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A generation fighting for equality

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the First Women Summit in central London. The inaugural summit, run by Real Business magazine, was designed to leverage on the ten years of the First Women movement, to educate, mentor and inspire the 200-strong delegation. The programme included some fascinating and thought-provoking panel discussions on a range of subjects affecting women in business today. Boardroom quotas, diversity, mentoring, culture change, pay gaps, female entrepreneurship and macho culture were some of the areas covered.

Alongside fellow panellists Katja Hall, Deputy Director-General of CBI; Dr Inna Baigozina-Goreli, Partner, A.T. Kearney; and Poppy Mardall, Founder of Poppy’s Funerals, I was on a panel debating what can be done by the Government to encourage women in business. The session entitled ‘The First Women Manifesto' addressed a range of topics which Real Business readers had identified as areas that need real governmental policy change, including equal pay, childcare and education, specifically in STEM subjects, helping female entrepreneurs export overseas, and celebrating female success stories. As a result of this summit, the First Women Manifesto will be produced and delivered to 10 Downing Street later in the year.

I believe that serious change is required to tackle gender inequality across many areas and I am pleased that Summits such as this are taking steps to effect this change. But we must move faster! Figures and statistics tell us that change is happening but the pace is too slow. If we continue at this rate, we will be doing an injustice to the next generation of female business leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, accountants, teachers, sportspeople, doctors etc. and indeed this has serious implications for all businesses, whether run by men or women. These issues need to be resolved and this can only be achieved through a collaborative effort across all industries and ruling bodies.

The show of ‘female strength’ was clear to see, and as diverse as one would expect in today's world of business. From the Assistant Chief Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Danielle Cotton, to Sara Murray, OBE, founder of digital mega giant Confused.com, to Ruth Shaw, CEO of Sports Grounds Safety Authority - the only woman in the country to have a pass that lets her into every football ground in the UK! It was a pleasure to be in their company and I believe if any generation can make the necessary changes happen, it's this one. 

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Jean M Stephens
Chief Executive Officer

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