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International Women's Day 2024

International Women's Day (IWD) is a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Taking place every 8 March, it's a vital day to call for action for gender parity and positive change. This year's theme is Inspire Inclusion, aiming to forge a more inclusive world for women.

At the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), inspiring inclusion is part of our DNA. Along with our Asian Business and Black Business Associations, we pride ourselves on our work to support and champion Women in Business within London and beyond. With dedicated policy campaigns, events and workshops, and an advisory board made up of inspiring men and women working towards greater opportunities for women, we work tirelessly to aid inclusion in the business world.

For the third year running, we're taking the opportunity to shine a light on the fantastic female leaders we have within LCCI's membership and our Women in Business Advisory Board.

This year, we asked Abby Ghafoor, Founder and CEO of Arc Management Consulting, Sarah Jo Loveday, Founder and Chief Helper at peopleknd, Meenal Sambre, Founder and CEO of Samaria Global Finance Limited, and Corinna Field, Managing Director at Red Lion PR, to explain what this day means to them, the barriers they've faced, and how we can help women in business grow.

International Women's Day 2024

What does this year's International Women’s Day theme of #InspireInclusion mean to you?

Abby: This year's International Women’s Day theme of #InspireInclusion emphasises the importance of creating environments where all women feel valued and included, regardless of their background, identity, or experiences. It means promoting diversity and celebrating the unique contributions of women from all walks of life.

Sarah Jo: This year's International Women’s Day theme of #InspireInclusion resonates deeply with me as a strong supporter of inclusive entrepreneurship and a UN Women UK delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68). It embodies the essence of my belief that empowering women isn't just a moral imperative but also a catalyst for progress. To inspire inclusion means fostering environments where every woman, regardless of background or circumstance, feels valued, supported, and empowered to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams. It's about breaking down barriers, amplifying diverse voices, and creating opportunities for all to thrive. Inclusion isn't just a goal; it's a fundamental driver of innovation, resilience, and sustainable economic growth.

Meenal:  We are not in a race to supersede one gender over another, and there are some good men backing us. However, years of unconscious bias and biological differences have led to stereotyping one gender over another. Lack of economic and financial independence over decades has further multi-folded the gap. Statistics on women in C-suites or women holding decision-making positions are not encouraging. The point of inclusion for women is losing attention among other scorching problems such as economic and political situations, despite the noted fact that gender inequality is leading to trillions of dollars of economic wealth. Time is running out, if we are serious about reinstating economic prosperity each of us needs to be serious about supporting gender equality and inspiring women and underprivileged society.

Corinna: As a female leader in an industry in which women make up 67% of the workforce yet only a third make it to the Boardroom; inspiring inclusion is critical. This theme ignites reflection and resolution too, because of course inclusion goes beyond gender. My industry of creative communications has a diversity problem; reflected in the fact that ethnic representation at my level falls short. So, this theme will inspire me to consider how we achieve inclusion across the board.

What is the best piece of advice that you as a businesswoman have received or you can give to other women in business?

Abby: The best piece of advice I've received as a businesswoman is to always trust my instincts, be resilient in the face of challenges, and never underestimate the power of networking and building strong relationships. For other women in business, I would emphasise the importance of confidence, perseverance, and continuous learning.

Sarah Jo: The best piece of advice I've received and can give to other women in business is to embrace authenticity and resilience. As female entrepreneurs, we often face unique challenges and obstacles on our journey. It's essential to stay true to ourselves, trust our instincts, and have the courage to speak up and advocate for our ideas and vision. Moreover, resilience is key; setbacks and failures are inevitable, but it's how we respond to them that defines our success. Learn from every experience, adapt, and keep pushing forward with unwavering determination.

Meenal: For years, women have believed what men say about them. It's time to get out of your comfort zone and start appreciating your worth, overcoming your fears and turning them into strength. This is crucial to empowering yourself. There is something special in each and every one of you, so wake up and rise up. Women are now empowering each other and there are women out there to lift you in your journey.

Corinna: Embrace the strengths of others. I relish the discovery of talented people offering perspectives and expertise that differ from mine. Create an environment in which each individual knows their contribution is valued, and you have a powerful proposition. Bring it all together, and your ambitions for the business truly are achievable. What can be better than that?

What barriers have you faced in your career and how have you overcome these?

Abby: Throughout my career, I've faced various barriers such as gender bias, limited opportunities for advancement, and work-life balance challenges. To overcome these barriers, I've focused on honing my skills, seeking mentorship and support, advocating for myself, and pushing against stereotypes and societal expectations.

Sarah Jo: Throughout my career, I've encountered various barriers, including gender bias, limited access to resources, and lack of representation in leadership positions at the highest level in a variety of organisations, public or private. However, I've overcome these challenges by leveraging my network, seeking mentorship from successful entrepreneurs and other professionals, and continuously investing in my skills and knowledge. Additionally, being actively involved in organisations like the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (including the LCCI's Women in Business group) has provided invaluable support, networking opportunities, and a platform to address and dismantle systemic barriers to women's entrepreneurship.

Meenal: I've spent a substantial period of my life working in business origination teams for financial services firms, a predominantly male-driven sector. Added to all this, I am also an ethnic minority immigrant woman in the UK, so I've ticked all the boxes for unconscious and conscious biases impacting my growth. I've felt cornered when stereotypical jokes are cracked about wives and women, and have felt judgement from recruiters and the job market when coming back from maternity leave. I've had to work ten times harder to get to where I am.

Corinna: An early lack of self-confidence, something that I see all too often in young women. It gets easier as you get older and gain more experience, but I discovered that finding the courage to tread my own path and make mistakes allowed me to arrive at a place of self-belief. No one is perfect and we must never stop learning. But knowing who you are and the value that you bring to the table is a powerful realisation. That’s when the growth really happens.

What has been your favourite thing about LCCI’s Women in Business group since it started a year ago?

Abby: My favourite thing about LCCI’s Women in Business group since it started a year ago has been the sense of community and empowerment it provides. Connecting with other like-minded women, sharing experiences, and learning from each other's successes and challenges have been incredibly valuable.

Sarah Jo: My favourite thing about LCCI’s Women in Business group since its inception a year ago has been its unwavering commitment to fostering inclusive entrepreneurship. The group serves as a powerful platform for women from diverse backgrounds to come together, share experiences, and collaborate on initiatives that promote gender equality and empowerment in the business world. Whether through mentorship opportunities, networking events, or advocacy campaigns, the group embodies the spirit of solidarity and collective action, driving meaningful change and creating pathways for all women to succeed.

Meenal: Empowering women and providing financial freedom to each and every woman is a cause close to my heart. LCCI has taken a great initiative to set up the Women in Business Board, which has allowed me to extend a helping hand to society and mentor women in my position at the early stage of their careers. I wish to provide support to all women and give them access to necessary coaching, guidance and support which I wasn’t privileged to have in my day. Besides this, it has also allowed me to meet like-minded women and men supporting the cause of removing inequality and bringing inclusion.

Corinna: The chance to connect with women from so many different sectors, walks of life, stages of their careers. Seeing the world of business through so many varying perspectives is a surefire way to get out of your own rivers of thinking.

Lastly, if you could have a dinner party with three female guests from any point in history, who would they be and why?

Abby: If I could have a dinner party with three female guests from any point in history, I would choose Marie Curie for her groundbreaking scientific achievements and perseverance in a male-dominated field, Malala Yousafzai for her courage and advocacy for girls' education, and Maya Angelou for her wisdom, resilience, and inspiring words that have touched the hearts of millions.

Sarah Jo: This is a very difficult choice to make! I admire so many incredible women. If I could host a dinner party with three female guests from any point in history, I would choose Madam C.J. Walker, Rosa Parks, and Wangari Maathai. Each of these remarkable women has left an indelible mark on history through their courage, resilience, and trailblazing leadership. Madam C.J. Walker, as the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, inspires me with her entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to economic empowerment. Madam C.J. Walker was an African American entrepreneur born in 1867 on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana and rose from poverty in the South to become one of the wealthiest African American women of her time. Rosa Parks' tireless activism for civil rights reminds us of the power of individual actions to spark social change. And Wangari Maathai's dedication to environmental conservation and women's rights serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for building a more sustainable and equitable world. Together, their stories would ignite thought-provoking conversations and inspire us to continue advocating for justice, equality, and inclusive entrepreneurship. Just imagine!

Meenal: I am a self-made person, so I would like to get tips from women who have come into their respective fields and have grown from nowhere. They’ve managed to flourish in their careers alongside raising families and giving back to society by every means possible. I would like to learn from their journeys, so my dream dinner would be with Jacinda Arden - Former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Indira Nooyi – Ex-CEO of PepsiCo; Kemi Badenoch – Secretary of State for Business and Trade; Oprah Winfrey – American Host and TV presenter; JK Rowling – Famous British Author of Harry Potter, and the list goes on…

Corinna: Lilian Bader, an absolutely amazing trailblazer: she was one of the first Black women in the RAF and overcame endless prejudice to get there. Her legacy includes a lifelong quest to honour and inform about the many Black Britons that played key roles in the Second World War. I try and teach my team about the importance of perseverance and Lilian Bader embodied this like no other. Laura Ashley. We are immensely proud to count the brand that is her legacy among our clients at Red Lion. The story of this woman who built a global brand that still resonates seventy years on (whilst simultaneously raising four children) truly inspires me. I would ask her how on earth she did it! Radcliffe Hall, author of the Well of Loneliness, a groundbreaking example of lesbian literature at a time when just being who you are was a ‘privilege’ closed off to many. Radcliffe herself was an interesting dichotomy; not without her own class prejudices despite also experiencing life as a minority insofar as she was an openly gay woman in the early 1900’s.