Women in Business Awards event celebrates the south’s high-achievers
The annual event honours the outstanding achievements of the region’s talented and successful women. This year’s eight categories recognised the rising stars, champions of change, entrepreneurs and trailblazers.
Over 220 guests attended a gala evening ceremony in September at Oakley Hall, Basingstoke to celebrate the winners and finalists of this year’s prestigious Women in Business awards. Sponsors of the awards were Barclays, Blake Morgan, KPMG, Windsor Vehicle Leasing and Ten2Two. The Institute of Directors also gave valuable support.
David Murray, publisher of The Business Magazine, said: “Diversity is a buzzword of course, but it’s no good just talking about. The companies here tonight have embraced diversity in all its forms – and are championing the concept of a richly varied workplace where achievements are measured and rewarded equitably.”
New awards introduced this year were Career-Break Returner, to recognise how vital it is to attract women back into business, Spotlight on Women in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and Role Model of the Year.
Over £1,400 was raised during the evening for The Wonder Foundation, a charity that empowers disadvantaged women, girls, and communities through education.
Guest panellists share insights
Three guest speakers took part a panel discussion and audience Q&A before presenting the awards to the winners. Lauren Sayeski is chief public affairs and communications officer at Coca-Cola European Partners, Adam Hale is executive vice president of Sage People, and Annabel Bosher is founder and managing director of The Great Taste Co, and founded Marry Berry & Daughter.
Tackling personal challenges
Laruen Sayeski was asked about the challenges she faced returning to a high-pressure role after taking maternity leave. “Coca-Cola has a really generous maternity policy and the UK has a different cultural norm to what I was used to in the US. I took a year off and really enjoyed it. It was healthy to step away from the business, but I was pleased to return to the action,” she said.
“I learned that I was a resilient person. You need faith in yourself to stay the course when everything else is changing. There also came a lot of vulnerability. I had to return to work and figure out how to be a mother in a working environment. I think you grow as a leader when you open up and show some vulnerability.”
Adam Hale talked about his commitment to encouraging women to work in the technology sector. “We have 193 employees and 84 are women – that’s 44% of our workforce, compared with a technology industry average of about 20%. We are delighted with that. ”
Annabel Bosher talked about the challenges of setting up her businesses. “My first was selling scented candles at county fairs, then I worked with my mother to realise the potential of her secret recipe salad dressing. Mary Berry wasn’t such a well-known face when we began. It wasn’t easy for me and I worked really hard, like anyone else starting up a business.”
Asked what values women bring to his company, Hale replied: “If we didn’t have a team that really got on well then the business wouldn’t have been sustainable. We try to build a strong team culture and this is helped by having diversity in all its forms.”
He thought the lack of women going into computer programming was disastrous. “It’s a crisis and wasted opportunity. Having women in our engineering, coding and testing areas has made our products much better, and women in our workforce has made us a massively better business.”
Sayeski was asked about the challenges women face in the recruitment process. “Sometimes you can show up at an interview panel where they are all men, the questions they ask seem male-oriented, and even the job description isn’t very gender neutral. It can put people off. So there are plenty of tweaks companies can make to their recruitment processes.”
To broad agreement from the audience, Sayeski asked: “Women need to have confidence. Have you ever felt the frustration of someone else in a meeting repeating back what you just said?”
Bosher agreed: “Women often have to speak up more to be taken seriously. I was 19 when I started and it was hard. There were more barriers. I used to fear attending board meetings when I was younger. Age and experience can really help you. And we all know that you often have to learn the hard way. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and your product, and just go for it.”
Sayeski said: “The last thing you ever want to be is your own barrier – just do it.”
Turning intent into action on diversity
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in terms of recognition and awareness. It’s not just about women; it’s also about colour and sexual orientation. Inclusivity is hugely important, but I think many companies still have to figure out how to turn their intent into action,” said Sayeski.
“True change takes a long, sustained effort. You have to understand the data about diversity, what talent pool you want to recruit from, and the type of customers you serve. Then you need to make a business case for diversity.”
During a lively Q&A with the audience, the panel tackled questions on what advice they would give to a father of teenaged daughters, whether they believed in quotas for the number of women on company boards, and if they thought encouraging girls to become interested in STEM subjects should begin at home.
And the winners are…
Finalists: Joy Foster, TechPixies; Lisa Gallacher, Porterhouse Medical; Natalie Reeves, SouthCoastPR; Sarah Eades, A-One Insurance Group; Sharon Pursey, SafeToNet; Stella James, Gooseberry Planet.
Winner: Sharon Pursey, owner and director, SafeToNet
What the judges said: Inspirational in her drive and determination to be at the forefront of using technology to keep technology safe. She addresses tomorrow’s problems with today’s technology, making social media a much safer space for our children.
“I feel so passionate about what I do. Sometimes, I forget I’m a woman – I’m just doing my job and want to make this business a success. I’m really so thrilled to win this award. It will really help inspire me to keep going on. We’ve got huge ambitions for our business, we want to safeguard children on social media. There’s nobody doing that, nothing to filter out harmful contents. We are using natural language processing and artificial intelligence to block this content before our children can see it. I feel so passionate about that. We are driven to succeed.”
Finalists: Boyes Turner, Get Ahead VA, HAP Architects, In Cloud Solutions, Porterhouse Medical, Reality HR.
Winner: In Cloud Solutions
What the judges said: Not just creating work life balance solutions for their female employees, this company ensures that women and men are treated as fully equal. Gender, race and age bias have been completely eliminated from their organisation and although they have worked hard to positively create jobs which attract women of all ages based on experience and skill, they also recognise and support their male colleagues wanting to play an equal and active part of sharing the parenting role in the home. Taking time to spot and value the skills of those returning to work after long career breaks has also been a key part of their success. It is this approach and their no nonsense attitude to gender bias of any kind which really stood out for us.
“What’s the key to supporting our team and managing the challenges we face? It’s not rocket science. It’s about people. If you have the right people doing the right roles they will support your business and your clients. That, for me, is what makes you successful, whether your people are women or men – it doesn’t matter. They have to be passionate about what you want to deliver as a company to your customers.”
Caroline Atkinson , In Cloud Solutions
Champion of Change
Finalists: Alessandra Sherman, United Konsultants; Ali Powell, Fitness First; Charlotte Smith, GCS; Sarah Chapman, 3M.
Winner: Sarah Chapman, technical manager, 3M
What the judges said: Our winner has been really focused on making change right now in the workplace as well as ensuring there will be change in the future. Working across all levels in her industry, she supports women at leadership level, collaborates with other businesses to support diversity, and showcases technology to the next generation of girls leaving school, among many projects she takes on to promote ongoing change.
“I think a lot of what I have achieved at 3M is through other people. It’s not just me, but a lot of colleagues. It’s about collaboration.”
Woman Business Owners of the Year
Finalists: Georgina Hurcombe, LoveLove Films; Helen Todd, Stubbings Property Marketing; Jo Lyon, Talking Talent; Liz Matraves and Caroline Atkinson, In Cloud Solutions; Nicola Hartland, Xcel Sales.
Winner: Georgina Hurcombe, founder and managing director, LoveLove Films
What the judges said: Our winner stood out for demonstrating that significant results can be achieved by building a business environment around your ethos. Starting at 25, she was belittled by the behemoths of the media industry, but in just seven years, has created an internationally-acclaimed independent animation and video production company. Her determination has helped enable and promote creative industries in the south to attract and retain top talent, in addition to encouraging local young people to consider a career in digital by taking over 30 highly inclusive student placements in the studio each year. Her energy and vision for her staff has been central to the success of her business.
“Even today I go on shoots with a female camerawoman and sound artist and I still get looks that say ‘hold on, there’s three women, where’s the cameraman?’. That spurs me on. We can do it, we’re just as strong as men. We’re showing that women can do everything that men can do.”
Board Level and Senior Executive of the Year
Finalists: Ali Powell, Fitness First; Catherine Maxfield, Eric Robinson Solicitors; Helen O’Kane, BDO; Sara Bertin, Shorefield Holidays; Sarah Eades, A One Insurance Group.
Winner: Sara Bertin, finance director, Shorefield Holidays
What the judges said: Working with the board to overcome fear and reluctance to change, to be brave, and try new things, our winner has seen the company’s profitability treble within a three-year period, creating a new senior and middle management team with a great balance between men and women. She promotes a strong ethos of support within the workplace, encouraging young women and men by giving them as much opportunity as possible and encouraging them to acquire the skills and training that will help them to make the most of their potential. She is also a supporter of the Young Women’s Trust. She considered carefully many years ago as a working mum that the business must provide a flexible working environment for working families and this has been instrumental in ensuring their talent has been retained. This has particularly helped women to grow within the business and ensured impressive gender balance across junior and senior roles, and at board level. She acts as a mentor and helped found the Shorefield Academy, which provides training for those showing potential to nurture the next generation of management.
“You’ve got to work really hard to inspire your team, put in the commitment and passion and always be truthful. I have an amazing team that I work with. We’ve just done tremendous things in the last three years. Winning this award is an amazing experience.”
Career-Break Returner of the Year
Finalists: Alice Thurlow, Osprey Consulting Services; Fi Warren-Smith, FWS Properties; Gillian Hancey, Porterhouse Medical.
Winner: Fi Warren-Smith, owner, FWS Properties
What the judges said: Our winner has spent over 11 years out of the business environment to support her three children. She decided she needed to pursue something to fulfil her potential and create some independence. With a background as a marketing director for a law firm she embarked on a journey to understand a completely new industry – that of commercial property development. She threw herself into learning everything she could about the market in what is quite a male-dominated industry. With her skills, foresight and understanding of opportunities combined with her ability to lead and project manage effectively, she has successfully developed a £2.5 million business over the last year. She has been nominated for two industry awards. Her property investment company has become one of the top five performers in the property market, and she is a non-executive director for a property start-up company. She has a team of mums who work part-time alongside a male project manager, and she mentors both men and women in the industry. Our winner has demonstrated her courage and resilience to overcome many challenges along with the way and she has invested heavily in herself to achieve all of this.
“When you go back to work, so much of it is about believing in yourself. Women who have been out of the workplace for a while can lose confidence and cease to recognise the skills that they have. Believe in how awesome you are. Being a mum you sometimes forget that you are still great.”
Spotlight on Women in STEM
Finalists: Louize Clarke, ConnectTVT; Renee Watson, The Curiosity Box and WATS.ON; Riham Satti, MeVitae; Ruth Mastenbroek; Sandra Sassow, SEaB Energy.
Winner: Sandra Sassow, chief executive officer and co-founder, SEaB Energy
What the judges said: Since setting up her business eight years ago, our winner has achieved significant success in the green tech sector. Her company uses patented technology to convert food waste into energy and both her and her company have received multiple awards, including Renewable Energy Project of the Year (2017), Future City Technology of the Year (2016) and the UK Science Park Association award for Design and Sustainability (2014). She is a local and a global ambassador for STEM – her technology was selected as a global game-changer by the NASA backed ‘LAUNCH: Beyond Waste’ initiative and she was one of only a handful of entrepreneurs invited to participate in a UN accelerator programme around sustainability and climate change. In addition to all her global activities, she has also been actively involved in her local community, providing talks to schools and young people, mentoring and helping to stimulate local business growth and innovation in the green tech sector.
“Women getting into technology is very challenging in certain spheres. I remember when I asked whether any concessions were made to women in technology in China or Korea the answer I got was ‘Why? Women are equal to men here’. It would be very nice for the rest of the world to feel the same way. We are equal in all ways, we should not be differentiated. We shouldn’t actually need to have a ‘women in technology’ thing.”
Role Model of the Year
Finalists: Alexandra Finlayson, Vail Williams; Ali Powell, Fitness First; Catherine Turness, Winchester BID; Julianne Ponan, Creative Nature; Julie Sadler, O2 Telefonica; Leona Shepherd, 3M; Sarah Burns, Smart Works Reading.
Winner: Julie Sadler, head of IT portfolio management, engagement & delivery, O2 Telefonica
What the judges said: Our winner frequently has the chance to inspire more than just the 600 people she is responsible for. Spearheading her company’s participation in the industry peer-led ‘Step into STEM’ programme that provides mentors and work experience for girls in Year 12 who study STEM subjects in London, she has played a significant role in growing the impact of this scheme by increasing opportunities for young women to gain practical insight into the technology industry as an inclusive and positive environment for women. Her involvement has now seen the scheme replicated by her team in Leeds. Internally, she is accountable for managing the over £100 million CAPEX roadmap and driving significant and continuous improvements across the business, but still finds time to shape a diverse and flexible work culture that benefits all. Employee testimonies attest to her great leadership, which inspires others to push their own potential and make a difference.
“I have an amazing support network in the workplace. For me, it’s about continuing to inspire others. To believe more, dream more, learn more, and be more. I am really passionate about enabling people to be the best they can. I’ll go back to the workplace with this award and keep pushing the STEM agenda.”