The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t just a health crisis, it’s an equality crisis.
Women are taking on the bulk of family care at home, they’re in the lowest-paid jobs, they work in the hardest-hit sectors – and they will bear the brunt of the economic fallout.
A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, published last week, shows that working mothers are looking after children for an average of 10.3 hours a day – 2.3 hours more than fathers – during the lockdown. And they're doing housework for 1.7 more hours than the dads.
While shouldering the extra domestic burden, they're in danger of being shut out of the labour market altogether: mothers are 47 per cent more likely to have permanently lost their job or quit their jobs and 14 per cent more likely to have been furloughed. Mothers already pay a “penalty” at work. When the pandemic hit, that multiplied.
We also know that women are more likely to experience domestic and sexual violence (calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have spiked by 25 per cent since the lockdown started) and face the highest rate of exposure to the virus: 77 per cent of healthcare workers and 83 per cent of the social care workers are women.
The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities. According to a UN policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on women, even the “limited gains made in the past decades” are at risk of being “rolled back”.
While women are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, they are also excelling at managing it. From Taiwan to Germany, New Zealand to Iceland, the responses of countries with women at the helm have been generally seen as the most effective, keeping deaths down and the spread of the infection under control. This is all the more noteworthy given that women make up less than 7 per cent of world leaders.
While there are caveats and complicating factors at play here, it does highlight the urgent need to increase the representation of women in all positions of influence.
As we announce the winners of our Inspiring Women in Business Awards, recognising the country’s visionary and groundbreaking businesswomen, we call on businesses to prioritise their gender equality schemes. Ignore this issue, and your business will go backwards, your bottom line will be hit and your competitors will outperform you. In the “new normal”, we must make sure that female leaders are at the table.
“While there are lots of new and immediate priorities for business leaders in dealing with the pandemic, it’s really important that we keep our eyes on the longer term. No value is more important than equality,” says Dr Duncan Brown, head of HR consultancy at the IES (Institute for Employment Studies) and one of this year’s judges.
“We know from our research that having inspiring female leaders and role models is vital to helping far more women to break through the continuing glass ceiling. We need to start building a better world. Our post-pandemic future mustn't just repeat the divisions of the past.”
Inspiring Women in Business Awards: Meet the winners
Entrepreneur of the Year: Tech
Victoria Peppiatt, Phrasee
Convinced that AI could be used to generate marketing copy better and faster than humans (without sounding spammy or robotic), Peppiatt co-founded Phrasee in 2015. Today, its technology is used by brands including Superdry, Virgin Holidays, eBay, Dixons Carphone and Domino’s – and more than 300 million people across the world have experienced Phrasee-generated copy. The company, which has offices in the UK and the US, employs 50 people. According to her co-founders, Peppiatt is “the glue that holds everything together”.
Judge’s comment: “Peppiatt has disrupted the world of marketing by pioneering AI-powered copywriting. This country needs more brilliant women in tech like her.”
Anna Assassa, Tisski: Assassa founded cloud technology transformation consultancy Tisski in 2011, beating off stiff competition from larger rivals to win contracts with likes of the NHS, the Department for Transport and the Crown Prosecution Service. Turnover doubled to £8m last year.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Drinks
Raissa and Joyce de Haas, Double Dutch
The de Haas twins are shaking up the drinks market with their range of premium, low-calorie and vegan-friendly mixers. Launched in 2015, Double Dutch now sells just under a million bottles per month to 25 countries worldwide and is stocked in 5,000 bars and restaurants across the UK as well as in Waitrose, Amazon and Ocado. Earlier this year, the duo launched a scholarship and mentoring programme to help support, train and empower aspiring female bartenders.
Judge’s comment: “This dynamic duo has successfully brought a number of trends in drinks together to build a business that appears to have real longevity.”
Entrepreneur of the Year: Publishing
Carole Tonkinson, Bluebird (Pan Macmillan)
Tonkinson launched Bluebird in 2015 with the aim of publishing books that “make the world more tolerant, informed, compassionate and delicious”. She has built it into one of the most successful non-fiction imprints in British publishing, with titles such as Jack Monroe's Tin Can Cook, Lean in 15 by Joe Wicks, and Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone’s Pinch of Nom, the fastest-selling non-fiction title since records began and the bestselling book of 2019 with more than one million copies sold. Last year, Bluebird was the third biggest non-fiction imprint in the country (despite only publishing around 20 new books a year): the overall UK books market grew by £39.1m and Bluebird's growth of £11.9m accounted for 30 per cent of that.
Judge’s comment: “A true visionary in a sector that many had written off.”
Entrepreneur of the Year: Femtech
Tania Boler, Elvie
When Boler had a baby, she was shocked to discover that one in three women experience pelvic floor problems after giving birth. Inspired to transform female healthcare, she founded Elvie in 2013. The firm, which has raised nearly $50m, sells two main products: a silent, wearable, wireless breast pump and a smart pelvic floor trainer that's currently used by the NHS. Boler, who has a PhD in reproductive health, is determined to challenge taboos around women’s health with marketing stunts including giant inflatable boobs (complete with stretch marks and nipple hair) and an 18ft vagina blimp.
Judge’s comment: “Elvie is a pioneer in female healthcare. What a brilliant business.”
Entrepreneur of the Year: Marketing and Comms
Rachel Pendered, Media Zoo
Former BBC TV producer Pendered started Media Zoo in 2003 and has built it into a £14m-turnover creative comms group, specialising in film, digital learning and PR. Named PR Week's fastest growing agency, Media Zoo employs more than 125 staff in London, Glasgow, Zurich and New York and is the only UK agency to win both the prestigious “Grand Prix” at the Cannes Corporate Film Festival and the “Grand” at the New York TV & Film awards. Its clients include Sky, Amazon and Tesco.
Judge's comment: "Pendered has built one of the country's fastest growing agencies, with a string of impressive client wins and awards. She's a role model to all aspiring entrepreneurs."
Tamara Littleton, The Social Element: Littleton started The Social Element in 2002 and has built it into a £9.5m-turnover social media agency, employing a diverse (and mainly remote) workforce spanning 40 countries. She supports the LGBTQI community and started a network called Evil Genius to mentor female entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Food
Hillary Graves, Little Dish
After having her first child, Graves was horrified to find that baby and toddler food in the supermarkets had a shelf life of up to two years. Spotting a gap in the market for fresh, nutritious meals for toddlers, she launched Little Dish and set out to replicate the meals parents were making in their own kitchens, using 100 per cent natural ingredients and no added salt or sugar. In 2006, she secured a trial in 20 Waitrose stores; today, Little Dish is the UK market leader in chilled children's meals, feeding 200,00 toddlers every week. The firm expanded into the US last year with a deal to sell in more than 175 Walmart stores.
Judge’s comment: “Innovative, resilient and global in outlook, Graves is one to watch in her sector.”
Entrepreneur of the Year: Cybersecurity
Poppy Gustafsson, Darktrace
Chartered accountant Gustafsson is at the helm of Cambridge-based cyber security firm Darktrace, which uses AI to mimic the human immune system, protecting against novel threats and mounting a preemptive response. Set up in 2013 by a mix of mathematicians and government intelligence experts, Darktrace has grown to a $1.65bn “unicorn” valuation with a global workforce of more than 1,000 employees (40 per cent of which are female – a record in the technology sector). Gustafsson was awarded an OBE last year for her services to cyber security.
Judge’s comment: “To grow a business to a $1.65bn valuation in under five years is incredible. A real British success story.”
CEO of the Year
Natalie Cummins, Zenith UK
Cummins’ journey to the summit of Zenith began more than two decades ago when she joined as a graduate in 1998. She was promoted to UK CEO in 2018 and has grown like-for-like organic revenue by more than six per cent, generated more than half of revenue from "non-core" media services for the first time, and beefed up the management team (which is 25 per cent BAME). She’s also landed some key client wins, signing up Macmillan, Three and Disney last year. And she personally led the pitches: "If you're not doing any work on clients, you're an expensive overhead," she says. Cummins, who is a widow and lone parent of three, was named Media Agency Head of the Year by our sister title Campaign.
Judge's comment: "To head up an agency, grow revenues and win new clients such as Macmillan and Disney in the past year, all while being a lone parent of three, is extraordinary. She's a hard grafter and a visionary."
Jill Palmer, Click Travel: With Palmer at the helm, this Birmingham-based corporate travel management firm has been listed in the Sunday Times "Best Companies to Work For" six years in a row and is one of the country's fastest growing enterprises. Palmer was the first non-family member on the board.
Louise Johnson, Fuse: Johnson was promoted to the top job at Fuse in 2018, becoming the youngest CEO across Omnicom Media Group UK. Under her leadership, Fuse has tripled to a team of 210, servicing brands including Nissan, PepsiCo, Google, Santander and Vodafone.
Director of the Year
Johann Muldoon, Manor Architects
Born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Muldoon grew up in a tin-roofed room with no running water or electricity, and was bullied at school due to her teenage parents’ mixed religions marriage. She was the first in her family to go to university and went on to study at The Mackintosh School of Architecture where she was awarded, for the first time in history, the City of Glasgow and RIAS silver medals, the Royal Scottish Academy Architecture Prize and The Merchants House Bursary, before becoming the youngest ever tutor to work there. Aged 30, she bought a 50 per cent share in Manor Architects, turned the business around, and became the first woman in Ireland to receive an MBE for architecture and business. Earlier this year she formed Platform NI, a new charity to lobby on behalf of women on issues such as childcare and mental health.
Judge's comment: "An exceptional and inspirational female role model in the male-dominated world of architecture."
Jo Bertram, O2 Business: Bertram became managing director of O2's newly created business division last summer: within six months, it was the fastest-growing area of the entire company. Bertram is also the executive sponsor for O2's inclusion agenda.
Samairah Maqsood, MVF: Maqsood heads up a global team of 75 salespeople at customer generation firm MVF – and was one of its first female directors. The company, one of the fastest growing tech firms in the UK, has a 95 per cent client retention rate.
Gemma Appleford, IPG Mediabrands
Appleford started her career as an apprentice with communications agency Initiative (part of the IPG Mediabrands network). Within three years, she’d been promoted to senior planner, working on advertising campaigns for brands including LEGO and Homebase. Now, at the age of 23, she runs the early careers division for IPG Mediabrands UK and Ireland, recruiting up to 100 roles each year across all areas of the business, ranging from media planning through to analytics and strategy. The firm’s executive chairman and CEO Caroline Foster Kenny describes Appleford as “an amazing talent.”
Judge's comment: "Proof of how important apprenticeship schemes are. Appleford is a future leader."
Katerina Dayantis, BDO: Dayantis joined auditors BDO in 2014, straight out of uni. Within three years, she'd been promoted from admin assistant to operations manager for the company's London Audit Group (LAG). She created and led the division's millennial survey, reporting to senior partners on how different generations within the firm interact.
Olivia Koewius, Fuse: Last year, easyJet appointed marketing agency Fuse to help it connect with a generation of travellers through long term brand-to-brand partnerships. Senior account director Koewius led the pitch, catapulting Fuse into the world of commercial partnerships and securing it more than £6m in new revenues.
Mentor of the Year
Wendy Walton, BDO
The most senior female at accountancy and business advisory firm BDO – and listed as one of the country’s most influential private client practitioners – Walton is using her position to inspire others and activate change - and she does this with “no ego”. She personally asked the managing partner to link his remuneration to gender balance, she leads BDO's Women in Finance Charter commitments, designed BDO's inclusive leadership training and has mentored countless employees across the business. As head of head of global private client services, Walton says her primary objective at BDO is “to be a role model to help others succeed”.
Judge’s comment: “Walton is challenging the status quo in her organisation to lift and support other women. She is paving the way for future generations.”
Champion of Change
Stephanie Drakes, Social & Local
Drakes was made redundant from a major advertising firm in 2011. Aged 55 and female, she knew there was no future for her in adland so she decided to create her own agency – with a difference. Enter SoLo, the only communications company to be established as a Community Interest Company, investing 50 per cent of profit into social projects. Disrupting the traditional and often harsh “bleed-to-succeed” advertising agency model, SoLo’s remote working environment offers flexibility and work-life balance, with a workforce that includes mums, carers and OAPs. Earlier this year, Drakes launched Brilliant Creative Minds to open up the conversation on stress in the agency world.
Judge’s comment: “Drakes has changed the game in advertising, creating an entirely new business model – not only the first Community Interest Company of its kind, but opening up work to those potentially excluded in traditional models.”
Belinda Parmar OBE, The Empathy Business: The author of Little Miss Geek, Parmar was awarded an OBE in 2015 for her services to women in tech. She now runs The Empathy Business to transform the way large companies treat their colleagues and customers; campaigns against tech addiction; and runs workshops with mums who are struggling to navigate healthy tech usage with their children.
Flexible Working Initiative of the Year
The PR industry is in the midst of an "overtime epidemic", with staff working more than double the number of unpaid overtime days than the average British worker. To counter the problem, healthcare communications consultancy Synergy decided to trial a four-day working week to see if it could improve the work-life balance for staff without affecting productivity or client satisfaction. For six months, all staff worked 36 hours over four days, compared to 40 hours previously, for an unaltered salary and holiday allowance. By the end of the pilot, staff positivity was at 100 per cent and no clients had reported any concerns as a result of the new working patterns. The firm formally rolled out its four-day working week for all staff last year, with CEO Ffyona Dawber commenting: "When Henry Ford reduced the working week from six to five days because of improved productivity due to automation, everyone thought he was mad. Now, parallels in efficiencies afforded to us by technology mean it is time for a quantum leap in our industry."
Judge's comment: "This company is leading the four-day working week movement, proving it can increase productivity, reduce anxiety and overtime, and attract new talent. A bold initiative that challenges ingrained practices."
Nominations were judged by: Alexis Rose, global inclusion and diversity director, Accenture Strategy; Anna Baréz-Brown, co-founder, Shine 4 Women; Stephen Frost, CEO, Frost Included; Eithne O'Leary, president, Stifel; Dr Duncan Brown; head of HR consultancy, IES; Leila Siddiqi, head of diversity, IPA; and Management Today's head of content Kate Bassett.
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