By Jacqui Miller-Charlton MBE

Equality :

“The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities”

As the month of March is upon us we are reminded that first quarter results will be out soon, spring is just around the corner, it’s time to perhaps look at booking our summer holiday and that International Women’s day/week initiated to celebrate the success of women from all sectors of our societies from around the world will be with us once again.

Equality has had considerable ‘air time’ in the UK over the past few years as governments of all political persuasions have woken up to and recognised the contribution that women make in all areas of our society. Indeed the former Coalition Government set up the WBC in 2012 (Women’s Business Council) with the aim of further understanding how best we could optimise the contribution women make to our political, business and economic systems. As part of this work they sought to understand the issues that still exist preventing women receiving equal opportunities in all aspects of their social and career choices, as it is clear that women can and do make a significant contribution to the health of our National economy.

The work undertaken by the Government’s Equalities Commission which was considered so important that the Conservative administration decided it had to retain this department has played a major role in understanding these issues, indeed the recent report published on the gender pay gap was in part down to the research carried out by this body. In addition to understanding how as a nation we can do better by the fairer sex the commission felt it important to recognise the contribution of women who have ‘blazed a trail’ in their field and so have this year set up the WBC ‘Champion Advocates’. This new initiative is made up of ladies who will act as Ambassadors on behalf of the WBC covering a broad spectrum of our society that have done and continue to ‘make a difference’ to our economy and or those around them.

Indeed in our region of the North East we recognised some amazing female talent in the Journals North East Top 50 ‘most influential’ female list in November of last year made up in part of Tanni Grey-Thompson – Chancellor Northumbria University & Olympic gold medallist, Gillian Marshall – Chief Exec Entrepreneurs Forum, Liz Mayes Regional Director EEF, Bethany Ainsley NE Young Business Person Of The Year, Dame Margaret Barbour Chair Barbour Clothing Company, Jacqui Cheer Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Pat Dellow Area Director HSBC Business Banking, Beth Farhat Regional Secretary TUC, Jayne-Anne Gadhia Chief Exec Virgin Money & Government Advisor, Duchess of Northumberland Heidi Mottram Chief Exec Northumbrian Water, Jane Turner Pro Vice Chancellor Teesside University, Alison Thain Chief Exec Thirteen Housing Group and Regional Chair CBI to name but a few. We should also not forget those females who make a huge difference to the economy and to our daily lives who never made the list but whose contribution is invaluable to us all.

As the recipient of the WBC National Enterprise Award for 2015 and myself a native North Eastern, I was delighted to be asked to support the ‘Champion Advocates’ initiative so that I can share my experiences with others which in some small part can hopefully make a difference to many fantastic women throughout the UK who may just need that inspirational story that sees them ‘spurred into action’. The truth of the matter is there is no magic bullet, success in whatever you decide to do in life comes as a result of focus, resilience (and a lot of it!) hard work, drive and a steel like determination to succeed. It sounds like a cliché but put simply the harder you work toward achieving your predetermined well thought through plan the more success you can expect. The WBC have recognised that mentoring and hearing from others who have ‘walked that road’ before can for some of our future female leaders prove invaluable and so UNITED we are undoubtedly stronger.

What cannot be ignored however is that despite women recognising and in some instances falling victim to discrimination within the work place, this discrimination is sometimes at the hands of their female bosses.

It is in my view exceptionally important that as the female species we stick together, we share our frustrations and we work through our differences. By doing so we not only demonstrate to our male counterparts that with greater empathy we can achieve greater outcomes but that we can redefine what solidarity stands for when included as part of our business and social culture. Sisterhood ladies, not a little but a lot of sisterhood!

As an ambassador to the cause I take my responsibility in this role very seriously and I’m passionate about raising the profile of women across the board, of encouraging where possible more interaction between business and schools, asking schools to set aside stereo type career paths of a bygone era and encourage girls to follow their dream career choice so that we welcome more female scientists, engineers, civil engineers, architects, astronauts etc. in the future. In the 21st century the sky really should be the limit.

In addition much work still needs to be done in advancing the movement of more women into business, in supporting older and more experienced women within the workplace and of course to simulate the role of women in entrepreneurship across the country and the wider globe in general.

On BBC Breakfast recently lifelong American feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem said that since the 60’s progress has been made in terms of what was the taboo of domestic violence in many western democracy’s but much work still needs to be done on this issue and that of the illiterate masses who are mostly female throughout the rest of the world. Women in many counties are still considered the weaker sex and so are very much ‘fair game’ for their male counterparts to treat them as they feel. So whilst we can celebrate progress on these big topics throughout some areas of the globe there is still much needed to be done to continue to shine a light on these inequalities between the sexes, ensuring that through time some of our sisters regardless of colour, race or culture may look to enjoy the many privileges that we as free female citizens of the western world now very much take for granted, earned by the suffering and determination of our foremothers. The road is long but the prize at the end of our journey is worth the toil. Remember too that men are part of the solution and should never be looked upon as part of the problem. I now, work with and have a large collection of male friends some of which have been born out of incident but what doesn’t harm you makes you stronger and it’s very often how we respond to adversity that defines us.

To unite both genders with a vision of working harmoniously to the long term benefit of all, now that is a prize worth fighting for.

Featured ‘The Journal’ NCJ Media March 2nd 2016