The Women’s Business Council: five years on

The gender pay gap for workers over 60 has increased in last five years and the number of women engaged in early stage entrepreneurship has fallen slightly despite improvements elsewhere, according to the latest report by the Women’s Business Council.

Women at work


The Maximising women’s contribution to future economic report notes many positive improvements since the Council’s inaugural report on maximising women’s contribution to the economy five years ago. These include an increase in girls taking STEM A-levels [up by 11,000], a rising employment rate for women [it now stands at 71%], more women in managerial roles [up from 32.8% to 35.5%] and an increase in the number of self employed women [up from 30.5% to 33.2%]. The number of carers who felt they were unable to work as a result of their caring responsibilities has fallen and the gender pay gap had fallen from 19.7% to 17.9%.

The report states that there is still much to do, noting, for instance, issues around access to funding and overdrafts for women-led SMEs.

It also outlines a raft of next steps, including publishing 100 Ways to Work Flexibly, supporting employers looking to take action on their gender pay gaps, commissioning more research on the menopause in the workplace, raising awareness of the benefits of returner programmes and hosting supportive pages for female entrepreneurs on the Women’s Business Council website.


The launch was hosted by the City of London Corporation and the event included a short speech by Equalities Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford.

It was introduced by Tom Sleigh, chair of the City of London Corporation’s Diversity Working Party, who detailed actions the organisation has taken recently to address gender equality, including signing up to the Women in Finance charter, the Lord Mayor’s Appeal She Can Be campaign to counter the barriers to young women working in the City and writing a diversity report which will be considered by the senior policy committee in two weeks and which includes recommendations on targets and removing barriers to progress for women.

Cilla Snowball, Chair of the Women’s Business Council, outlined the main points in the report and highlighted all the work done by the Council, including the production of a series of case studies, toolkits and reports. She said a big focus for the Council is making the business case for diversity to SMEs, returners and engaging senior men. She added that the Council has been invited to advise the Prime Minister on gender pay reporting and has shared best practice internationally in countries from China to Serbia and the US.

Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo, spoke about the company’s progress towards greater diversity. Eight years ago the executive committee had been all male. Today 40% of the global executive committee is female. It had a 5.4% gender pay gap. Diversity was, said Menezes, “a business imperative”. “It makes us a better business,” he said. To become more diverse required a commitment from the top and action at all levels to create an environment where everyone could achieve their potential. Fifty per cent of Diageo’s graduate intake were female and 34% of its senior leadership team were women.

It has a 40% goal for 2025. Setting targets, having a plan of action, promoting role models and investing in the next generation of female leaders was the way forward, he said, announcing two new scholarships at Heriot-Watt University. One is for a BSc in brewing and distilling and the other is for a master’s in mechanical engineering or engineering. It had also taken on the first female apprentice coppersmith.


The event included the presentation of the Women’s Business Council Awards. Ivan Menezes won one of two men to win the Change Agents Award. The other winner was Conrad Langworthy, who is head of Sky’s software engineering academy which runs the Get into Tech programme. The number of women participants has dramatically increased in recent years, up from 8% to 50%. The programme is open to people with little or no technology experience.  The academy also offers a 15-week full-time coding course in partnership with the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation which runs the Grenfell Community Development Fund.

The Starting Out Award went to Karen Sutherland, VP-HE Innovative Medicines at Astra Zenica for the company’s biotech coaching programmes which identify female future leaders. Sutherland has also worked on the Women’s Business Council’s Balance the system toolkit with GSK and Amgen. This aims to increase gender diversity to accelerate business growth. Claire Francis, Group Resourcing Manager at construction firm Willmott Dixon won the Getting On Award for the company’s target-based approach to management training. It had exceeded its target this year with nearly 50% of the intake being female.

The Staying On Award went to Professor Jo Brewis from the Open University for her work on the impact of the menopause on women’s career progression. The Enterprise Award was won by Francesca Warner, founder of the non-profit group Diversity VC and a venture adviser at Seraphim Capital. Finally, the Council’s first Returner Award went to Timewise co-founder Karen Mattison.

The Awards were followed by a Q & A with members of the Business Council. They covered the importance of targeting girls at primary school; the need to keep combating the stigma surrounding agile working; and the importance of focusing on encouraging start-ups to think diversity from the outset.

Cilla Snowball said it was important to make the case that diversity was good for everyone and that, in addition to promoting good behaviour, there should be zero tolerance for bad behaviour.

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