International Women's Day March
Image Source: Molly Adams
Jane Imrie

International Women's Day 2019: Striking the balance in business

Written by Jane Imrie and Rebecca Wayman

Today (Friday, March 8) marks International Women’s Day, a worldwide celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

As part of the celebration, Bdaily spoke to businesswomen from around the UK to examine what the day means to them, and how businesses and industries can support women.

The women’s rights movement has a long history, from the Victorian and Edwardian suffrage movements in Britain to the protests of the Socialist Party in America. Although progress has been made, the fight for gender equality continues.

The first International Women’s Day took place in 1911, with supporter gatherings and rallies taking place across Europe. Over the years, the day has gathered more interest and momentum, and is now widely celebrated across the world.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceforBetter, with an emphasis on creating personal, professional, political and societal environments so that all genders can flourish.

A focus on empowering working women is clear. According to the official International Women’s Day website: “Balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue.”

CEO of London-based contact lense specialist Waldo, Ashleigh Hinde, shared her thoughts on the movement: “For me, International Women’s Day is a time to shine a light on the accomplishments of women from past, present and future.”

In the historically patriarchal realm of business, women have consistently experienced inequality, with issues like the glass ceiling effect, gender pay gap and sexual harassment still being present in today’s corporate world.

During her time in her industry, Ashleigh has had mixed experiences: “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of inspiring male role models and colleagues who have lifted me up and allowed Waldo to become what it is today.

“However, I’ve definitely experienced gender bias while growing Waldo and have frequently found myself to be the only female in a room. These experiences have meant I feel strongly about ensuring we continue the march towards complete equality.”

Individuals and companies that are passionate about making gender equality their business lead the way in creating balanced and progressive workplaces.

Wearside-based North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) recognises the importance of nurturing talent irrespective of gender: “Instinctively, we start with the individual and build our support around their particular needs.

“However, on International Women’s Day it is great to celebrate the increasing number of women starting a business and despite only one fifth of SMEs in the UK being majority-led by women at present, this is increasing year on year.”

The BIC helps to start approximately 180 new businesses a year in the North East region, of which 40 per cent are founded by women.

Encouraging girls and women to enter traditionally male-dominated industries is crucial to levelling the professional playing field.

Tyne Coast College in Newcastle explained: “We encourage all female students to pursue careers within STEM and heavily male populated industries.”

The college’s commitment to gender equality doesn’t end there: “We see the college as a place to empower all young people, regardless of gender. However, we actively participate and support national female campaigns including The Red Box Project and This Girl Can across all campuses.”

Meanwhile, established female entrepreneurs across the country have been finding success by redefining the gender landscape in business. Leeds-based designer Rhian Kempadoo Millar set up her now internationally-renowned flat cap brand, of the same name.

She believes that change can be instigated through self-belief and the redefining of boundaries: “Women need to be supported to create their own set of rules in business, to enable us to have the flexibility and confidence to do things our way.

“We need to be encouraged to trust that our methods and instincts are correct, even if they mean challenging the current status quo.”

As a single mother, Rhian understands the unique and complex barriers that women face, and has the following advice for budding female entrepreneurs: “Trust your instincts! Be resourceful, resilient and flexible. Surround yourself with good mentors who understand you and your circumstances both personally and professionally.”

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