On International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March, a group of top female North East business leaders have given their views on equality and opportunities for women in business, with a focus on getting a better balance for all.
International Women’s Day is a United Nations initiative which celebrates the various political, social and economic achievements of women across the globe.
Here, the business leaders discuss a range of issues relating to their sectors, experiences and views.
Claire Preston is the CEO of Middlesbrough’s Sound Training, which distributes the literacy product Lexonik to schools around the world. She is taking part in panel events across the region for International Women’s Day, including an event at Inspire2Learn, the Endeavour Law International Women’s Day at Crathorne Hall, and speaking at and supporting the Teesside University International Women’s Day event.
She said: “At present, there is a great imbalance in certain sectors and leadership roles in terms of numbers of men and women. To address this and promote career opportunity and development for women, we need to start with education, to set a more level playing field for the next generation.
“Having a good standard of literacy is essential to all and improved levels for girls will lead to greater confidence, attainment and potential equity within the workplace. Education and knowledge is empowering and necessary to develop leaders of the future regardless of gender, sexuality, race, or economic background; it enhances everyone’s chance of success”.
Sharon Lane is the owner and Managing Director of engineering and manufacturing company, Tees Components. A former engineering apprentice, Sharon is a champion for women in industry and is taking part in a series of workshops at Teesside University for International Women’s Day, where she will talk to 16-18-year-olds about career opportunities, CV writing, presentation skills and dispelling some of the myths about careers for women industry.
She said: “The Balance for Better theme of this year’s International Women’s Day has never been more relevant. As well as aiming to achieve a more gender balanced society, it’s about helping women achieve the balance in their own lives to ensure they can fulfil their aspirations.
“I am working closely with Teesside University, which is hosting a series of events and workshops, with around 100 young women to help them focus on how they can get that balance and achieve what they want to get out of their lives, particularly from their education and careers.
“Gaining strong communication skills, which encourages confidence and self-awareness, are important attributes and through these workshops I hope to encourage more young women into the careers paths they aspire to.”
Caroline Moody is Managing Director of Moody Logistics and Storage, a family-run contract logistics and pallet based delivery firm based in Cramlington. Caroline has overseen the growth and development of the company, practising what she preaches as, in 2018, she passed her HGV qualification.
She said: “The transport industry has always been a predominately male-oriented sector, but, in recent times, has become more inclusive. However, more can be done to achieve equality as there are plenty of talented females studying for sector-specific roles, as well as aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs. Proper education and promotion of the industry must be a priority, so young people realise the great opportunities available to them in the transport, logistics and warehousing industries.
“We are focused on developing talent at Moody’s and providing opportunities for young people into the transport and logistics industry, regardless of gender.”
Penny Marshall is the Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers North East, and is a strong advocate for women in Science, Technology , Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), which are traditionally seen as male-centric industries.
She said: “Working in a field that is traditionally seen as male, it is disappointing and frustrating to still see gender imbalance in the industry, which I am more determined than ever to address.
“I want to shine a spotlight on the inspirational STEM heroes, such as Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan, Katherine Johnson, Hedy Lamarr and the ICE’s own Kate Cairns, and think that they could be up there with the greats too. It’s essential that female role models are highlighted to show that civil engineering, and STEM in general, isn’t just a boys’ club.”
Gillian Marshall is the chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, a membership organisation helping more than 300 North East entrepreneurs to grow their businesses faster and more sustainably. By providing inspiration and sharing the knowledge of those who have already built successful businesses, the Forum helps entrepreneurs to achieve their scale-up ambitions.
Gillian said: “There is a clear gender imbalance in business and more can be done to bridge this gap, but things are improving. In the North East, it is encouraging to see so many female entrepreneurs and business leaders doing so well and creating jobs that support our regional economy.
“They are the role-models whose footsteps others can follow, especially in light of a recent Centre for Entrepreneurs report that revealed over two-thirds of female executives are interested in starting a business in the next three years. This is an encouraging statistic and shows there is a committed, entrepreneurial drive among women in the workplace.
“Almost a quarter of our members are female, with many women not only attending, but leading the debates in our range of events. Organisations like the Entrepreneurs’ Forum are ideal platforms for aspiring and established business people, regardless of their gender, to come together, learn from one another and access vital support and guidance that will help them to achieve their growth ambitions.”
The combined turnover of Entrepreneurs’ Forum members is in excess of £2.3bn, with these organisations collectively employing more than 23,000 people.
Anne Elliott is CEO of Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. The firm, which was established more than 125 years ago, employs a predominantly female workforce. When she joined the firm in 1976, she was the company’s first female solicitor and was one of only three women practising in Darlington at the time.
She said: Anne Elliott, CEO of Latimer Hinks, said: “Gender balance is very important in all professional sectors, and at Latimer Hinks, we practice what we preach in terms of this. 50 per cent of our directors are female, including myself as CEO. 76.5 per cent of our fee earners are female, as are 96 per cent of our support staff.
“It is also essential for women in business to help others up the ladder. It is a sad stereotype that female leaders refuse to support other women in terms of help and support. I actively encourage my team, both male and female, to undertake training and development, to be able to succeed at the highest level possible. Everyone deserves an opportunity to thrive in the workplace, with the full support of their leaders, regardless of gender.”
Liza Pontone is a Chartered Financial Planner at Active Chartered Financial Planners and has been shortlisted for and won several awards for her achievements as a single parent in business. As well as raising three children on her own, studying to become a chartered financial planner and fellow, and working in a client-facing role, she takes the time to mentor young women in the region to help them achieve their full potential.
She said: “A gender balance is essential, especially when you’re dealing with sensitive issues, like finance. If you have a female client who is going through a divorce, for example, they may not feel comfortable discussing the details with a male adviser.
“Networking groups and mentoring opportunities for young women help them to find their feet and build confidence in an industry which may appear daunting. If they can mix with successful women in a more social and low-pressure environment, it’s easy for them to see what can be achieved.”
Stacey Phoenix is a solicitor at Cygnet Family Law. Stacey has been nominated for and has won a number of regional awards, has been shadowed by a young female future solicitor, and will this year be attending at Redcar and Cleveland’s Inspiring Women awards. She is committed to raising awareness of LGBTQ+ relationships and parenting, domestic violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation.
She said: “In our industry, having female solicitors is essential, as we often need to deal with sensitive subjects where having a male solicitor may not be appropriate. For example, we have a specialist domestic violence team, and if a female client has suffered abuse at the hands of a male partner, she may not want to be alone in a room with a male solicitor, regardless of how sensitive and competent he may be. The situation may call for a female solicitor and we have to be able to provide that. This is one way a gender balance not only impacts society as a whole but will significantly impact the client as an individual.
“While we look at International Women’s Day as a time to address gender equality, we must also encourage a workplace balance for LGBTQ+ professionals, for people of different races, religions, and social backgrounds. It is entirely wrong that boardrooms across the country, and indeed the world, should be filled with the same white, mostly male, middle class faces. We must try harder to see a mix of people leading the charge.”