Equality is a business issue

Gender equality in business remains a challenge across the UK and there is much work to be done. However, some progress is being made.

A third of all board positions on the blue-chip FTSE 100 are now held by women – hitting a government-backed target sooner than expected.

By comparison, just 12.5 per cent of boardroom positions were filled by women a decade ago. However, concerns remain over the lack of diversity and the fact that there are not enough women in senior leadership and executive roles.

Women on Boards UK chief executive Fiona Hathorn has described progress outside the FTSE 350 - a longer list of leading firms - and in UK business as a whole, as “glacial”.

And she is calling for the lens to move from the board alone to improving representation at the top levels of company management.

British Chambers of Commerce co-executive director Hannah Essex says: “Companies of all sizes have much to gain by improving the diversity of their workforce at all levels.

“As well as promoting more women to board level, it is important to take active steps to develop a pipeline of talent and remove barriers to progression.

“For women in particular, this includes introducing more flexible ways of working which allow for parental responsibilities to be shared across families, and better balanced with career aspirations.

“This goes hand in hand with government efforts to make childcare more affordable and to promote greater take up of shared parental leave.”

Darshana Patel, Boost Business Lancashire

Entrepreneurship is for everyone. The more diversity we have in Lancashire business, whether that’s gender, race or age, the more we will capitalise on great ideas and that will make Lancashire a better place to live, work and do business.

Having the right support networks and places for business leaders to learn is vital to that. Starting and growing a company can be lonely, so why not share your challenges and fears with others who understand?

In addition to the wealth of support available through Boost including our growth support, mentoring and bespoke programmes, we partner with a whole variety of organisations, including networks where women can learn from each other, give and receive advice if they are looking for this sort of help. These groups help Lancashire to capitalise on the skill and passion of the amazing female leaders we have in the county so a new generation may benefit and be inspired.

The government wants to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030, equivalent to nearly 600,000 additional female entrepreneurs. Lancashire County Council is also supporting females in charge of high-growth companies, with the launch of new fully-funded programmes.

Two Zero, led by the County Council is aimed at businesses looking to sustain 20 per cent year on year growth and is supporting them through quality coaching, advice and peer learning. One of the current programmes, Two Zero: Female, is for women business leaders. We want to celebrate as many female business success stories as possible – including those who have benefited from the support available across Lancashire.

If you would like to partner with Boost to do that, simply give us a call and let’s talk.

Darshana is Boost finance and compliance officer, Lancashire County Council

Amy Lancaster, Porsche Centre, Preston

Success for women in full-time employment can take many forms. For some it’s about achievement and awards; for others, it’s about work-life balance and contributing to a job that still lets you do the school run!

In my case, I’m particularly proud to be a working mum to my 10-year-old son, Charlie. I know that some women find it a huge challenge to juggle full-time employment with bringing up children. The time I spend with Charlie means everything to me.

I’m lucky; I’ve worked for Bowker for almost 15 years and I think working for a family business makes a difference. Bowker has always celebrated family values in the way it looks after its staff and customers.

Those values are the same whether you are male or female. Automotive retail is a traditionally male-dominated industry. But at Bowker, I have respected female colleagues in many key positions throughout the group.

I never feel that our ability to do the job is considered less important than whether we are male or female. So much so that I can’t imagine working in a business where being a man or a woman is even an issue any more.

To those who still face challenges, I say never compromise on what’s important to you. Don’t fit in to keep the peace, because you’ll only resent it. That goes for both family and business. And if, like me, you find a fairminded employer that respects everyone’s opinions alike; then stick with them!

Amy is group marketing manager for Bowker Motor Group’s prestige franchises of Porsche, BMW, BMW Motorrad, MINI, Harley-Davidson and Bowker Ribble Valley

Heather Waters, NatWest

In my role I work with women from all walks of life who are at various life stages. At NatWest we believe it’s vital to celebrate the successes and achievements made by women which is why we are delighted to be working with Lancashire Business View and champion some of the fantastic work that is being done across the county.

Last year’s Alison Rose Review into Female Entrepreneurship highlighted just what needs to be done to support women in enterprise. One of the key issues the report raised was around access to finance and how some female entrepreneurs struggle to obtain finance.

Following from this we partnered with Crowdfunder to launch Back Her Business to help female entrepreneurs raise capital while also providing free mentoring and coaching, and introducing participants into a broad network to tap into. And we also launched the Dream Bigger initiative to encourage young women in secondary schools to consider STEM subjects and entrepreneurship as career options, and help develop future role models.

With many of us leading busy lives trying to balance our personal and professional commitments, we think it’s important to take a step back and acknowledge what is being achieved by women in Lancashire.

Without question, women are doing incredible things both within the business world and within our communities, and those on this list provide a snapshot of what’s happening.

International Women’s Day is a fantastic way for us to slow down and reflect on these accomplishments.

Heather is NatWest’s strategic lead for growth support for women in business

Sarah Page, Plumbs, Preston

Lancashire’s business landscape is brimming with many things, from manufacturing skills to creative excellence, but as this list proves, we are also overwhelmed with an extraordinary number of talented women in business. It is now up to us to nurture, grow and benefit from this wealth of skill and ambition.

As a female leader in a male-dominated industry, I am fully aware of the challenges that are yet to be overcome and can promise to always loan my voice in order to overcome these obstacles.

However, I was always taught that there was no reason to feel inferior to any co-worker, and to treat all people with the same perspective in terms of their workplace potential. This is a vital lesson that I have passed down to my daughters, and many other women who I have worked with over time – all of whom are prospering to great heights!

We are fortunate enough to live in a time where, piece by piece, any stigma towards women in leading corporate positions is being broken down. We all know that we are worthy of a seat at the table, and now everybody else is learning this too!

By highlighting and celebrating this, initiatives such as these encourage both the current and next generation of Lancashire’s business women to embrace their talents and passions, and strive for great things.

Sarah is managing director and third generation leader of the founding family of Plumbs, the UK’s biggest provider of ‘furniture rejuvenation’ services for the home

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