This International Women’s Day, Bdaily wanted not only to look at what the business landscape looks like for women in 2020, but to examine what is needed to support the female leaders of tomorrow.
We invited firms and organisations from across our key regions to share what they feel is needed to support the next generation of women in business.
North East business leaders rose to the challenge, addressing the need for representation, awareness from companies, resilience, changing perceptions, and an increase in institutional support for women.
Liz Mayes, chief executive of The Common Room, a Newcastle charity, said that female leaders have a responsibility to the next generation.
“I strongly believe that you can’t be what you can’t see and whilst it adds to an already busy workload, it is critical that female business leaders walk the walk on inspiring the next generation.
“Role models were important for me in my career and I take very seriously the role I have in showing the next generation of women that they can be leaders, but also to demonstrate positive behaviours around how I manage my family life and other commitments.”
She also commented that business leaders need to be more aware of their own privileges in order to tackle prejudices.
“Business leaders [need to] check your own privilege.
“It’s easy to be blind to the needs of marginalised groups if you’re not in one – so we have a responsibility to be aware, learn, challenge ourselves and be ready to change to keep our businesses relevant, inclusive and successful.”
Lesley Moody, president of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, agreed that businesses need to be supporting women, and are taking steps to encourage leadership.
“Women are so important to our region’s future prosperity and are often under-represented in a range of sectors and at board level.
“To encourage the next generation of businesswomen we have a Women’s Leadership Forum and informal networking opportunities as well as our annual Inspiring Females conference.
“These meetings showcase some of the fantastic success stories from all over the North East and enable women to learn from each other in a really relaxed and supportive environment.
“We have also arranged our first Inspiring Females Awards to recognise the achievements of our trailblazers and show by example what can be done.”
Sarah Callender, commercial director for Duo, said that setting up programs to support women is another important step.
“We believe it’s really important to play our part in inspiring both this generation of women leaders, and the next.
“Our Women’s Leadership programmes are focused on elevating women into leadership roles and increasing the number of women present on boards.
“Recent research shows that we need to do more to provide relatable female role models & communities for the next generation.
“The initiative by Facebook called #shemeansbusiness provides a network for young women to make valuable connections, alongside a recently launched book that shares inspirational stories from 14 of the UK’s top business women.
“The key for young women getting into leadership roles is to take ownership of every opportunity. As Sheryl Sandberg [COO of Facebook] so often talks about, getting a seat at the table is one thing, but taking advantage of the opportunity and using that seat wisely is another.”
Women across businesses in the North East agree that while the imbalance lies within the structure of both society and businesses, the most important thing a woman wanting to succeed in business can do is push herself and challenge that imbalance.
Sonali Craddock, marketing director of Platinum Assets, commented: “Working in the energy and construction sectors, I am not unfamiliar with the stereotypes surrounding both industries.
“My advice to the future generation of women in business is to challenge these typecasts and pursue the interview, career and company which inspires you or sells a product, service or vision that you are passionate about.
“In my years in business I have certainly seen a shift in attitudes and an openness to ensuring the right candidate, regardless of gender, secures the position based on their skill set.
“In addition advances in technology, flexible working policies and networking opportunities continue to support women in business, often helping them juggle the demands of the 21st century working woman.”
Sarah Slaven, interim managing director of Business Durham, said: “From my own experience, more women are striving to succeed, I take great pride in leading Business Durham, in speaking to business leaders, to politicians and knowing that I’m there supporting business in the county.
“Women achieve great things in business, my message to girls and young women is to work hard, learn from your experiences and believe in your own ability and ideas.”
Sarah Waddington, managing director of Astute.work PR agency, added: “There will be times when you feel that that your career has hit a roadblock. Talk to people. Those you trust AND those you’ve only just met.
“People genuinely appreciate being asked for advice. Some may be busy, perhaps overwhelmed themselves, and that’s ok too. Just move on and try again.
“Finding an external mentor or internal champion can really help you achieve your career goals.
She added that women should no longer feel as though they should have to choose between work success and a family life.
“Don’t get caught in the ‘I must be a business success’ trap if it makes you miserable.
“Set your own measures of success. If you’re ambitious and want all the money and status this brings, go for it!
“Equally, if you want a nine to five and to fit work around your life, that’s absolutely excellent too. Work out what makes you happy and stick to it.
“Life is short, so you’ve got to make the most of it. The best advice is to surround yourself with people who talk sense, keep you grounded and have your back, no matter what.”