A firm started by two British women over frustration about a lack of resources available to females has now grown into a global business in 50 countries and is helping women around the world advance in business.
Karen Gill and Maxine Benson started global membership network Everywoman in 1999 after they felt they were being patronised by a lot of mainstream providers when they were trying to start up a firm. “We were meeting other women who were sharing those experiences,” says Gill. “Suddenly we realised there was a need for a different way to communicate and engage with women. We did a big piece of research for NatWest and discovered, lo and behold, that the way they were communicating with women was not helpful.”
Initially, Everywoman began as an online business, but it was not growing as fast as Gill and Benson had hoped for. IBM, their first partner, suggested they host a conference, as these events were really successful in the US.
Gill says: “Our first event was in London in 2001 and it was called the National Everywoman Conference, specifically for women entrepreneurs. That day was a defining moment because that room was on fire.
“Women could not wait to get up and have their voice heard – it was like an awakening, like we really need to do something about this. That is when we knew we were on to something.”
Since then Everywoman has grown. It now produces numerous events and awards in various sectors, including technology, transport and logistics, manufacturing and engineering and retail. Its NatWest Everywoman Awards, which has a 13-year history, is Britain’s most successful programme which supports female enterprise. The awards, which open for nominations on April 6, recognise the achievements of dozens of women from all walks of life, highlighting what impressive role models they can be.
Both Gill and Benson have also been recognised for their achievements in women’s enterprise, gaining MBEs in 2009. But despite these advancements there are still few women at the top. Gill explains that women and men come into the workplace at equal numbers. Then women start to go to 30 per cent in management, 20 per cent in senior management, 10 per cent executive and 5 per cent senior executives. The further up the pyramid, the fewer women there are.
Benson says: “We did a piece of research looking into what female middle managers and HR professionals were telling us about the challenges they had to get women into senior positions within the workplace.
“There was an absolute disconnect. The female middle managers knew they were doing a good job and believed they were getting recognised for it and were subsequently expecting a tap on the shoulder, or anticipating they would get promoted.
“The conversation on the HR side of things was that the women were doing a great job, but that they did not seem as ambitious as the men.”
Everywoman provides females with the skills to take control of their experience so they can be proactive about their career progression without having to wait for that tap on the shoulder. Gill says: “We do a lot of gender intelligence workshops and we have rolled them out across NatWest, one of our partners. It is all based on fact – biological, scientific and psychological differences between men and women. It is jaw dropping for the men in the room.”
Research shows the performance of a company improves the more diverse the workplace is. One sector that is making a push for women in the workforce is technology.
Benson says: “There isn’t any industry that is putting the focus on wanting to get women into it more than technology. The research demonstrates that groups with diverse gender produce better results in terms of innovation and creativity. That is universally agreed across technology now.”
“The future economy is going to be in STEM careers,” Gill says. “The appalling levels of girls studying STEM subject is going to become a big danger. The pay gap is going to widen and widen because those are the jobs that are going to be in demand, that are going to pay really highly.”
The two believe that advancing women in all areas of business not only produces better more innovative results but is an economic imperative. Everywoman is helping women make those advancements and is now a global business.
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