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International Women’s Day 2023

Wednesday 8 March 2023

International Women's Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The campaign theme for IWD 2023 is #EmbraceEquity, and the Chamber Network is working to challenge stereotypes, break gender bias and accelerate women’s equality.

For the second year in a row, we are taking the opportunity to shine a light on female business leaders within LCCI’s membership. This year we asked Priya Kainth, Founder & Director of Abode Mortgages Bureau; Waheeda Shah, Director, Cosmos Financial Services; Sarah Jo Loveday, Founder & Chief Helper, peopleknd; and Amanda Fergusson, CEO of Greeting Card Association; Anna Purchas, London Office Senior Partner, KPMG; Clare Woodcock, London City Director, Mott MacDonald; and Abby Ghafoor, CEO, arc Management Consulting to explain what International Women’s day means for them and how LCCI’s new Women in Business group – of which all are advisory board members – can help women in business break down barriers and grow in the future.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Priya: It celebrates and represents the importance of being a woman, our achievements and how we come together from all walks of life, at different times in our life over generations.

Waheeda: International Women’s Day to me is about celebrating the achievements of women throughout the world. A day of empowerment, reward, and recognition.

Sarah: In many ways it is a day of celebration. For me it’s about celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all over the world. It’s a great opportunity to raise visibility of women’s achievements, embrace equity, and bring attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women. Women's empowerment is very close to my heart. I was 20 years old when I founded my first organisation and although I had to overcome many obstacles to get access to the opportunities that men tend to take for granted, I also remember the powerful impact of women who supported me on my journey. I am committed to continue to be a strong voice for women’s rights and contribute to a more equitable world for ourselves and our daughters. There is no other way. It is shocking that in 2023 women in the UK (6th largest economy in the world) are still fighting for equality. For instance, 23rd February 2023 marked the point we stopped working for free in 2023. According to analysis published by the TUC, the average woman in paid employment effectively works for free for nearly two months of the year compared to the average man in paid employment, and that makes 23 February the day when women stopped “working for free” in 2023. Female entrepreneurs? Active female-led companies make up 16.8% of all UK companies. This is three and a half times smaller than the 2.7 million male-led companies.

Amanda: An opportunity to promote and celebrate the contributions women make to society across the world.

Anna: It’s a chance to pause and reflect on how far we have come – but also how much more there is to do to get to equity.

Clare: International Women’s Day means celebrating women’s achievements and continuing the drive towards a gender equal world tackling discrimination, stereotypes and bias.

Abby: IWD honours women around the world in recognition for the contribution women make to society

Who is a female role model that has impacted your career and why?

Priya: I believe on a personal level (in my career) my mum is my role model – her strength, logical approach, and her diplomatic manner - she is my best friend. On a professional level (in the outside world) Michelle Obama – she is powerful, has strong beliefs, brave, courageous, supportive towards her husband and family. She also has made a stand/name for herself in her own right.

Waheeda: Amal Clooney is a female role model for me, she is beautiful, intelligent, from an ethnic background and highly successful. Despite being married to an A list celebrity, she has established a global identity of her own, through her high-profile legal work, her fabulous fashion sense and just her presence alone.

Sarah: My mother. Before she retired, she was a female founder and entrepreneur and during my formative years I had the chance to see first-hand both sides of entrepreneurship – the magic of materialising one’s vision and the power of passion, and the sleepless nights, the challenges and worries of a female entrepreneur in a world run by men. I have the deepest respect for my mother’s achievements and the lessons she gave me as they have been serving me as a female founder and entrepreneur since the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. Leading by example and with integrity, and having the courage to continuously push the boundaries and taking risks are some of the lessons that are very well ingrained in my mind.

Amanda: Her late Majesty The Queen, for her consistence service and leadership. Also her unifying effect, bringing our nation together and growing and developing the Commonwealth.

Anna: My mum! She was ambitious and brave herself – and loved that I liked maths.

Clare: I have been fortunate to have a number of female role models who have impacted me throughout my career and continue to have an impact every day. The attributes that have inspired me are their ambition to push boundaries and their unwavering support and encouragement for me to be the best I can be.

Abby: Bina Metha who is the first female Chair in 150 year's history of KPMG - she's impacted my career as a mentor role model and dear friend- always at the end of the phone . It's been important for me to have a great sounding board especially as a female entrepreneur. Having a mentor who is a role model in anyone's journey is key to having that ' 'lean in ' support.

What advice do you have for women starting out in business careers?

Priya: Believe in yourself, you’re not alone, you won’t be the first and definitely NOT the last – IF all fails, don’t worry the universe has a plan. You can do this – IF I can anyone can…

Waheeda: I would encourage women to believe in themselves and not shy away from entrepreneurship, there is nothing they can’t achieve if they really put their mind to it.

Sarah: Never give up on your dreams and don’t let others tell you ‘you are not ready’, ‘it’s too hard’, ‘maybe try a more traditional route and don’t take that risk’, ‘what if you fail?’. Find a mentor and a network of like-minded entrepreneurs. Understand that mistakes are lessons and not failures. Be ambitious and confidently challenge the institutional structures, systems and mind-sets that represent barriers to women’s advancement. Celebrate the small and big successes.

Amanda: Be bold, believe in yourself. Have clear goals and understand the finances involved in your business. And enjoy it!

Anna: Be ambitious – get comfortable with numbers – take every opportunity to develop your presentation skills – stay true to yourself.

Clare: My advice for women starting out in their business careers is to make the most of every opportunity that they are presented with, and to have belief in their abilities to achieve success.

Abby: Mindset is everything for starting out in any business career . Take the approach and focus on your goals - being authentic will always win credibility which will build meaningful relationships especially in business.

How can businesses, Governments and business support organisations, like LCCI, encourage and empower female business leaders and entrepreneurs?

Priya: Woman across the globe face challenges everyday in one form or another – career, personal, emotionally and due to faith/religious beliefs. Businesses, Governments and business support organisations and LCCI – could help by encouraging us to connect globally by holding a woman ‘global international day/week at a destination, by using resources such as social media to discuss concerns, issues, achievements, milestones. Set up forums, blogs, WhatsApp chat groups etc.

Waheeda: Businesses, Governments, and business support organisations, like LCCI can encourage and empower women by providing coaching and mentorship, advice around targeted networking, media coverage and tailored solutions to meet their business needs.

Sarah: Women’s economic empowerment must be a priority for any Government and business support organisations. The UK Government have had many opportunities to articulate a clear vision that influences thinking and action on this key topic and although there has been some progress, there is a lot more to be done. Evidence-based policy making is important and it is encouraging to see entire organisations focusing on gathering evidence on female entrepreneurship and female business leaders.

What can be done? A lot! Start early – review the education system and build strong programmes that offer girls the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship. Needless to say, our current education system is not fit for a future entrepreneur. To include entrepreneurship values and openness to innovation in the educative offering requires new models, frameworks, and paradigms so it may take some time but it needs to happen.

Aggressively promote strong programmes that support the development of women’s skills for business performance and growth. We already know that occupational segregation by gender is pervasive and entrenched in our society. Women workers are over-represented in part-time work and in “feminised” sectors and occupations characterised by low and variable earnings, poor working conditions, and limited advancement opportunities. Not many of us think about starting a business when we are trapped in low paid and insecure work. This must change.

Actively promote financial inclusion and female entrepreneurship - Women are less likely than men to start or grow a business due to lack of capital (or lack of awareness that such opportunities even exist). Invest in businesses with female leaders.

Review entrepreneurial ecosystems (including but not limited to business development service providers, investors, banks, women entrepreneurs’ networks) to help identify challenges for women entrepreneurs in accessing finance, business growth opportunities, upskilling and reskilling etc. which can be used to inform Government’s initiatives and programmes and guide business support organisations towards meaningful support.

Amanda: Showcasing female leadership and diversity. Work to ensure that Boards are diverse, representing their stakeholders.

Anna: We can make sure this continues to be a topic high up on every agenda – there’s so much more to do!

Clare: I think businesses, Governments and support organisations, like LCCI, can encourage and empower female business leaders and entrepreneurs by providing access to opportunities and resources. I also think it’s important that female business leaders and entrepreneurs have a platform to raise awareness of their amazing achievements.

Abby: Understanding the pain points of a woman in business is key throughout the business journey is important. A young female may have a family alongside running a business, then later on may be challenged with menopause - organisations can better support women during the journey is invaluable.

What do you hope the new Women in Business group achieves?

Priya: Connecting with people from all over the world and help them to discuss/communicate, overcome any fear, obstacles, doubts and celebrate achievements, be supportive and encouraging. Towards everyone!

Waheeda: I hope the Women in Business group achieves UK wide and Global success. I would like to see chapters set up throughout the UK and Globally, where women can help support, empower, and enrich each other through their shared skills, business synergies and consolidated networks.

Sarah: I know that the new Women in Business group will be a place of inspiration, support, and innovation among female entrepreneurs in London. We have an incredible opportunity to amplify female entrepreneurs’ achievements and become a strong, united, and influential voice for female entrepreneurs and I cannot be prouder about this.

It’s time to recognise female entrepreneurs as intentional, strategic, intelligent, deliberate, goal-driven, focused, accomplished, successful, ambitious and visionary. Let’s rethink how we approach female entrepreneurship.

Amanda: Bringing together women leaders to share ideas, inspire the next generation of female business leaders / entrepreneurs and encourage further diversity on Boards.

Anna: It’s a brilliant chance to share what’s working, to galvanise, and to amplify all the opportunities out there.

Clare: I hope the Women in Business group will create an environment where all businesswomen are empowered to achieve their potential.

Abby: I am so excited about this - I am looking forward to new women in business group bringing together female entrepreneurs female leaders where real conversations making actionable changes in business - bridging the gap between female entrepreneurs and opportunities.