewable energy, through anaerobic digestion. Cawley, 32, has since set up an environmental consultancy, WasteSolve, advising clients including Waitrose, Westfield and Red Bull on waste and water management.

"[When we started] most food waste from the commercial sector was going to landfills. I was brought in to set up and promote the food waste recycling business. I want to help our clients have impeccable green credentials, but I also want to make it fun. People think about being green, and they think about recycling, reducing energy, or turning lights off. But we are showing it can enhance a brand. People want to buy from companies that are responsible."

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