Good afternoon. Thank you for that kind introduction, I’m delighted to be here.
Guildhall once housed the Lord Mayor, business traders, big City hitters, and London’s wealth creators.
It was considered a powerhouse of the twentieth century.
So it’s extremely fitting to be joined today by the people I consider to be powerhouses of the twenty-first century – our female entrepreneurs, business owners, CEOs and leaders.
50 years ago, never mind 800 years ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find a single female business owner or board member – let alone enough to fill a whole room.
So today, we should celebrate the progress that we’ve all been a part of.
I think it’s only right to start with a quick round of thank yous;
- To Guildhall, for providing such a stunning backdrop.
- Vodafone for their kind sponsorship, particularly Vittorio and Helen.
- And of course, we wouldn’t all be here if it weren’t for the efforts of the Women’s Business Council and Ruby.
Why this is important
If we want to achieve genuine change, this conversation must involve men too.
And I’m pleased to see there are some men in the audience here today.
But I know that when it comes to each of you here, I’m preaching to the converted. That’s why we all have a duty to get the message out there.
- That gender equality isn’t just good for women - it’s good for business.
- That it isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s critical to our economy, and to our standing on the world stage.
As the Chancellor said just yesterday in what was the first Conservative budget since 1996, we as a nation must improve our productivity. As a country we cannot afford to waste the skills and talents of a single person. Let alone half the population.
That’s why the case for change has never been so compelling.
The Women’s Business Council estimates that better use of women’s skills could be worth up to £23 billion to our economy each year.
And that if women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, there could be 1 million more female entrepreneurs.
We also know that over one and a half million women would like to work more hours. And if they worked just one extra hour a week, that would contribute 80 million more hours a year.
These are powerful figures, and we must turn them into a reality.
Inspiring young girls
For a long time, it felt like there was a lot of talk around workplace equality – but not always the action to match.
As Ruby pointed out, there was a lot of head nodding and warm words.
But I think we have turned a corner; and the progress over recent years, which the creation of the Women’s Business Council attests to, has put an end to the posturing and lip service.
Now women lead a new dialogue, and many of you here have been enlisted as ambassadors and role models to inspire change.
And it’s that last point, about role models, that I think can make such a difference to the choices of young girls.
The other week I visited Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, as part of her ‘Let Girls Learn’ campaign.
She received a rock star welcome.
And that’s because she could tell those girls – “I know what it’s like to be in your shoes.”
The pupils I met that day were mature beyond their years, and I was struck by their confidence and passion to achieve their goals.
Michelle Obama told these girls that if they worked hard, there was nothing they couldn’t achieve; and that they can achieve it regardless of their background.
That’s the message we should all be giving to girls and women everywhere, from classrooms, to boardrooms.
It was wonderful for these girls to see a little bit of themselves in somebody who has gone so far and achieved so much.
Her speech was incredibly inspirational, and those girls will no doubt remember the day that they met the First Lady – I know I certainly will!
But girls need role models in their everyday lives too.
I’m sure we all remember at least one teacher in school, or a colleague in our first job, or a family member who sparked something in us. I definitely do.
Today we’re joined by pupils from Sydenham and Northfleet Girls Schools.
Some of you will have helped us trial the ‘Your Daughter’s Future’ guide, which offers advice to both pupils and parents on which subjects will lead to certain careers – and which will hopefully shape early ambitions.
And Rhyl Primary School, who are working with the WBC and employers to broaden aspirations for all, is here too.
So to the pupils here today, I want you to know that you can never start too young, and the decisions you make now, around the subjects you take, are a great investment for the future.
I’m determined that no career is seen as off limits because of someone’s gender, race or background.
That’s why I want to see more female entrepreneurs, and more women pursuing careers in STEM fields. Girls who study just one STEM A Level – science, technology, engineering or maths – will see their wages rise by £4,500 a year on average.
As we embark on the next five years, we’re determined to govern as a one-nation government.
And that means always looking for ways to inspire girls – so that every young person has the tools they need to fulfil their potential.
Success in Government
There has been a lot of success to build on. And I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved:
- There are 1 million British SMEs with women at the helm.
- And we’ve just been rated the best place in Europe to start a business.
- Only yesterday we celebrated the role of women in international business at the Milan Expo. So we’re firmly on the map internationally and the UK is clearly a great country to be a future businesswoman!
As a Government we want to do everything we can to support women:
Through Think, Act, Report, we are establishing a growing community of best practice - covering well over 2.5 million employees.
We’ve helped to achieve the lowest ever gender pay gap on record; it’s virtually eliminated for women under 40 who work full-time.
By pushing for 30 hours of free childcare we’ll be helping support those who combine raising a family with work.
And 20.6 million employees now also benefit from flexible working; over double the amount of the previous system.
And that’s just a small selection.
Of course, there’s still progress to be made. We now have a fantastic opportunity ahead – and we should get behind and support the personal goals of all women, at any stage of their career.
When we talk about achieving equality for women, we don’t just mean women in the boardroom or the corridors of power.
We mean equality for every woman in our society; for our carers as well as our CEOs, for our mums as well as our Managing Directors.
Talking about what we’ve achieved, and the strides we’ve made is often just as essential as talking about what more still needs to be done.
Which is exactly why days like this are so important.
To stop and take stock, and mark the achievements that serve to motivate us to go further.
As Ruby mentioned earlier, the joint commitment of business and government means there’s never a better time in history to be a woman.
But I’d go one step beyond that.
I think there has never been a better time to be a woman with an ambition, and this Government is on your side.