Women in control

MT's list of young female high-flyers gives the lie to tales of women turning their back on the workplace

by Rebecca Hoar
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

For this, the third of MT's '35 Under 35' lists of Britain's highest-flying young businesswomen, we received more nominations than ever before. The quality of the candidates was exceptional and their diversity unprecedented. The first list, in 2001, was dominated by those in media-related jobs, a traditionally female-friendly area. This year, the nominees came from much further afield: property, law, finance, retail, automotive and elsewhere.

Yet despite the flood of nominations, recent surveys suggest that businesswomen are turning their backs on the office. It seems they no longer 'want it all'– they've seen their mothers dash from boardroom meeting to school play to evening reception and then home to prepare dinner, and have decided it isn't for them. They may aspire towards both motherhood and a successful career, but perhaps no longer want to achieve them simultaneously.

For example, a poll commissioned for the US edition of Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that 68% of 18 to 34-year-old women would prefer to stay at home and raise their children rather than go out to work. According to the British New Woman magazine, a surprising 70% of young women – average age 29 – say they do not want to work as hard as their mothers did. Instead, a quarter intend to leave work and become full-time mothers when they start a family, and more than two-thirds agree that the man should be a family's main provider. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests that more women are leaving work after having their second child. So much for superwoman.

Alexandra Jones, senior researcher at the Work Foundation, agrees that younger women are deciding they don't want to combine work and children, if they can afford not to do so. 'Many women are saying that they've seen their mothers trying to have it all and they don't want to do that,' she says. 'There is a lot of disillusionment: people think the workplace has improved until they come across the barriers for themselves.'

Yet the women on MT's Under 35 list give every sign of relishing their successful careers. Many combine work with marriage and children, others are busy with charity work, part-time study, extensive travel and busy social lives. Perhaps the stories of females deserting the office are a little premature.

But then, high-flyers are by their very nature not the ones who complain about having to make tough decisions. Instead of seeing barriers, they seek a way forward. And the more successful they are, the more invaluable they become to their company – which in turn means their employers will be more prepared to be flexible to keep them on board.

Instead of fretting that work and home life aren't compatible, canny businesswomen such as these are increasingly looking for employers that understand the need to work flexibly. Glenda Stone, CEO of women's network Aurora, reports that doing due diligence on potential employers is now routine for most women. 'No matter how good women are, if they're in the wrong company they will stagnate or go backwards. Women know this and are planning their careers accordingly.'

In response, companies are becoming more progressive in how they view extracurricular commitments. Says Jones at the Work Foundation: 'Organisations are beginning to realise that they can't just overlook people who take time out.' Yet she sounds a warning note: 'To get ahead, you do need to be there. In many organisations, the difference between rhetoric and reality remains a wide one.'

Ask the women on the list what they think and the reactions are uniform: they love their jobs and don't feel there is an unmanageable conflict between work and other areas of their lives. Says Alex Mahon, commercial director at Talkback Thames: 'I don't resent working occasional long hours. That's what they give you a senior job for.'

On combining work and motherhood, she says: 'How you contemplate that depends on what your mother did. Mine went back to work two months after having me, so I've always assumed I would carry on regardless.'

This may not be everyone's choice, but it seems to work for our Under 35s. 'For me, work and life get mixed,' says Caroline Plumb, co-founder of FreshMinds and, at 26, the youngest on the list. 'As an entrepreneur, work is more of a passion. I feel like it's my choice and that I'm in control.'

That work is something to be enjoyed is a sentiment echoed by many on the 2005 list. And as more of these Under 35s reach the top, perhaps more women will be inspired by their success at combining work and life.

Karen Blackett, 33
The marketing director of Mediacom has maintained her position as the ad buyer for Procter & Gamble, Shell, Nokia and GlaxoSmithKline. She was appointed to the Mediacom board in 1999, and clients have included Greene King and Audi. Recent wins include the Vertu account, Nokia's ultra-high-end mobile phone brand.

Hannah Bernard, 31
Having joined Sainsbury's on a training scheme in 1994, Bernard is now director of its financial operations. She manages 270 staff and handles back-office processes such as payroll, supplier payments and income collection. Her boss Roger Matthews retired as finance director last month.

Sunita Gloster, 35
Her impressive advertising career began in Australia and includes spells as account director at TBWA, Sydney and WCRS in London, as well as four years at Lowe & Partners as worldwide development director. In February, Gloster became COO of M&C Saatchi Europe, tasked with opening new agencies in France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Elisabeth Davies, 32
A reappearance for Davies, now head of policy for the National Patient Safety Agency, whose remit is to help the NHS learn from 'patient safety incidents'. She is also a trustee of the Cancer Resource Centre and a Labour candidate in Wandsworth's local government elections.

Gemma Malaperiman, 28
The youngest-ever female partner at Cushman & Wakefield Healey & Baker (part of the world's largest commercial property consultancy), Malaperiman specialises in advising investors in the retail park sector. Her institutional clients include Hermes and Henderson.

Kirsty Brimelow, 35
A criminal barrister who defends serious crime cases, including murder, rape and Class-A drug importation, Brimelow finds relief in the lighter side of her job – she has provided legal advice for TV dramas, including EastEnders. In her spare time, she goes bungee jumping.

Alex Mahon, 31
With a PhD in physics and a stint as a strategy consultant under her belt, boffin-turned-businesswoman Mahon is now commercial director of Talkback Thames. The UK's largest independent TV production company turns over £130m annually through shows that include The Bill, House Doctor and Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Tamara Salman, 35
Liberty's design director has worked in textile design for the past 12 years at some of Europe's most prestigious fashion houses. Baghdad-born Salman joined Liberty last year, keen to update the brand's dated image and revive its signature prints. Her team is behind the launch of the store's first beachwear collection.

Jennifer Tippin, 31
The newly recruited head of credit sales at Halifax/Bank of Scotland is responsible for the bank's multi-billion pound credit card, insurance and personal loan market. Previously, she was VP of global sales at Invensys; she has also held several senior positions at British Airways.

Chrys Philalithes, 33
A lasting internet start-up is a rare thing, but Espotting is exactly that. A founding member and now European marketing director of parent group Miva, Philalithes has been instrumental in its success. She was previously new business manager at WCRS.

Diane Lynch, 32
Assistant vice- president UK & Ireland for Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Lynch is now the firm's most senior British employee. She joined the privately held US business – known for its strictly meritocratic management culture – in 1996 as a graduate trainee, and was promoted to her current role in October last year.

Cherry Freeman, 30
Promoted to director of software business for IT services giant Computacenter, Freeman had already been involved in three start-ups by the age of 26, including iMPOWER, a successful government technology consultancy. She will be running a £150m division in her new post.

Charmaine Eggberry, 34
Wharton graduate and now vice-president of the Europe region enterprise business unit for Research in Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry e-mailer, Eggberry reports to CEO Mike Lazaridis. She manages expansion into European markets, establishing strategic partnerships.

Amy Stirling, 35
Stirling joined the Carphone Warehouse Group in 2000 as CFO of its wireless portal Mviva, before joining the team responsible for launching landline service TalkTalk UK. The group is keen to capitalise on Stirling's talent, and this year promoted her to finance director of TalkTalk Europe.

Wendy Ferguson, 34
A reappearance on the list for Ferguson, who as client services director for Scottish Widows is responsible for more than 1,800 staff. In an industry not renowned for its top-notch customer service, Ferguson has helped deliver improved service levels and greater customer satisfaction.

Michelle Mone, 33
On our list since 2001, the founder of MJM International is flourishing. Her Ultimo Bra graces the form of many a celebrity, and last year Mone went mass-market by introducing her own line for Asda's George. MJM now encompasses seven brands worldwide.

Claire Jeffs, 32
Senior associate at Slaughter & May, where she has worked for the past seven years, fluent Russian and French speaker Jeffs made her name as one of the City's top competition lawyers with her work on big-ticket mergers, including the Carlton/Granada and Euronext/LSE deals. She is expected to make partner shortly.

Caroline Plumb, 26
The youngest person on our list, Plumb has become a spokeswoman for British entrepreneurs since she co-founded research and graduate recruitment consultancy FreshMinds shortly after her own graduation in 2000. Turnover last year reached £2.8m and is forecast to hit £5.5m this year.

Jillian Easterbrook, 34
As a stores director at Tesco, Easterbrook is one of only two women running a regional store group for the UK's favourite supermarket, where profits recently broke through the £2bn mark. Easterbrook's beat covers the south of England. She previously worked at Marks & Spencer and CGEY.

Lisa Morgan, 35
Who said video games were just for blokes? Morgan has been in retail for most of her career, and while at Tandy unleashed Nintendo GameBoy on an unsuspecting general public. She moved to Game Group in 1997, where she has climbed through the ranks to become deputy chief executive.

Dr Tamsin Addison, 31
Head of research at RSM Robson Rhodes, a partnership of chartered accountants and management consultants, Addison has worked with clients such as P&O Ferries, Calor, 3M and the Inland Revenue. She has a PhD in psychology, and is currently working
with the Competition Commission.

Anne Hoffmann, 35
McKinsey consultant-turned City high-flyer, Hoffmann is investment manager at private equity house Graphite Capital, where she manages funds totalling £750m. Her latest deals include the £63m refinancing of restaurant chain Wagamama and the £244m sale of retailer Maplin.

Kate Murray, 32
Murray was appointed recruitment director of L'Oréal UK last year, having already made her mark as marketing director of both the UK and European businesses. Before joining the French cosmetics giant, she helped mastermind the successful UK launch of Maybelline NY.

Zillah Byng-Maddick, 30
Marathon-runner Byng-Maddick is chief financial officer of retailer Threshers, with 1,800 off-licences and a £900m annual turnover to keep an eye on. She joined as director of commercial finance in 2002, having previously worked for GE Capital, HMV and Waterstones.

Nina Hampson, 31 and Charlotte Semler, 33
Joint founders of 'Britain's first luxury sex brand' Myla, these two friends opened the first of four London stores in 2001 selling chic lingerie and designer sex toys. Celebrity customers, including Kate Moss, helped them to a £2.5m turnover last year – and to a new store in New York.

Lucy Bloem, 35
A trained engineer with more than a decade in the male-dominated oil and gas industry under her belt, Bloem has made spectacular progress at Accenture, making partner at just 33. She manages 200 employees and is keen to develop a diverse workforce, with more women in leadership positions.

Zoe Appleyard-Ley, 31
A second appearance for the founder and CEO of Life Ventures, a private equity company specialising in the healthcare and biotech sectors. Appleyard-Ley earned her financial credentials working for Rothschild Ventures. She later sold her first private equity company, Life Capital, to Durlacher plc. She now divides her time between London and Munich.

Claudia Arney, 34
It's the third time on our list for the former McKinseyite, who in 2003 was executive director of Goldmans Sachs' equities division. She's been promoted to global director of product development for the investment research division, a role created to focus on the distribution of GS Investment Research.

Liz Jackson, 32
From humble beginnings in 1998 – a £1,000 grant from The Prince's Trust and a second-hand desk in her spare room at home – Jackson's cold-call telemarketing business Great Guns Marketing has been going great guns. With a near-£2m turnover and annual growth of 40%, 16 branches are planned by the end of the year.

Emma Sanderson, 34
BT's youngest-ever director, Sanderson oversees BT Broadband, the plc's consumer broadband business. At BT since leaving university in 1993, she leads one of the firm's highest-profile retail brands. She has grown the company's share of the market to close to 30% and delivered about £260m of new revenue for 2004-05.

Rebecca Worthington, 33
Worthington was appointed finance director of FTSE-250 property developer Quintain Estates in 2001. The group is now developing the 58 acres around the new Wembley Stadium. She joined the company in 1998 to take charge of group accounts and investor relations.

Nicola Mendelsohn, 33
Previously at BBH, where ad bible Campaign voted her top new-business director, Mendelsohn has been pivotal in improving Grey London's financial performance, helping to rake in £87m in new business for the agency in her first year. She was made deputy chair last year.

Katharine Poulter, 34
Now Homebase's commercial general manager for business development, Poulter started her career at M&S as a fast-track graduate. At 28, she moved to Habitat as head of trading. In 2002, she was headhunted by Argos Retail Group to work on the acquisition of Homebase.

Tamara Hill-Norton, 34
The former buyer for Knickerbox founded women's leisure and exercise wear label Sweaty Betty with her management consultant husband in 1998. The idea for the boutique, now 13-strong, came to her when faced with a 16-year-old boy advising on sports bras in a high-street store.

Victoria Guy, 33
As general manager of Shell's north and central European bitumen division, Guy manages 50 staff and a turnover of some $300m. She is a member of the leadership team for the firm's global bitumen business. She has also held senior positions in Shell's LPG and chemicals operations.

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