I am a girl from the late 70s. Feminism was a bit of a cult. Indicators of membership included buying the Spare Rib magazine and books from Virago. Meetings were arranged to Reclaim the Nights. Conversations about the inequity of pensions and pay were debated. It was a time of energy and conversation and sometimes a little silliness. But Simone de Beauvoir and Marilyn French were on the bedside to bring order and logic to the debate. Have things changed?
Earlier this year, I attended an event that gave me opportunity to ponder on the subject. On International Women’s Day I woke at the dawn and headed to the Stock Exchange to celebrate being announced as a finalist in the Veuve Cliquot Business Women of the Year Award. There were six finalists across three categories. Business for whom Ruth Chapman the founder of Matches Fashion and Liv Garfield the boss of Severn Trent were the finalists. In the New Generation category was Emily Forbes founder of community video-making app Seenit, alongside Stephanie Alys founder of luxury sex toy company MysteryVibe. (the mystery for me is that it works from an app on your phone!). And Amanda and I as the finalist in the Social Purpose Award, which Amanda won.
I was allowed four guests and I chose warmly and wisely. I invited the LEYF staff to nominate someone inspirational from across the organisation. Staff were very generous in their nominations and wrote some lovely comments about kindness, warmth, creativity and going the extra mile. In the end we chose Molly Thatcher who retires this morning after 30 years in the sector. At 80 she did not baulk at commuting to London for a champagne breakfast. She laughed and said, I had two glasses June!
I was also delighted to invite three social entrepreneurs who are close to my heart. The award winning Jenny Hollaway from Fashion Enter, Margaret Adjaye from my local library UNLH where we are trying to create a new social enterprise model of libraries, and the aptly names Janet Bakar from LWS who has the best cake shop and café in Crystal Palace, training women who have been abused to become baristas and bakers.
The message from Diane Cote of the Stock Exchange was that Madame Cliqout was an inspirational woman, taking on the business as a 27-year old widow in 1804 when we were a long way off getting the vote. Under her leadership she perfected the art of riddling and took Veuve to its international greatness. She is definitely a biography worth reading. In celebration of 100 years of suffrage I am reading the biography of Sylvia Pankhurst. What book is by your bed at the moment that celebrates a woman?
On the way to catch the early and very busy Virgin train to Birmingham to speak at Cache Conference, I was interviewed by The Telegraph and City AM. I reflected that we won the Telegraph sponsored National Business Transformational Award in 2012, I was also on the Telegraph late last year as one of the 500 Debrett’s. Now we have hit the heady heights of Veuve Cliquot but what has changed ?
They asked what I would like to see? A High Street of Social Businesses. I want us to share the same platforms of “mainstream” businesses and our contribution to the GDP is recognised (£685 million from social nurseries annually). Please stop patting us on the head. As a woman in business they asked me, were you ever told you could not achieve what you have achieved? Yes many times. Have you been there?
I then left the champagne (still before lunch) and headed to a Cache Conference in Birmingham to remind the audience of trainers, colleges and employers that if we want to change the world and be taken seriously we need staff with grit, resilience, energy and most importantly passion that can be converted into more great business.