Shattering the glass ceiling

As part of our drive to support International Women’s Day with Boost Business Lancashire we brought a panel of Lancashire business women to the Porsche Centre Preston to ask if the county is doing enough to support and promote female leaders.

Is Lancashire doing enough to support female business leaders and could we do more?

DP: There’s definitely more we could do. Over the last four years, 53 per cent of people coming to Boost Business Lancashire at the pre-start stage were women. But when you look at businesses established for a year or more, it’s 30 per cent women.

There are women that want to start businesses. They’ve got ideas. The work we need to do is around why they are falling off. We have a high-growth business programme open to everyone, there’s potentially a need for female-dedicated support.


  • Julie Brotherton Julie Brotherton Associates
  • Gill Hall Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses
  • Coral Horn Pink Link
  • Sherry Kothari Health Innovation Campus
  • Suzy Orr Unique Ladies
  • Jane Parry- PM+M
  • Darshana Patel Boost Business Lancashire
  • Liz Tapner Social Enterprise Lancashire
  • Claire Thwaite Cube HR
  • Laura Tramontano Northern Power Women
  • Richard Slater – Lancashire Business View (chair)

JP: In our business, we feel some of this is yesterday’s conversation. Four of our 11 partners are female, most senior managers coming through are female and when we’re recruiting, we need to make sure we’re picking enough young men, because the best candidates are female.

Traditional manufacturing businesses tend to be male-owned and led, but we are seeing more women coming through. It depends on the sector and if it is one that women are attracted to. If it’s engineering it tends to be less so, but in terms of service businesses it is very different.

SK: I’ve been involved in four life science start-ups. All were in the technology space and it used to be a male-dominated environment. I guess it’s not anymore. Most small businesses fail within their first two or three years. One of the things we found, particularly with female entrepreneurs at the helm of a start-up, was it was absolutely critical that support was ongoing.

SO: Lancashire is possibly doing enough to support women in business, but the problem may be that it is not being communicated.

CH: When it comes to what’s stopping women growing their businesses, several things came out of last year’s Alison Rose review. The biggest challenge was childcare, it’s just not worth their while financially. In a lot of cases it was not having a support mechanism. Sometimes what is needed is just having somebody to talk to about ideas and frustrations because, as a female business owner, you have so many hats and it can be overwhelming.

JB: Coral is right when she talks about the pressures on women, in the first few years particularly. Childcare is definitely one, but also access to additional finance. How easy are women finding it to get financial support? I can’t quote any statistics but I’m getting the sense it’s harder for women to get the loan or overdraft from the bank.

JP: It depends on the stage of your business. I don’t see a difference in terms of access to bank funding. Most venture capitalists are male and most venture capital funds are run by men, and there may well be some level of unconscious bias in there in terms of people fitting in.

LTr: I’ve read it tends to more difficult for women to get finance because there are not as many female financiers. Maybe if we had more women in that sector that would automatically help women get more funding.

CH: When we talk about why women aren’t sourcing finance, a lot fear failure and are more cautious with finance. Men tend to be less risk averse, so they will go for it.

LT: The businesses and the people that we work with aren’t driven by profit, they’re driven by their social aims. The strapline that we use is, ‘In business we’re good’ and we find that is a really female-dominated environment. This year we’ve run two leaders’ seminars and we’ve seen 80 per cent women.

CH: Women don’t necessarily go into business because they want to be millionaires. The financial side is not always the driving force.

Sometimes it’s just about creating something that’s better. I came from a corporate environment, which was quite toxic. I didn’t feel I was doing any good and wanted to do something better. I’m not a millionaire but I’m happier.

CT: It’s not about supporting women, it’s about supporting everybody. We look for equality in everything that we do and we tell clients, ‘choose the best person for the job, support everybody.’

I would like women to have the confidence not to be given the limelight, but to just take it

You’ve only got to look at male suicide rates to know there are a lot of men out there struggling. How many blokes ask for help if they need it? How many will actually speak up? We will. As women, we’ll stand there and go, Do you know what? I’m having a really bad day today. I’m in a WhatsApp group of businesswomen and we use that as kind of vent. How many men can say the same? We’re actually better at asking for support than they are.

SK: There is a confidence issue with a lot of women. Particularly for women who might have taken a career break to have children, it can be a daunting prospect to go back into the big, wild world of work. A support mechanism can help, because sometimes all that’s needed is that little boost.

JB: I worked in a very male-dominated business and if you asked for help it was a weakness.

I was the chair of women in leadership’. We invited men to join us as ‘man-bassadors’. These were men who could be a mentor and give support.

We have to acknowledge that the business world is very male-dominated and sometimes we need to get men on our side to help us. It’s not a weakness, it’s just the real world.

JP: As an employer we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that we’re having the right conversations in our businesses. I can think of at least one really great woman manager who absolutely should be putting herself forward for promotion, but we need to convince her she can do the job.

CH: You can’t put a value on confidence, women having more confidence about themselves, that they’re doing the right thing, that people are going to take them seriously.

LTr: We need to build people’s confidence in school. That’s surely going to make a difference when they get to the point where they want to start their own business or be directors. If as a child you feel empowered and believe in yourself, then you’re more likely to when you grow up.

DP: We still have girl jobs and boy jobs, and it shouldn’t really be about that. The world of work should be open to everybody.

If you’re in a group of women and you’re the only one who’s a business owner, you’re not going to start talking about your business, because the other people around the table aren’t going to be able to relate to that. It’s about creating those spaces for women to be able to talk about businesses, but also for it to become normal.

GH: I’m in the food industry and I would say the split is more 50/50. I can’t see any difference between men and women, but I can see a difference between what we call ‘colours’.

We do personality mapping with colours, so if you’re a ‘blue’ or a ‘red ‘colour, or a ‘yellow’ or ‘green’ predominantly, you’ll have a preference to work in a certain way and what we look for is a balanced team.

It doesn’t matter if it’s half men and half women, but it does matter if it’s got some blue, yellow, green and red in it, because then you’ll get the best outcome.

We invest an awful lot in personal development because don’t want to imbalance a team in terms of styles. I don’t want them all to be drivers or all to be a ‘detail person’.

JP: The more balance and diversity you get in that team, the better your business will be and the better the decisions you will make.

SO: You don’t get a lot of women going to the pub with their colleagues, because they’ve got to go home to their kids. Even though we’ve come a long way, in terms of female empowerment and equal rights for women in work, at home we haven’t. My husband is very supportive, but I’m the one that does the shopping and ironing and sorts all that stuff.

What type of leadership do we need to see in terms of creating real change?

GH: Leadership is about being the change that you want to see, so you have to make it visible that it’s okay to invest in, for example, wellbeing. If I’m not going to show that I’ve got a coach or a counsellor, then it’s not highlighting that it’s okay for other people to take time out of their day, to do whatever it is that invests in their personal wellbeing.

SK: It’s creating an environment where people feel they can come forward to talk if they’re having any issues.

It’s about women who get to a menopausal age knowing they can talk about how they’re feeling and be able to say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t have a good night. I’m having an off day, I’m going to work from home today,’ without any fear of recriminations.

That’s a leadership thing, a cultural change and employers have that responsibility. The world is changing, but not fast enough for me.

LT: We need think about ensuring that we’ve got those key support mechanisms in place for the trials and tribulations of a female’s life.

SO: The menopause happened for me when I was 48-ish. I honestly thought I was going mad, that I was getting Alzheimer’s. If I had to go in a room and talk effectively about data, I’d just have blanks. I sat at my dressing table one morning because I had to drive to Sheffield, I went every week stayed overnight, and I cried because I had to go. I didn’t know what it was. As women, as society, we just don’t talk about it. There’s not enough knowledge about it.

LTr: It goes back to education and are men aware of what’s actually going on in the female body and mind? Why isn’t that taught because surely, again, if they’re more aware, everyone is going to work better together?

CH: We probably don’t talk about it as much, because it’s seen as being a weakness, it’s just something we have to put up with. It’s that question of ‘why do you not break through the glass ceiling?’ Because the hormones kick in for a lot of us.

SK: We need to get the message out loud and clear that this isn’t just a women’s problem. It’s a shared problem and it impacts socially, economically, environmentally every day. We need to get people at a young age, with education and awareness. It’s so important.

Women don’t necessarily go into business because they want to be millionaires. The financial side is not always the driving force

SO: It shouldn’t be a problem. It’s something that we should be educated about and it should be accepted, and it should be worked into the workplace.

Do female role models inspire more women to start their own business and pursue promotions?

CT: Absolutely. I’m more inspired by the women I know rather than the celebrities. I couldn’t name one of the top FTSE 100 women.

JP: I get inspired by the people I know who are great, male and female. Showing people that there’s an alternative career path that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re following that male way of work in your career is great.

GH: I wanted to go to do an agricultural degree at 18, but I was told that women didn’t become farmers, so even though I was in a farming family, the women became the housewives. I wouldn’t have been happy doing that and I did a food degree. I’m inspired by good stories, people who have succeeded against the odds.

LTr: I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of really inspiring role models that I’ve met. They’ve not all started at the top. They’ve worked their way up, they’ve all either believed in themselves or had other people believe in them, so why shouldn’t I or somebody else in my position be able to do that?

CH: We have people commenting all the time about the women we showcase in the Enterprise Vision Awards. We had someone in her sixties who won an award and a woman told us, ‘She’s made me think that I can actually do that, because she’s doing it at her age. It’s not too late for me’.

SK: Role models come in all shapes and sizes and it’s about the people you know and the stories you can relate to at a personal level. I had a fairly traditional Indian upbringing where I wasn’t expected to have a high-flying career. My mum’s words were, ‘Go to university and get an education so you can find a good husband, but think of yourself having a family. That and a career are not compatible.’ I didn’t agree.

Fast forward to my own kids, who are in their twenties now, and they’ve said to me, ‘You’ve shown us that women can step out of their comfort zone and go and do stuff that they want to do.’

JB: I’m going to pinch a quote: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ The more role models there are, the more young women can believe they can be successful.

I was invited to an International Women’s Day festival at my old sixth form college in Blackpool. I was desperate to say to them, ‘There’s nothing particularly special about me. If you want to do it, you can do it, just believe, just go for it.’

LT: I want to share something about me, which isn’t the easiest thing to do! Last year I was the UK’s Woman in Social Enterprise, the most inspiring woman in social enterprise, and I can’t believe it.

I brought up three children on my own. You talk about disadvantage in our sector, I wear that T-shirt. The thing that I’ve instilled into my children is, You can do this. You will get out of this what you put into it, and that is what you have to do and in terms of inspiring women.

There was a recent tweet asking us to name our ten most powerful women. I couldn’t stop at ten, there are so many inspiring women I look up to.

SO: Someone who made me think that women can do things was Margaret Thatcher. I felt when we had our first woman Prime Minister, ‘Oh my goodness, anybody can do anything’. As women we’re really bad at patting ourselves on the back.

DP: People that have got to the top of their game have a journey. You don’t wake up one day and you’re the CEO, it doesn’t just happen like that and it’s really important to show what the journey is and that it’s not a straight-line path. It’s important women are given the confidence to tell their stories and have visibility. We hear a lot of women saying, ‘I just do this’. We want to ban that word, ‘Just.’

SO: I would like women to have the confidence not to be given the limelight. I’d like them to just take it.

  • Photography by Nick Dagger
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