International Women’s Day – 8th March 2016

IWD landscapeYesterday to celebrate International Women’s day I was on an expert panel at an event organised by the Enterprise Network at the stunning Bowood House, Wiltshire.  One hundred and fifty, mostly female, attendees came to celebrate, share and inspire each other.

It’s an important date in our calendar for two reasons – firstly it’s our son’s birthday – he does not expect different things from himself or his younger sister. He has just got into grammar school and expects his sister to do the same. He doesn’t expect to have a better career than her. Or for her not to have one. Neither does she.

Secondly, we must never forget that women have been treated very differently by society; they didn’t have the vote, were sacked when they got married or pregnant, were suppressed, dominated and silenced. However, things are moving on…

Yesterday’s panel was made up of female business owners who were asked what issues they felt women needed to focus on in 2016.

Mine was simple. Just be in business. Stop being a woman in business. Men don’t brand themselves as men, they are just in business. Men don’t call themselves working dads. They are just parents. Let’s do the same.

I know that many women care for their children and run the home as well as running a business. Women are amazing.

I know they often work long into the night to get things done when it is quiet. Respect.

I know that they can be limited by their husband’s job and geographical constraints. But they still create wonderful businesses.

I know they beat themselves up about the fact their children don’t return home to immaculate homes or freshly baked biscuits. I certainly do!

But the thing is being in business isn’t easy whatever your other roles.  Whatever your gender!

I’m lucky in some respects and unlucky in others depending on your point of view.

I work and my husband is the primary carer getting involved with the business when he can.  This gives us flexibility to bring up our children but it doesn’t give us a second income and security to fall back on.  I had my first child at 19 so have always been a working parent. I’ve still enjoyed a great career though I had to make it happen for myself.

I’ve had many senior HR roles and often one inherits or gets asked to lead or set up a Womens focus group. Such initiatives have been around a long time and I have to say, in their current format they just don’t work.  Mainly because the people that attend already care about women in business and the ones that don’t are out there doing business.

Likewise, womens business networking groups are great if you are selling products that only women will want to buy. But less good if you want to expand your market.  Female only environments can frighten or confuse men and aren’t great for equality in the same way ‘Boys Clubs’ exclude women. Female only environments can segregate women further.

Targeted development sessions and 1-2-1 coaching is different and we know that women can still hang back in the way that men don’t.

I’m all for talking working parents, and Shared Parental Leave presents great opportunities for men and women, especially Generation Y to work in a different way. It’s all about choice.

Most of the experts that work for Amelore are working parents and our model of linking them to fast growing businesses, providing flexibility on both sides, is working well.

The key thing in the business world is to ensure we provide opportunities and ways of working that enable everyone to flourish and thrive.