Launch Event 2016

Celebrate • Encourage • Inspire

The Women in Business motto above carries echoes of the Olympic Games – Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). However, rather than promoting physical qualities, it focuses on the goals of the Women in Business initiative, writes Matt Noble Wright of The Business Magazine

To celebrate the launch of this year’s Women in Business Awards, almost 100 guests gathered last month at Blake Morgan’s Eastleigh offices for drinks, canapés, presentations and Q&A sessions from previous winners.

The evening began with previous Women in Business category winners discussing what winning meant to them and sharing their views on gender equality in today’s workplace.

Later in the evening, a panel of influential businesswomen continued this 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.

Role models share their journeys

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 13.51.19
Annette D’Abrio and Victoria Peterkin

The first part of the evening featured a panel discussion chaired by Tamsin Napier-Munn of The Business Magazine, and featured two winners from the Women in Business 2015 Awards: Victoria Peterkin of Daisy Nursery, Woman of the Year, SME, and Annette D’Abrio of Ceuta Healthcare, Woman of the Year, Large Business.

D’Abrio said: “I’ve definitely changed over the past 20 years – I’ve become a lot more assertive, and aggressive … but in a nice way.”

The need for women to push themselves forward was a recurring theme throughout the evening, with Peterkin endorsing this sentiment: “I agree with Annette – I’ve always wanted people to like me, but have had to realise over time that not everybody is as passionate as me.”

Winning the award was a huge validation for D’Abrio, who said: “It’s great for morale in the business, but it’s also a great tick in the box for our suppliers – tangible evidence that they were right to trust and work with us in the first place.”

For Peterkin, it helped her to connect with her customers on a more personal level. She said: “A lot of our mums run their own businesses, so it was lovely to talk to them about the award on the steps and demonstrate how a passion can also become a business.”

The issue of gender diversity was also discussed at length. In a nursery business such as Peterkin’s it perhaps wasn’t so surprising that of the 55 employees only two were male – one in finance, one in maintenance. However, at senior level, most of the businesses and suppliers she meets continue to be male-dominated.

According to D’Abrio, the situation is different on the ground floor in retail with a gender split of roughly 50:50, although in her experience, the higher up you go “the more men you encounter in senior roles”.

The issue of parenting was also raised here, in that it takes two people to make a baby, but when it comes to parenting, the burden usually falls far more heavily on the woman.

Sponsors share their reasons for backing Women in Business

When Jagdeep Rai of Barclays started out in banking 20 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for her to hear: “Gosh you don’t look like a banker”. This demonstrates how far gender equality has come, she said, however her recent research report, commissioned by Barclays and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, shows there is still a long way to go.

Kath Shimmin of Blake Morgan commented on the shortage of women in senior roles, saying: “According to the latest edition of the Law Society Gazette, women now account for over 50% of the legal profession. However, this gender split does not extend to female partners.”

Rhys Meale of Taylor Made Computer Solutions said that when the company was formed, the founders planned to have a 50:50 male:female workforce. However, attracting the right women technical and engineering talent is a real challenge. He explained that this is the reason behind the company’s sponsorship of the Women in Business awards, and its involvement in the initiative.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 13.55.08  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 13.57.23  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 13.59.03

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.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 14.02.05 1
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.

But it isn’t just women who need to push themselves forwards more, said Gibson. This applies equally to men, who often lack the confidence to ask for or take their full paternity leave. As more women reach higher positions, behavior and mindsets will begin to change – a point picked up by Stacey who stressed the importance of ensuring it was okay for dads to leave early in her company, and share in the parenting responsibilities.

Edmunds said: “It wasn’t until the Awards, when I came into contact with more women, that I started to step back and think about the real challenges we face.”

This theme of ‘educating the market’ and ‘challenging the culture we operate in’ was common among all the panelists. Indeed, all of them cited an ‘I’ll show you’ moment, when an early setback – anything from a disbelieving a careers adviser to a cynical boss – as being instrumental in pushing them forward on their chosen paths.

Katie James of Blake Morgan cited: “It’s not so much about the glass ceiling these days, as about the sticky floor.”

The need for ‘push’

Many fascinating insights and topics were touched upon during the evening. However, if one word were required to sum up the overall message, it would be ‘push’ – the need for women to be confident enough to put themselves forward and grab, if not create, the opportunities out there in the marketplace.

And likewise, women should be encouraged to ‘push’ themselves forward for awards such as Women in Business, since the kudos and benefits of being shortlisted far exceed any initial unease at the prospect of entering.

The organisers and sponsors look forward to seeing you in September when the winners are announced.