The IoD‘s Enterprising Women Summit took place on Friday at the Grange St Paul’s Hotel in London, with a raft of high-profile speakers discussing female business leadership in the UK.
The event, hosted by journalist and broadcaster Juliet Morris, began with an address from IoD chairman Lady Barbara Judge, who said:
“In the post-Brexit era, business is going to be more important than ever before in the UK, and who better to lead British business than women?
“We are here today to talk about our role – our role as leaders, our role in the entrepreneurial sphere in Britain.
“It’s such a good moment for us now, we are at the top of everyone’s agenda and certainly here at the IoD it’s top of our agenda to open the doors wider for women.
“This is a crucial opportunity to talk about how we can work together to help Britain and to help ourselves be at the front of the queue.”
Sarah Miles, director of EU Fashion for Amazon, gave the opening keynote speech and discussed the importance of self-belief for today’s female executives:
“For example, I think it’s easy as a woman, if someone offers you something that’s beyond your frame of reference, to say ‘no I haven’t got the experience to take that stretch,” she said.
“But pushing yourself out there and doing that is so important.”
Mentoring, she added, has a crucial role to play in building that confidence in female leaders:
“My first manager when I was in a strategy consulting firm spent a huge amount of time inspiring, poking, egging, shouting, encouraging me to speak up in big meetings.”
Her advice for others seeking a good mentor? “As a mentee, you are responsible for making sure that you’re steering your mentoring relationship and getting what you want out of it.
“Also, it’s important that this is a two-way relationship – the best mentoring relationships work when they’re symbiotic and you can teach each other things.”
In a panel discussion, entrepreneur Gabriella Somerville, founder of aviation charter company ConnectJets, and chef and restaurateur Marianne Lumb, discussed leading ventures in traditionally male-dominated sectors.
Somerville developed on the theme of confidence, saying: “Self belief has to be nurtured in all of us, it’s not an overnight thing.
“Even when you start up your own company, you go in a little bit intimidated – self belief, self confidence has to be progressive.”
With conversation turning to leadership style – and whether female leaders should adopt more direct approach traditionally associated with male executives – Lumb discussed the lessons she learned in the formative days of her hugely successful venture:
“In the early days of my restaurant, when I was nervous, exhausted, probably feeling out of control, I did shout. But I quickly learned it was totally the wrong thing to do.
“At the end of the day the team was working incredibly hard to build this restaurant with me… you need to lead from the front, you need to be empower, you need to be sympathetic.”
Following a break-out advice session on how entrepreneurs can do their own PR, from Jo Tanner, founder of INHouse Communications – and another on reaching board-level positions from Janhavi Dadarkar, CEO of Dadarkar Consultancy – the inspirational talks continued with Sophie Cornish, founder of retail giant notonthehighstreet.
Cornish – who was awarded the MBE in 2013 for services to small business and enterprise –was asked by Morris what she would do for women in the workplace if she was made prime minister:
“Flexibility and the ability to define your own working life and agenda is absolutely critical,” she said. “The business of women, of small creative businesses, is worth £3.6billion and government must take is seriously.
“Childcare has to be tax-deductible, entirely tax-deductible – not vouchers… that drives be bonkers and always has done… we’re all looking after elderly relatives as well, we’re the sandwich generation.”
“And the other piece is an agenda of supporting these kind of businesses countrywide – tax breaks, easier access to finance, places where you can go and get advice and support and meet each other, to share ideas. It’s the blend of making it really, really possible to start and grow a business.”
With more talks following from Edwina Dunn, CEO of Starcount and Founder of The Female Lead; Victoria Perry, community affairs for Jaguar Land Rover; and author and activist Jennifer Nadel, the summit formed a comprehensive examination of what it means to be a female business leader in the UK today.
For more information on the Enterprising Women Summit, or to join the IoD, click here