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Celebrating Women in Wales, but Challenges Still Remain

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Dozens of women from across Wales who have made significant contributions to industry, public life, communities, the media and sport were recognised at the inaugural Womenspire Awards in Cardiff recently.

As they collected their Awards in the striking Dora Stoutzker Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the announcement that women still are far less likely to start their own businesses than men with many earning around £10,000 a year from doing so, came as the sort of news you would have expected to hear several decades ago.

And after more than 40 years since the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, it appears that women are still holding less than 25 per cent of senior management positions globally.

In trying to understand why this is happening on a local level, we were kindly provided with some statistics considered as part of current research undertaken by Chwarae Teg.

“According to the WAVE Report 2015, Wales has the lowest level of income for self-employed women liable for tax among the UK nations and regions and the gap between the self-employed and employed women is the lowest in Wales,” said Christine O’Byrne, Policy Manager at Chwarae Teg. “For example, according to HMRC figures, the average earnings for the tax year 2011-2012 in Wales were £12,853 for women who were self-employed compared with average earning of £18,807 for women in employment. This represents a gap of 68%.”

Whilst the number of female entrepreneurs in start-up stage were increasing, O’Byrne said there are still fewer self-employed women in Wales than men.

“Female entrepreneurial activity stood at 4.4% in 2009 whilst that of males stood at 7.6% when considering all employment activities.

“When comparing this to UK figures overall the ratio of the start-up/early-stage women entrepreneurs in the entire female entrepreneurship population, Wales had 4.2% with the rest of UK at 5.8%.”

Joy Kent, Chief Executive of Chwarae Teg, said:

“For years we have seen women working tirelessly behind the scenes in education, in public life and in industry. In many cases these exemplary women were key personnel with the experience and knowledge crucial to the successful running of the organisation.

“The challenge was (and is) these women were often not recognised. At the Womenspire Awards we saw again the calibre and grit of dozens of women in Wales who deserve to be recognised. There’s a saying often used in Chwarae Teg – you can’t be what you can’t see – and we plan for the Womenspire awards to become the annual event in Wales where we can all see what women achieve for the country and where younger women see what they can be in the future.”

For Mandy Weston, former Business Process Director at Environmental Scientific Group and Administrative Director at National Britannia, there is a lot to be said about women and their role in the workplace.

“Having worked in an organisation with over 700 employees and provided a multitude of essential services around compliance with UK regulations including Health & Safety, Occupational Health, Food Safety, Fire Safety and Pest Control, there is a lot to be said for women with ‘softer skills’ in the workplace when managing issues such as absence and long-term illness. However, given the fact that women still assume the largest share of responsibility for childcare, the need for measures like flexible working, job-sharing practises and more encouragement/support to break the barriers to success in the workplace is essential.”

Weston, who is also Chief of Operations at Welsh ICE – Innovation Centre for Enterprise, used her own network of experienced women in business to set up Wize Consulting in Caerphilly to support small and medium-sized businesses by fulfilling their back office support functions such as processes, event management, bookkeeping, training and HR.

“After 20 years working in senior management the time was right for me to regain some of the work-life balance I have missed out on. I now get to do something I really enjoy – helping businesses grow and spend time with my three wonderful daughters on a regular basis.”

Having re-branded as Wize Virtual Admin, late last year, Weston was delighted to pass the baton on to her own daughter, Cariann, who has taken over the role as director so that Mandy could focus on her position with Welsh ICE full time. She said:

“It is important to me to do something that matters. Sometimes this means having to step into the limelight and take credit for what you have achieved both personally and professionally. I am delighted to be able to share this opportunity with my daughters and inspire other women in business to have a go and keep going.”

Tracey Williams, founder of Welsh Language Recruitment Business, Job Trac Cymru and Welsh language job advertising site Safle Swyddi, agrees.

“As an experienced HR Manager I have seen countless women come through the door with incredible talent and valuable workplace skills. Often these women’s professional aspirations have to fit in alongside their responsibilities for others, making flexibility in the workplace more essential than ever. Fortunately there are several examples of organisations that are embracing this, but the change is happening somewhat slowly. Personally I would like to see more women like me with families set up their own businesses and effect this change quicker for everyone’s benefit.”