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Women Mean Business Live event round-up7 min read

7 min read

The Telegraph’s Women Mean Business Live event united over 500 business leaders and entrepreneurs for a day, to overcome the barriers that all too often prevent female-led businesses and professionals within the workplace from reaching their full potential.

With only 5% of women who study a digital discipline at university actually ending up in board-level positions, senior leadership roles within the digital sector are still largely male-dominated. A week on from the Telegraph’s insightful Women Mean Business Live event, Croud’s team share some of the interesting discussions and debates that took place and key solutions showcased.

The glass cliff

The event kicked off with a fireside chat featuring Telegraph’s Columnist and Chief Interviewer, Allison Pearson, alongside Founder and CEO of Women of the World, Tina Brown. Tina Brown discussed experiences in her career to date, emphasising that women in Britain have been taught not to put themselves forward for things.

She spoke about the ‘glass cliff’, a phenomenon where women in positions of power within a business are more likely than men to achieve leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn – when the chance of failure is essentially the highest. She also touched on the gender pay gap, and how the likes of Glassdoor are allowing for more transparency across salaries, making it easier for women to gain an equal share. Tina advised the younger audience to slow down and concluded by emphasising the importance of having support at home.

Make yourself heard

A panel discussion featuring The Telegraph’s Claire Newell, Theatre Producer and Campaigner Zelda Perkins, Founder of Darjeeling Express Asma Khan, Head of Regulation and Compliance at London Metal Exchange Kristina Combe, and Senior Legal Officer at Right of Women Deeba Syed explored how women can build a name of themselves in a saturated market.

The discussion centred around the rights of women, victimisation and sexual harassment within the workplace. There was a unanimous feeling that small scale harassment within a workplace is rarely called out for fear of ‘making a fuss’, highlighting the negative discourse and attitude around harassment that needs to change.

Further to this, Asma shared insights into the hospitality industry, claiming that ‘hospitality is a boys’ club’ where head chefs are rarely sacked and only a minority of women speak out due to harassment. She highlighted that there is a ‘is it really that bad’ attitude which needs to stop, along with the idea that apologies are enough.

As a panel, they identified that in order for harassment and victimisation to be reduced, women need to identify that it’s their ‘cultural, social and basic human rights not to be harassed’ and act accordingly, rather than avoiding it for fear of backlash.

Zelda concluded by explaining the ‘best career advice’ she was ever given was to ‘make a fuss’ and ‘go with your gut’.

How to change your career and never look back

The next panel session featured Editor of The Londoner Ayesha Hazarika, Founder of MegsMenopause Meg Matthews, co-founder of Blow LTD Fiona McIntosh and Film Producer Sadie Frost, who shared their personal experiences in taking control of their careers.

Ayesha, a former Labour Advisor, explained that she lost her job overnight, and it took four months to grieve the loss of her lifestyle. She highlighted the importance of ‘hustling’ when building your career, using her experience to showcase that going from full job security to having nothing, whilst daunting, can push you to find new ways to build your life – whether it’s working for free, to begin with; ‘hard work goes a long way’.

Fiona described her experience of becoming co-founder of Blow LTD with the word ‘perseverance’, emphasising the importance of having a vision. Before launching Blow LTD, Fiona observed the growing health and beauty industry in order to identify a gap which she could alter to fit her business idea. Fiona attributes the success of her business to Blow LTD’s drive to continue disrupting the industry.

Sadie explains that, as a mother of four, her career was always based around raising children. She highlights that whilst working with friends and juggling home and work life has its difficulties, being organised and time-aware has made it possible for her to achieve the things she’s set out to do.

Will the AI revolution help or hinder women in work?

A panel featuring Founder of DarkTrace Poppy Gustafsson, Founder and CEO of Tacit Josipa Majic, and Professor at the University of Oxford Sandra Wachter explored the growing popularity of AI technology and how this may affect women.

It is now recognised that more needs to be done to lift women and ethnic minorities within the professional world, and statistics speak louder, with the vast majority of businesses more likely to back a male coder rather than a female counterpart.

As a panel they agreed that whilst the lack of women within the tech industry can allow for the women within this sector to stand out,  the downfall is that this makes it more likely for women to be the first to be made redundant, particularly as there is a lack of females in leadership positions within tech.

However, one of the key takeaways shared by the panel was that there is more to tech than coding. Whilst there is a lack of women entering the computer science sector, there are many elements to AI technology and evolution where the female presence can be built – particularly within the creative process.

The benefits of backing female business leaders

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP and Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Tamara Gillan, Founder of WealthiHer and Lynne Franks, Author and Founder of SEED Network explored the benefits of backing women in business.

The panel shared that ‘250 billion pounds could be added to the economy if it was a level playing field’, expressing how ‘harnessing the talents of women’ would be the greatest economic tool that as an industry everyone could benefit from.

Founders Lynne Franks and Tamara Gillan explained that only one in five businesses in the UK are led by women, and whilst this is an improvement from 15 years ago when there were ‘no women’s enterprises’, there needs to be a fundamental change in the patriarchal heritage for the future.

The age of the entrepreneur

Not On The High Street’s co-founder Holly Tucker MBE shared her experience as an entrepreneur. She highlighted that with access to crowdfunding and banks like NatWest matching up to £5k for a start-up, it’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.

She emphasised that entrepreneurs need to stop being scared to ask for money, explaining that ‘there’s a lot of it out there so go out and get it’.  Holly explains that new businesses ‘don’t need to be an expert’ but advised that it’s important to ‘stay focused, have a plan and stick to it whilst also acknowledging that the path will change’.

When the boss is a woman

Gilead Sciences’ UK and Ireland General Manager Hillary Hutton-Square and Head of Diversity and Inclusion at The Telegraph Asif Sadiq discussed female leadership in a male-dominated field.

Both Asif and Hillary agreed that the problem is no longer getting women into the role, but rather the issues lies with progression opportunities toward leadership and management roles. They highlighted that statistics can mask underlying problems and poor perceptions of male maternity don’t allow women to work as much as some may like.

As a panel they identified that the challenge for change going forward is instilling a concept of belonging, emphasising that diversity itself doesn’t prove anything if minority groups don’t feel trusted and safe in their place of work. For this reason, there needs to be a shift in focus in order to tackle equality in the workplace, one that strives to challenge unconscious bias.

As a whole, The Telegraph’s Women Mean Business Live event highlighted the importance of bringing men and women together to have honest and solution-focused conversations around the issues facing women and men at work today. Throughout the many sessions, the common theme that was reiterated is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to gender equality in business. As a team, Croud left with a range of ideas to help ensure we’re tackling the cultural, social and political barriers that prevent females from developing their careers at the same pace as their male colleagues.

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