Today is International Women’s Day, the annual celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of females around the world.
This year, the theme is #PressforProgress, with the focus on the gender pay gap and how best to achieve parity between men and women – which, according to one estimate, is more than 200 years away.
The issue has rarely been out of the headlines in recent months. First, the BBC struggled to justify the significant remuneration divide between its male and female stars and then supermarket giants Tesco and Asda found themselves under the spotlight as disgruntled employees launched multi-million-pound pay claims.
If you thought it was tough being a working woman in the 21st century, the subsequent revelation that two in five female British workers have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace will hardly have changed your opinion.
The study, conducted by the BBC, followed high profile scandals involving the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, who stand accused of harassment and assault, and the subsequent #MeToo Twitter campaign, which saw people from across the world sharing their stories of abuse and mistreatment.
It all makes for depressing reading, doesn’t it?
But it’s certainly not all bad news – and in fact, there are genuine grounds for optimism. For instance, figures reported recently reveal there has been a surge in the number of women starting businesses in the UK, and therefore narrowing the so-called ‘enterprise gap’.
The proportion of women that went into business rose by 45 percent in the three-year period between 2013 and 2016, compared with 2003 to 2006, according to a report by Aston University in Birmingham.
While British men remain nearly twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurs, with 10.4 percent of working-age men identified as entrepreneurs compared with 5.5 percent of women, female entrepreneurship is certainly on the rise.
One interesting theory is that having children — which once led many women to give up work completely — is now a key factor in choosing self-employment, with many women surveyed saying “they wanted flexibility and freedom”.
Here in Suffolk we have plenty of female entrepreneurial spirit, boosted no end by the opening of the University of Suffolk’s Centre for Female Entrepreneurship (SCFE), which opened its doors in October with a mandate to support female innovators through the provision of events, networking opportunities and signposting to funding and business growth advice.
As well as helping women to start their own businesses, the centre is also helping to address the traditional barriers and offer support, advice and mentoring in overcoming those hurdles.
There is further evidence of enterprise from MENTA – a not-for-profit company, which helps Suffolk-based people start and grow their businesses. Their data reveals that of the 1,200 people who have attended MENTA’s Start Right workshops, 64% were women.
Doing our bit for women in business
Here at Gotelee, we are doing our bit to support women in business, having launched our own networking lunches. I’m a firm believer that women network and do business differently to men, so these events offer an opportunity for females to learn from other successful women and meet with like-minded souls.
Another hurdle that can prevent women from reaching their potential is a lack of self-belief and so we are working with My Confidence Matters, an Essex-based organisation which aims to create a movement of women who can inspire, support and motivate each other. Their research has revealed that 74% of women in leadership positions have lacked confidence in the workplace – and so the ambition is to give working women the tools to go about their jobs and face challenges with self-assurance and assertiveness.
Being a working woman in the 21st century may at times be tough, but right across the world – and certainly here in Suffolk – women are making positive gains, day by day.
International Women’s Day is not country, group or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in improving the conditions that will enable women to continue to flourish. Collectively, let’s all Press for Progress.