The inaugural Woking Chambers “Women in Business” event took place last week. Three successful local business women spoke to a packed room about their experiences in the workplace. It was a great first event, of what I hope will be many. Below are my key takeaways, but I’m sure everyone had their own perspective.

Helen Goatley, Barlow Robbins Chairman

As host for the event at the Woking office, Helen Goatley, from Barlow Robbins spoke first. As Chairman – more on that later – she provided an insightful view into a profession that is fairly evenly split at a junior level. However, the higher up the ladder you go, the more men there are in senior positions as she quoted from the SRA 2017 stats. Helen also spoke about a little known lawyer, Lady Barbara Littlewood whose story is truly inspirational. Whilst sharing anecdotes of bringing children to work and having a supportive culture in the company, Helen finished with her key learning points.

Helen Goatley key learnings

Marian Imrie, CEO Woking & Sam Beare Hospice

Second on the agenda was Marian Imrie, the CEO of Woking and Sam Beare Hospice. Having worked in the healthcare sector for many years, she was able to give us an insight into how she felt working patterns for women had changed and progressed over the last “four and a half” decades. I think her personal insight/reflection was spot on and I unashamedly use the content from her slides here.

1970’s Now…..
Education Many women were discouraged from further education In terms of university applications, women outnumber men by > 100,000 each year
Career choices Caring profession, teaching, secretarial No limits / no management of expectations
Class Class was an issue Much more of a meritocracy
Employment The “company man” would relocate within the company, jobs were for life and there was a clear retirement goal The “portfolio” C.V., lines between employment and retirement are blurred
Life expectancy 81 for women / 75 for men 89 for women / 85 for men
Family Women were routinely (and legitimately) being sacked on the grounds of pregnancy during the 1970s Pregnancy can still negatively impact on a career
Structure Clear reporting structures, basic I.T., time servers and dress codes Unclear structures, greater uncertainty, home working and isolation
Property More affordable but women still routinely refused mortgages in their own right No discrimination but property less affordable (the rise of the “bank of mum and dad”)

Liz Pocknell, CV Technic

Last but by no means least we heard from Liz Pocknell, Woking’s “Eminent Citizen 2019” – more here. But this award was bestowed not on the basis of her professional life, but her personal life with her passion for Scouting. With a science background, Liz told us how she had forged ahead in her education as the solitary female on her engineering degree. Introducing herself as a “self-confessed geek”, she spoke about how she never felt any different to her make colleagues in the workplace. That she was just “me” and that she “never gave up hope” in doing what she wanted to do in the workplace. Her career has culminated in running a company CV Technic, which specialises in document templates and CV preparation, playing to her strengths.

Q&A Session

After the three speaker slots, it was time for me to step into the breach. I had been asked to Chair the Q&A session at the end, fielding questions from the audience and trying to elicit more great tips and commentary from the brilliant panel.

From my perspective, I am in the TVision bubble where women in business isn’t an issue. With a female MD, Pippa values and supports women in the workplace, and we have full time, term-time and part-time employees all contributing to the success of the company. Add to this my background of being an ex-Tiffin Girl, I don’t think that I was ever going to worry about being a girl stopping me from doing anything!

There were questions around their experience of business from start up through to well established (with comment from Rachel from Ring-a-Roses Florist in St Johns), and whether the panel would have changed anything (2 yes’s and 1 no). My favourite question had to be of Helen whether she “wanted to be called Chairman, or had the title been imposed”. Apparently this gets asked a lot and she responded with the comment that she was happy with the title on acceptance, but that maybe now she would consider changing it.

All in all, Woking Women in Business was a well-attended and well organised evening run by the Woking Chambers of Commerce committee and hosted by Barlow Robbins. I look forward to attending the next one.

Danusia Jolliffe – Marketing Manager