I’m Wendy Hallett, Women’s Business Council (WBC) member and Managing Director of Hallett Retail, a company I founded in 1999 after the birth of my second child, which inspired me to create a more flexible working approach for women in the workplace.
I was delighted to be invited to attend last week’s breakfast summit at 11 Downing Street. I listened to a keynote speech from Chancellor George Osborne on Women and the Economy as the Government’s Action Plan was launched.
Over a year ago I was asked to sit on the Women’s Business Council – an independent one-year working group advising government and business on how to maximise women’s contribution to economic growth. All the members of the Women’s Business Council are business practitioners and I bring to the group knowledge and experience of the Retail Sector. We are all committed to promoting diversity in the workplace.
Driving the Change #change4women
That’s why events like last week’s breakfast summit hosted by Maria Miller, Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, are so important. They provide space to consider and share solutions, such as how we can drive the change needed for women in the workplace. Maria spoke eloquently on what the government is doing and talked about the new Cranfield research into Women on Boards and how we only need 66 more women to reach Lord Davies target for Women on Boards in FTSE 100 companies.
However, there is still work to do. Last Thursday was also Equal Pay Day in the UK and the gender pay gap is still an issue for the UK, we rank 21st in the world for pay parity. Despite the long standing legislation covering the last four decades, we still need to see a cultural shift and not increased government involvement. It’s not just about equality and economics; it’s about society and talent.
Watch the DCMS Storify covering the event:
Maria threw down the gauntlet to those of us in the business community. In particular, she asked us to consider:
- whether we pay the women we employ the same as men doing similar roles in our organisations and whether we were open and transparent
- Whether we identified talented women and helped them up the career ladder and into the boardroom
- Whether we had a plan to achieve this
A lively panel discussion concluded the summit, featuring Karren Brady, Grenville Turner and Maria Miller.
Grenville talked about the challenge of responding to growth during the economic recovery and how reflecting the communities they serve is good for business. Although Countrywide’s graduate scheme is predominantly female, the career path to the boardroom is reflected with only 30% women. Grenville and his team are working to pro-actively remove unconscious bias; not just in people but in their systems too.
Karren spoke about holding the door wide open for those women who follow her and of being a woman in a man’s world. She also talked about the work/life balance which is something I can identify with, as it’s vitally important to me to spend time with my children – it’s not all about Board meetings.
The emerging themes of the discussion were around getting the talent pipeline started during the education phase, especially for careers in STEM; affordable childcare, the implications of the Pay Gap and the feeling that women are over mentored but under sponsored. It really struck me was that these are all cultural barriers that we can shift and change. All of us. Not just the WBC.