Claire Edmunds of Clarify added: “The conversation on diversity needs to shift from ‘Do we need it?’ to ‘How do we put it in place?’.” As the Woman of the Year winner in 2014, Edmunds was well placed to lead this conversation, and touched on the key issue of using diversity as a competitive advantage.
Does diversity really make a difference?
Following a break for drinks and canapés, a panel of influential businesswomen continued the equality debate, while putting forward their own perspectives on a wide range of topics, from how to develop an inclusive culture through to sharing their own, personal career experiences.
Juliette Stacey of Mabey Group was particularly well placed to comment on what it took for a woman to survive and thrive in a male-dominated environment, given her role as CEO of a large construction group.
By her own admission, Suzanne Taylor of Clarenco was never a natural academic, but craved knowledge and always wanted to be a businesswoman. This led her to work for two high-powered entrepreneurs: John Cauldwell (Phones 4u) and Mike Clare (Dreams), and in the process of doing so, she was able to see at first-hand the drive and determination necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur – qualities as prevalent in women as in men.
Ginny Gibson’s career has always been in academia rather than as an entrepreneur, with over 30 years’ experience in various roles at Reading University, before her appointment as deputy dean of Henley Business School. Nevertheless, Henley is still a multi-million-pound business that requires innovation and vision to maintain its market-leading position. As a mark of its commitment to equality, Henley Business School recently launched a fully-funded MBA scholarship for women in business.
Claire Edmunds is a past award winner (Woman of the Year in 2014) and has returned to Women in Business as a sponsor, having recognised how crucial these awards are from both a personal and a business point of view. As a mother of four, she has witnessed first hand, both the importance and the cost of flexibility in the workplace for women.
The Q&A that followed was both entertaining and revealing.
From left: Claire Edmunds, Juliette Stacey, Suzanne Taylor, Ginny Gibson, Tamsin Napier-Munn
Stacey stated: “Being a female face in a male-dominated industry helps people to see that there is visible change.”
She realised she had to do things differently when she first became CEO a few years ago, citing a quote from the company’s founder which hung in reception: “Always remember that in 25 years’ time we won’t be doing it this way … and if we are, we’ll be approaching extinction”. For her, it is the mix of men and women from different backgrounds that helps to drive creative thinking.
“It’s like white water rafting,” she said. “You need to get ahead of that big wave that’s going to hit you otherwise.”
Stacey also touched on the need to adapt, or “to be ahead of the curve”. This is why she feels an obligation to pass on her knowledge, via coaching and mentoring, and talks to students in education.