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Women in Business

20 January 2021


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On 17 December 2020 ICAEW Southern celebrated Women in Business and specifically Mary Harris Smith with James Cowper Kreston partner, Louise Hallsworth, chairing the event.

Mary became the first female ICAEW member 100 years ago. The ICAEW was founded by Royal charter in 1880 and although Mary completed her qualification, she was not allowed membership because she was a woman.

She first applied to be a fellow of the Institute in 1891 – she was in her seventies when she was finally admitted as a member in 1920.

Today the ICAEW has 44,000 female members making up 29% of its members. This has increased significantly from when Louise joined in 1986 when it was only 7%.

In 1880 women earnt on average 40% of a man’s salary. In 1888 Clementina Black, proposed the first TUC equal pay resolution. This demand was made not on the basis of women’s right to equal pay, but on the basis that their lower pay disadvantaged men in the labour market! The resolution stated that where women were “employed merely because they were cheaper, all work gradually fell into their hands, … and that resulted in lower (wages) to the general injury of men and women alike.

Diversity in the workplace is now well evidenced and we are all aware of the Gender pay gap and more recently the Gender pension gap. It is interesting that after 120 years we have the same argument but on very different grounds!

This event was a celebration of all women in business – not just the high achievers and those striving for recognition but all the women who contribute to business in whatever way they have chosen.

Three local inspiring female speakers shared their stories, all very different, but all had a unity in the passion for what they have achieved in a male dominated environment. Ironically, the common challenge amongst them was other women critiquing their journey’s.

Only one in five businesses in the UK is run by a woman – even though women outnumber men by around 900,000. Last year the ‘Rose review’ was undertaken by government looking at barriers to women in business. The advancement of female entrepreneurs could be worth £250bn to the UK economy and it is essential all women are encouraged, not discouraged, by male and female counterparts, into businesses in the future.

As a firm James Cowper Kreston has diversity high on the agenda and has conducted various unconscious bias workshops across the firm from the partners down.

In 2009 the firm consisted of 59% female staff and had 3 female partners. Fast forward to the start of 2021 the firm still maintains its 59% female population (having grown as a firm by 41% over this period) currently has 6 female partners including the joint Managing Partner and the firms Chair.