Championing women in business for 20 years

The 20th anniversary everywoman awards took place yesterday and mums featured prominently.


Women in business have come a long way in the last 20 years. Twenty years ago there was little coverage of women-owned businesses which were viewed more as ‘lifestyle’ ventures, according to Karen Gill, co-founder of everywoman. They had little access to finance and were very marginalised. Although there are still challenges on finance, the picture has improved considerably, thanks in no small part to everywoman and its awards.

At an emotional ceremony yesterday, everywoman held its 20th annual awards in association with BGF. Karen and her co-founder Maxine Benson were giving a standing ovation for their pioneering work. Chrissie Rucker, founder of the White Company, said growing a business can be a very lonely place, but everywoman had created “a phenomenal community of women”. The 2021 Woman of the Year Award winner Brie Read called the community a family which was “massive and incredible”. Rosaleen Blair, founder of Alexander Mann Solutions and chair of everywoman, said Karen and Maxine were “pioneers in diversity and inclusion” long before diversity and inclusion was on the business map and that they themselves were great examples of women in business, innovating, showing the kind of resilience required of entrepreneurs in today’s turbulent times and leading with authenticity and passion.

Over the last 20 years, everywoman has sifted through 11,000 nominations, held more than 100 events and tens of thousands of training sessions and group classes and linked up with global brands. Its award winners have gone on to great things, publishing books, working with government and building successful businesses – and several of the previous winners are now judges. Indeed the company that does the flowers for the awards is a previous winner, illustrating perfectly the family nature of the awards.

2022 winners

This year’s ceremony saw more inspiring winners, many of whom are mums and many of whom thanked their own mums in their acceptance speeches.

The winners were:

Artemis Award – Abigail Read from Merwave, which creates products for women with wavy hair. Less than two years after launching the business, she is forecasting over a million pounds turnover a year and good growth.

Demeter Award – Rebecca Crawforth of Navy Professional which supplies a new standard of tooling and an innovative hygiene system into the professional beauty industry. Rebecca built the business after dropping out of secondary school and having had surgery for a rare brain condition and is driven to prove that the beauty industry should not be undervalued.

Athena Award – Suzy Dean from AddIn365, which delivers tools to enhance employee collaboration and communication, supported by AI technology. She faced not only the challenge of being a mum and running a business, but also operating in the male-dominated digital world, including being openly dismissed by male peers who turned their backs at events to stop her joining conversations. Her workforce is over 50% BAME and 45% female.

Hera Award – Elizabeth Collern from Duvalay, which produces innovative patented sleep products, including the Duvalay Sleeping Bag which secured investment on BBC’s Dragons’ Den. She not only built the business, but did so while bringing up five children, two of whom are the children of her friend Julie who died of cervical cancer in her early 30s.

Gaia Award – Michelle John, founder of PEGS (Parental Education Growth Support), a social enterprise which focuses on Child to Parent Abuse (CPA). In two years, Michelle has come to be regarded as one of the UK’s foremost voices in the campaign to raise awareness of, and reduce the impact of, CPA. She said a parent is killed by their child every 19 days.

Aphrodite – Freya Rose Archer, a single mum and founder of Freya Rose designer shoe company, which combines jewellery and shoes, who built her company on the back of a 3,000 pound loan from the Prince’s Trust.

Brand of the Future – Laura Riches and Laura Rosenberger, founders of Laylo, a luxury boxed wine company. Both mums, they said they could not have done it without the support they had from each other.

Woman of the Year Award – Gill Riley from GGR Group which  provides lifting solutions for the construction industry. From an initial investment of £5,000, her family-run business has transformed into a £28 million global success, on track to hit £33 million this year, with 150 employees across three UK locations. Described as one of the top managing directors in the construction industry, Gill has built GGR’s reputation over nearly two decades and has worked on projects including HS2 and The Shard. She was praised for her resilience and drive, for the fact that her business is 45% women and for turning gender into a competitive edge.

The winners were chosen following a rigorous selection process and full due diligence research on their companies. The pool of finalists was very strong. They included Rachel Mostyn and Camilla Rigby and Ellenor McIntosh, mum and founder of Twipes, biodegradable, plastic-free wipes.

At the end of the ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Park Lane, Maxine and Karen said there was still much more to be done to close the gender gap in women’s access to business finance. But the government wants to significantly increase the number of female entrepreneurs. everywoman plans to continue its work to support and champion them.

*Full details of the winners can be found here.

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