Stepping out from the shadows, 2017 First Women Awards winners will help set an agenda for ambitious and driven women to follow for years.
Browse through our content hub and you will come across many articles that paint a gloomy picture of the leadership landscape. In these illustrations, women still struggle to infiltrate C-suite positions or get access to funding for their businesses.
Progress is happening but the pace is sluggish, as many gender equality reports estimate that we are decades away from achieving true parity.
This is where the First Women comes in. Since its launch in 2005, the First Women Awards have grown in influence and impact – leading the way in recognising and celebrating the many achievements of exceptional women.
The programme was created by the UK’s leading SME publication Real Business. The title’s editor, Hunter Ruthven, said: “The First Women Awards have unearthed some incredible examples of trailblazing entrepreneurship and business foresight over the last 12 years, helping bring to the attention of thousands the often unsung work and creation from some of Britain’s leading female business women.
“It’s now the turn of the latest crop of inspiring stories and individuals to have their time to shine. From sport to tourism, and from healthcare to engineering, we want you to put forward your choice for 2017’s First Women.”
Recipients of these awards have been women from various sectors, from public service to business owners, who have achieved their success against all odds, and typically in male-dominated environments.
There are a few examples below.
Against all odds
Claire Guest, CEO, Medical Detection Dogs – who received the Science and Technology award said: “My biggest personal challenges have seen the traumatic breakdown of my marriage to a husband I was devoted to. This followed my decision to leave as director of another charity, then culminating in my own diagnosis with cancer. These were all overcome with the love and support of family, dogs and friends – I just continue to put one foot in front of the other.”
The charity, whose patron is the Duchess of Cornwall, was started from nowhere and is now considered to be part of serious research into early diagnosis of cancer and other diseases.
Then there was Engineering and Manufacturing award winner Katy Moss, who began her career finance aged 16 as a management trainee at HSBC Bank, before taking over her late father’s business Trent Refractories.
Breaking glass ceilings
Another common theme resonating throughout First Women is the ability to move higher in a career than previous generations have managed to. Female trailblazers showcased by the awards have broken glass ceilings, working to remove barriers for other women and disrupting established industry norms through innovation.
Ruby McGregor-Smith, winner of the Lifetime Achievement award, became the first Asian female CEO of a FTSE index company.
She said: “Since taking on my role as CEO at Mitie, I feel that I have an obligation in my position to support other women, particularly those with children who wish to work.
“If we could improve the affordability of childcare and offer more flexible maternity leave options, I think the next generations of mums will be in a significantly better position, as will our economy – benefitting from unleashing women’s full potential in the workforce.”
Valerie Owen, chair at Swan Housing Association and winner of the Built Environment award operates at the highest levels. A multi-disciplinary property professional, her portfolio career comprises several non-executive directorships and ministerial appointments in the public and private sectors.
Moreover, she has made it her personal business to address skills shortages in the construction sector, from championing equality in policy, to being an ambassador for GirlguidingUK.
Kate Newhouse won the Disruptor award in 2016 for her doctor-founded digital healthcare company, which helps thousands of families access first-class personalised clinical care, via video and phone GP consultations 365 days a year, at work, home or on holiday.
“Healthcare matters to everyone across the world,” Newhouse said, “because of this, there is often a reluctance to change things, try new things and to innovate. Therefore, I am grateful and proud that this award recognised change and disruption in an industry that needs it to support us in the way we live and work today.”
Meanwhile, Joanne Smith, winner of the Business Service award in the same year, launched the Consulting Consortium (TCC) in 2001. Following extensive research and development, she set up RecordSure in 2013 – a pioneering compliance system for analysing face-to-face financial discussions and providing regulatory and compliance-related feedback.
“This decision to commit a significant level of funding to research and development was a calculated risk that has brought a ground-breaking and innovative product to the market,” she said.
“I hope above all else, I have shown my commitment to inspiring and mentoring not only my team at TCC, but women in the financial services industry as well. There have been challenges that I have had to overcome in my career whilst progressing in the male-dominated financial services industry, where the ability of women can be underestimated.
Inspiring the next generation
With longstanding support from the CBI, prominent industry organisations and small businesses, the First Women Awards continues to be a distinguished programme that
inspires the next generation, fuels entrepreneurial passion and galvanises women to be a force for change.
Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: “We’re delighted to partner again this year with the First Women Awards, recognising the success of inspiring female leaders in our society and celebrating their contribution in business and public life.
“Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander’s review will help renew firms’ efforts to ensure that top-performing women are positioned to lead our companies.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that by developing more women leaders, alongside women on boards, we will make a real difference to the success of UK productivity, the economy and our future place in the world.”
Now it’s time to recognise our 2017 First Women leading lights. Joining some illustrious alumni of game-changers and agenda setters, we need your help in uncovering the hidden gems Britain has to offer. Do you know any exceptional business women and senior-level professionals that fit this criteria? Get nominating now.