International Women’s Day: A personal view on why it matters for good business

International Women’s Day: A personal view on why it matters for good business

International Women’s Day: A personal view on why it matters for good business.

 

On 8th March 2011 I walked into the office to be greeted by flowers and cards of thanks from my colleagues (male and female). At the time I was the Managing Partner for PwC in Mongolia. I’d only landed a few weeks earlier. It felt pretty wild west. In fact for the three years I was there I did not sign an audit opinion that was “clean” and had not involved material restatements of prior years. It was a country in flux and I was there to coach and mentor a talented and determined group of young professionals in ethical business practices.

I had never before heard of International Women’s Day. I had no idea of its significance. Since then it has been an annual feature in my calendar. A time to respect those brave trailblazers who created a world which, while still flawed and unequal in so many ways, allows me opportunities and privileges that would have been unimaginable not so long ago.

On leaving Mongolia I was invited to join the Board of Care International UK and in time become its Chair. For the last ten years Care has been at the forefront of advocacy on behalf of women around the world. In recent years this has focused on the intersection of gender with ethnicity and the impact of climate change. I grew to understand the significance of a day to celebrate and advocate for gender equality when taking part in Care’s annual march. In the first year we wondered quite how many people would turn up. Subsequent years, with the support of our patron, the suffragette Helen Pankhurst, and other pioneers ranging from Annie Lennox to Baroness Hale of Richmond, saw thousands of men and women converge to demand equality and equity. With cross-party support we succeeded in realising change. It was a privilege to witness first hand and I am proud my daughter had the opportunity to be involved also.

International Women’s Day this year has great resonance. On 19th February my aunt and my inspiration passed away. She was 86 and dementia had taken her mind several years ago. But her soul prevailed. Audrey was herself a pioneer and yet she would not have recognised this label. She left school at 16 with a handful of O-Levels. Her school reports confirm she did not have the level of academic success she should have due to repeated absences caring for a sister struggling with polio. Yet I have the certificate proving that in 1966 she became a qualified solicitor. Something our very working class family could never have dreamed was possible. It was early evidence of the importance of allyship. Audrey started working as a solicitor’s secretary. A male partner recognised her abilities and sponsored her through the exams while allowing her to work to support her family. Once qualified the rules and offices of the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority in Birmingham had to be changed to allow a female to enter. She went on to found her own partnership with another female solicitor, quite probably a first also.

In the last few months Helen Pankhurst and I have united in discussing the intersection of business and parliamentary representation. Helen founded Centenary Action with the aim of equal representation and inclusivity for women in politics. An inaugural meeting of a diverse group of women identified that the underrepresentation of women in the UK Parliament has a direct impact on the development of laws and policies associated with corporate practices. And that this contributes to an environment in which interests beyond profit and the shareholders are not fully represented.

Statistically, women are less well represented in the Boardroom that in Parliament. Many male politicians have close and longstanding associations with the men leading the largest companies and corporate institutions. Their views will influence each other. Female politicians have less access to the experience of senior leaders in business, and particularly women. We hope to correct this imparity.

One example relates to the Modern Slavery Act, legislation introduced by our local MP , Theresa May. We know that what gets reported, gets acted on. So this was groundbreaking legislation on an issue that disproportionately impacts women. And yet for too long there was no requirement for companies to demonstrate that their claims were backed up by appropriate processes, controls and behaviours. At BRAVE we advocated for the reforms to the UK Corporate Governance Code to include a requirement for an assessment of the effectiveness critical controls in relation to all reporting. We are delighted that the FRC’s recently released Code incorporates this. It’s an issue that has real implications for the most vulnerable in our community.

At BRAVE we believe that business matters. And we believe that responsible business enables people to thrive. The rules of the game that dictate so much of what happens in our Boardrooms need to fully reflect diverse views. On International Women’s Day in particular, we recognise the need for inclusivity and we are proud to be female founded.

Carolyn Clarke

8th March 2024

AUTHOR.

CAROLYN CLARKE

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