In the spirit of true collaboration between international women and men, 7 organisations joined forces to celebrate International Women’s Day on Thursday 5 March 2020. Inspite of the coronavirus scare nearly 80 men and women from diverse backgrounds attended.
This East West Panel Discussion event on the 2020 IWD theme of “EachforEqual-an Equal World is an Enabled World” was organised by IoD City and other groups taking part included Women Icebreakers of The 48 Group Club, Mulan Foundation Network, Women in the Livery of the City Livery Club, The British Malaysian Society, Singapore Business Group and ASEAN UK Business Forum ( AUBF ).
The chosen venue, the China Exchange set up by the late Sir David Tang for East West Cultural Exchange was the appropriate setting for the excellent contributions from the top line up of speakers with family origins in Greece, Togo/France, Tanzania, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and the UK.
Vicky Pryce, well known top economist at CEBR, born in Greece and author of several books including “Women v Capitalism “ published in November 2019, first female Master of the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants and a member of the City of London’s Diversity Working Party pointed out that progress on achieving gender parity is still too slow and may not happen in our lifetime. In her view women’s skills are not used at the right level hence pay gap issues arise. There is still unconscious bias which is holding back women in the workplace. More senior women are needed in business.
Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart who has an Indian father and Hong Kong Chinese mother and was born in Malaysia is a family lawyer and Co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese and Co-Founder and Chair of the Diaspora Young Leaders Programme, spoke on the need to get more women into Parliament. In this connection she has been helping the Women2Win campaign. She outlined the main barriers which are stopping women from being MPs such as caring for family responsibilities, the lack of resource issue as regards time, money and support, lack of confidence in whether they have the right skills, a male culture in Parliament, very unsociable hours as an MP and social media attacks on women. She stressed the importance of women being more visible and having a voice in Parliament to influence legislation that affects us all.
Francine Beleyi from Togo but brought up in France has lived in the UK for the past 20 years A former investment banker she founded Nucleus of Change 13 years ago to empower CEOs especially women to thrive in a digital world. She strongly believes that we all need to be digital literate nowadays to be successful as not being so is just like being illiterate, not able to read or write. She has been helping to empower 200 women from 54 counties in Africa. Her tips to achieve success are know yourself, what we stand for, what we want to be known for, know your expertise, know your niche, control your image and the impressions you give others, connect to others with empathy and authenticity and build your own support system and cultivate your networks. Women should also be problem solvers and have a responsibility to empower the next generation. It is also important for women to build an influential personal brand.
Sabila Din is CEO of Din Consultants and originally from Tanzania, a Gender Specialist at the World Bank/IFC and Chair of the Financial Services Group of IoD City. She announced the launch of her Report on Gender Parity in Trade and Supply Chain. Essentially women’s participation in trade could add US$28 trillion to the global economy.
Close to 40% of SMEs in the world are women owned businesses but only 15% of exporting firms are lead by women. Women businesses in Gambia are the top exporters in the world with 47% compared to 6% in the UK and 15% in the USA. Main barrier stopping women from exporting is access to finance as in some countries women cannot own property and therefore cannot provide collateral to lenders. Women are not great risk takers either. More governments should follow the lead of the Canadians by introducing gender procurement/supply chain policies. There is no such policy in the UK and so far in the Brexit trade negotiations there is no mention of gender.
Chinese journalist, author, public speaker, social commentator and communicator between China and the World, Lijia Zhang shared her personal views on equal opportunities in China. Her grandmother was sold into a brothel when young, worked there for 10 years before she met a man who took her as his concubine. Lijia reckons she was born at the right time in China when reforms were taking place that created many opportunities for men and women although these were not always equally distributed. Her mother welcomed the New China based on Chairman Mao ‘s belief that Women hold up half the sky. In 1951 being able to take concubines was abolished and women were given equal rights to education. Women could work with men in the factories which was previously a man’s job. Her mother worked in a factory and Lijia grew up in the factory residential compound. She started working life as a rocket factory worker. Her decision to tutor herself in English eventually led to her being the well known international personality that she is today and the 2018 winner of the Mulan Awards for Contribution to Arts, Culture and Sports. These days there are many articles in China on gender issues and women are not afraid to protest about domestic violence or sexual harassment.
David Stringer-Lamarre, Chairman of IoD London Region and Managing Director of Fortis Consulting London Ltd is very pleased that IoD City has a high and growing percentage of women members. IoD National Chair Charlotte Valeur is a great supporter of Diversity. The key question to all businesses is Why are you not diverse since it makes total economic sense and there are so many benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce. The Why has now moved to talking about How you can be more diverse and inclusive, how to deal with women in the pipeline on the way to the top, how to get talented women back to work and stop leakage in the system, how to deal with unconscious bias and the importance of having successful women as role models. Women should help each other not pull up the ladder after they get to the top.
Mei Sim Lai OBE DL who came to the UK from Malaysia in 1970 has run IoD City since 1991 as Hon Secretary and chair of its China Interest Group, is the Chairman of The British Malaysian Society, Mulan Foundation Network, Hon Treasurer/Director of The 48 Group Club. In her summing up as the moderator of the panel she called for women to change their mindset by thinking that women are just as capable as men but may do things in a different way. Women should not have to wait for 80 years or more for there to be gender parity. Women should take action now to make it quicker since equal opportunities, sex discrimination and equal pay legislation which has been around for a long time has clearly not speeded up the advancement of women. Women should not be afraid to apply for top positions even though they may not succeed at the first attempt.
It is universally acknowledged that women are very good for the economy and greater participation of women in the workplace, in top positions and as entrepreneurs can make a significant difference to the world economy and the prosperity of all countries. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue but an issue for all men and women internationally.
For more details please contact:
Ms Mei Sim Lai OBE DL
07903 153 793