Equality delegates and crash test dummies: Where are we after International Women’s Day 2019?

Regular readers of my column will know that  sitting on the panel for the Veuve Clicquot Business Women Awards is one of the highlights of my year. Each and every year, I am struck by both the sheer number and the breadth of experience of the inspirational women put up for each of the three categories: the original Business Woman Award as well as the more recently added New Generation Award and Social Purpose Award.

In the tradition of its founder Madame Clicquot, we look for women who are meeting challenges and breaking ceilings, through an entrepreneurial spirit and audacious foresight combined with creativity and talent.

Excitingly for me, something else that I am struck by is the fact that in some form or another, the consumer-facing industries always feature prominently amongst the finalists. This year is no different as the shortlist unveiled yesterday reveals (see below).

When I arrived at the office yesterday morning, like all of the team at The MBS Group, I found a small card on my desk. Each one contained a quote from an inspirational woman – in mine, courtesy of Sheryl Sandberg, the important reminder that ‘in the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.’

International Women’s Day (IWD) grew out of the labour movement into the UN-recognised annual event it is today. The seeds of the movement were planted in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

Each year, IWD gets bigger and bigger and I have spent the last week poring over stats, reports, interviews and podcasts galore – all confirming a mixed picture of success, demonstrating just how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.

Women’s March, NYC

Positively, in its annual Women in Work index this week, PwC demonstrated that at a macro level progress is being made – indeed the UK has even moved up in the OECD rankings for gender diversity and performs second-best of all G7 countries (behind Canada).

One of the brightest spots on the tracker is Luxembourg. Since 2000 it has been one of the most-improved performers in the ranking and it now has the lowest gender pay gap. One policy that is believed to have contributed to this success is the introduction of Equality Delegates. Could this be something we can all learn from?

Less positively, the Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship published this week highlights a significant funding gap for female entrepreneurs in the UK. Indeed, women-only teams were awarded an average of £32m in investment in 2017, which pales in comparison to the £5bn received by all-male teams. The review estimates that up to £250bn of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men. The government has pledged to act on the Review’s findings, with the Treasury pledging to have 600,000 more female-founded businesses by 2030.

The findings of the Rose review also provided relevant context to the annual global Forbes Billionaires list this week: here, women make up only 243 of the 2,153-strong list, a mere 11.3%. Encouragingly, this year’s list made way for a new youngest-ever self-made billionaire; that it was a woman – Kylie Jenner whose fortune has been boosted by the rapid expansion of her cosmetics business – will hopefully make a mark on the ambitious young girls who will be our future leaders.

Kylie Jenner, whose cosmetics range has helped make her the youngest-ever self-made billionaire

If you missed it, I would highly recommend a new podcast from the Evening Standard: Women Tech Charge. Hosted by Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon – herself an inspiration having founded Stemettes, an organisation encouraging young girls into the STEM subjects – it is a series of candid and inspiring interviews with inventors and entrepreneurs breaking down gender stereotypes. Who better to kick-off the new series than ‘Beth’, a female tech leader at GCHQ – surely shattering one of the ultimate ‘jobs for the boys’!

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of Stemettes and the host of new Evening Standard podcast Women Tech Charge

At company level, the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index – now in its second year – is measuring gender equality across internal company statistics, employee policies, external community support and engagement and gender-conscious product offerings. Following on from the success of its launch in 2018, the index has more than doubled in size this year and includes firms from ten sectors. Last year, four retailers landed on the Index. This year, there are eight, as well as 16 consumer goods brands.

In our own research – the 2019 Edition of the Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure 2020 Review in partnership with WiH2020 and PwC – published last month we detailed the importance of individual companies elevating the diversity agenda to the very top of the business, as well as the power of companies coming together to find solutions for the industry, by the industry.

Tea Colaianni, founder and chair of Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure (WiH2020)

Also crucial are the external pressures that can drive change. The introduction of mandatory pay gap reporting last year in the UK has helped cast light on gender diversity beyond the already-visible boards and leadership teams of PLCs. As identified in our previous white paper, The Case for Gender Diversity in Private Equity, the number of women in senior positions stood at 9% in 2017, below that in venture capital or hedge funds. This year, Preqin analysed the demographics of more than 280,000 private equity professionals, concluding that women account for around 17.9% of private equity employees worldwide, a figure which remains unchanged from 2017.

Caroline Criado-Perez’s latest book on the gender data gap

Finally, perhaps the most eye-opening article I read this week was about Invisible Women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men, a new book from journalist Caroline Criado Perez. Based on several years of research, she points to what she calls a gender data gap that affects almost everything we interact with. For example, why is it that car crash test dummies are modelled on an average man’s body? If smartphone makers want to attract female consumers, why are they designed around an average man’s hand? With the increasing influence of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, what are we doing to ensure our data isn’t inherently biased?


Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award – 2019 Finalists

Alex Mahon

Alex became CEO of Channel 4 in October 2017. She joined from the leading design and visual and 3D effects software firm Foundry, where she was CEO. Alex remains a member of Foundry’s board of directors, serving as Deputy Chairman. She spent 15 years in senior roles at creative production companies, becoming CEO of Shine Group in 2006. She started off as a PhD Physicist and then a strategy consultant at Mitchell Madison Group in the pre-2000 internet boom.

Jo Whitfield

Jo joined the Co-op as Retail Finance Director in 2016 and was appointed Retail Chief Executive in 2017. Prior to this, she was with Asda for eight years and held a number of leadership positions across the business. Jo joined as Finance Director of George and went on to hold roles as VP of George Operations, International and Strategy and finally VP of Asda General Merchandise, Money and Mobile.

Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award – 2019 Finalists

Poppy Gustafsson

Poppy Gustafsson is CEO of DarkTrace. Under her leadership, the global artificial intelligence company has reached a $1.65bn valuation in under five years. She oversees operations across EMEA, and she has been crucial to the swift growth that the 300-person company has experienced. Moreover, Poppy is a co-founder of DarkTrace, and she also previously served as the CFO of the company.

Susie Ma

Susie is the Managing Director of Tropic Skin Care, which she founded in June 2007 and co-owns with Lord Alan Sugar. Tropic Skin Care is a natural, vegan and cruelty-free luxury skincare and cosmetics range made in Britain. It has over 120 products, and has received recognition from publications like Grazia and Vogue. Susie won EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Building a Better World in June 2018, and was included on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Europe list for 2018.

Veuve Clicquot Social Purpose Award – 2019 Finalists

Sherry Coutu

Sherry first made an impact in the business community with her financial services platform Interactive Investor, which she founded in 1994 and sold in 2001. Since then, she has worked as an angel investor, backing more than 50 companies including LoveFilm and Zoopla. She’s also served on the board of the London Stock Exchange, the advisory board of LinkedIn and the finance committee of the University of Cambridge. Her latest venture, Founders4Schools, is an online platform which aims to inspire students by connecting them with local entrepreneurs.

Cecilia Crossley

Cecilia founded her unique social enterprise brand in May 2013. From Babies with Love funds the care of orphaned and abandoned children around the world by donating 100% of its profits to charity. Cecilia began her career as an Audit Manager at KPMG UK in 2001, and went on to be International Internal Auditor at VSO and Head of Finance & Operations at The Gaia Foundation. She is a Trustee of Duchenne UK, a charity that supports research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) treatments.


Moira@thembsgroup.co.uk | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup