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Today the world marks International Women’s Day: We highlight female leaders from across the region

8 March 2023
The Business Magazine article image for: Today the world marks International Women’s Day: We highlight female leaders from across the region

Today the world marks International Women’s Day, an annual celebration of inspiring women that has (surprisingly) been going on for more than a century.

More recently, the day has also marked a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

While great progress has been made over the most recent decades for women’s rights across much of the Western World (and we use this geographical reference on purpose to acknowledge the recent shocking attacks on women’s rights in Afghanistan), there is still a way to go.

Scroll through LinkedIn and most of the top jobs are still held by men. But things are changing as more family-friendly working practices are being increasingly adopted by both corporate and commercial companies.

And fewer women feel the need to conform to stereotypes. Many of those who have risen to the top in their various professions no longer have to wear five-inch heels and sharply tailored dresses to show they mean business (although plenty do, particularly in the City of London, but that’s another business culture altogether).

From a business perspective, encouraging women in business is a no-brainer. The Rose Review, commissioned by the government in 2019 which shed light on the barriers faced by women starting and growing businesses, highlighted that if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as men, up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy –money that this country could certainly do with.

Last year a Rose Review progress report was published, and there are positives.

Two years into the pandemic, female entrepreneurship has proved exceptionally resilient. More women than ever are starting new businesses.

More than 140,000 all-female-founded companies were created last year, and this figure is growing by more than a third each year. It means that more than 20 per cent of new fi rms are now led by women, a record high.

Severn Trent Liv Garfield 2And there are more women on the boards of the UK’s listed companies too. When James Bowling retires as Chief Financial Officer at Coventry-headquartered Severn Trent in July, Helen Miles – currently Capital and Commercial Services Director at the water company, will take over. She will join chair Christine Hodgson and CEO Liv Garfield.

This means the three top jobs at one of the UK's biggest water companies, will be held by women – the first company in the FTSE 100 to appoint an all-woman top leadership team.

We can drive change through example.

In association with BPE Solicitors, we highlight female leaders from across the region who are blazing a trail – and not always in stilettos…

#IWD2023 #EmbraceEquity

Helen Isherwood[14]Helen Isherwood, Managing Director, Adey, Gloucester

Appointed as Managing Director in 2023, Helen first joined the business as product director in 2017. Becoming Innovation Director in 2020, she created an innovation roadmap which has been instrumental in the company’s growth. Now part of Genuit Group, Adey employs 300 people and has a turnover of more than £80 million. Helen believes in the talent of those she works with, empowering them with the right support and structure. She prioritises getting to know her teams and feels a responsibility to ensure they are successful and happy.

Helen is replacing Matthew Webber, who is moving onward within the Genuit Group. Matthew said: “Helen is exceptional – strong and determined and wants to get on with the job.”

Helen has more than 25 years’ experience heading up international marketing and product development teams. She is particularly proud of building teams that deliver successful innovative solutions.

Emma Foster, Managing Director, Kohler Mira, Cheltenham

Emma Foster, Managing Director, Kohler Mira[23]Emma Foster was appointed as the new UK Managing Director at Kohler Mira Showers, the UK’s leading shower manufacturer.

Emma’s appointment follows 19 years with Kohler Mira having started as a graduate in 2004. She was previously Head of Marketing at the company.



Dr Zara Nanu, MBE, Founder and CEO, Gapsquare, Bristol

Inspiring Women Dr Zara NanuDr Nanu founded Gapsquare in 2017 after hearing the World Economic Forum's prediction that it would take 217 years before the gender pay gap could be closed. The company is now driving change for hundreds of thousands of employees around the globe, hoping to achieve fair pay a lot earlier than that.

The company develops AI-based software that crunches employment data to tackle issues such as gender pay inequality. Dr Nanu received an MBE in the late Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee Birthday Honours list, for “services to tackling global workplace inequalities and promoting fairness and inclusion”.

In an interview last year, Dr Nanu said: ““Nearly three-quarters of UK businesses are committed and taking action on pay equality. “As the dial is turning on the pay gap, we can accelerate this change further.

Technology and innovation allow organisations to tap into their data to build a more equal and inclusive place of work. Now businesses are seeing the bigger picture: not just wages, but also elements beyond pay that can influence equality at work, all of which can contribute to a truly impactful plan of action. As finances tighten, the difference in pay between men and women will be keenly felt. Now is the time to accelerate and build on the change we’ve made so far, truly cementing the end of the pay gap as a top business priority.”

She started her career combating human trafficking and campaigning on women’s rights issues. Inspired by years spent working for women’s charities in Moldova, the US and the UK, she identified an opportunity to use technology to break down gender bias in the workforce.

The company has been so successful that in 2021 it was acquired by XpertHR, which helps organisations achieve greater efficiency, reduce risk and increase employee engagement.

Lindsay Young, CEO, Clarkson Evans, Cheltenham

Lindsay YoungBased at Staverton in Gloucestershire, Clarkson Evans is the largest electrical contractor serving the UK’s new-build housing sector. It employs around 850 staff across the country and in a typical year it wires more than 24,000 new homes achieving an annual turnover of around £65 million.

Having achieved a degree in Commerce, she joined Clarkson Evans in 2001 and early on felt she was appreciated for what she was doing.

“The company employed many people who knew a lot about construction and electrical installation but there were very few people there who could write a decent letter and use communications.”

She progressed up through management, becoming chief operating officer. In January last year the company underwent a management buy-out and Lindsay took on the reigns of Chief Executive Officer.

Her leadership philosophy is to be authentic. Speaking to Business & Innovation Magazine last year she said: “Being a leader to me is also partly about being a good actor. You have got to play the part – from the moment you are choosing what to wear in the morning, you are thinking about the image you are trying to project.

“I always think you should dress for the role above the one you have.”

Dr Sarah Beardsley, RAL Space Director, Oxford

Dr Sarah Beardsley RAL SpaceLast year, RAL Space based at Harwell in Oxfordshire, appointed a new director to advance its ambitious programme of space science and technology development.

Sarah Beardsley has extensive experience of the science and engineering challenges faced by RAL Space. As the Head of the Space Engineering and Technology Division she oversaw the engineers, technicians and project managers underpinning many of the hardware projects across the department.

Prior to this she worked as an instrument scientist on RAL Space's first mission to the moon and as a project manager on various high-profile missions. Sarah has been active in defining the UK and European strategies for solar system science, sitting on several national and international advisory panels for the community.

Over the coming years RAL Space is leading the consortium for the European Space Agency's Ariel exoplanet mission and the commissioning of the National Satellite Test Facility, which will help get spacecraft ready for launch and enable businesses to build bigger, more technologically advanced satellites. The department is also pioneering new technologies on board smaller, faster and cheaper missions.

Sarah is passionate about early careers development and is a proactive supporter of graduate and apprentice development, sitting on the Science and Technology Facilities Council governance boards for both.

Christine Allison, Chair of the South West Investment Group (SWIG)

Christine AllisonChristine was appointed Chair of the South West Investment Group (SWIG) in January. She has been a Director of SWIG Ltd and Chair of SWIG Finance for the past two years, and a non-executive director since 2017.

Prior to her current role, Christine spent more than 20 years with the World Bank in Washington DC, was a fellow of the London based Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation, and a Special Advisor to the Treasury Select Committee. She is currently a Director of the South West Business Council.

SWIG aims to make finance accessible by providing small business loans to viable SMEs and start-ups in the South West region, which have the potential to grow and benefit the economy.

Its funds are designed for those who are unable to secure all their requirements from traditional sources – whether due to a lack of track record, security requirements which can’t be met, historic financial issues or simply not meeting conventional credit scoring methods.

Karen Taylor, Managing Director, Gloucestershire Airport

Gloucestershire Airport Karen Taylor

Gloucestershire Airport is going through the most transformative period in its history.

The busy airfield, which opened in the 1930s, is now also a UK centre for aviation training, with a number of schools based on the site as well as hosting the company that services 90 per cent of the UK’s 999 helicopters.

It’s also undergoing major investment. The runway is being extended, a new business park is being built and investments in other major upgrades being made.

The woman responsible for this change is Karen Taylor.

Trained in business and accountancy, Karen spent her early career working in London for some of the UK’s largest financial institutions, but returned to work in Gloucestershire after her son had a medical scare and she wanted to be closer to home if it ever happened again (it didn’t). She took a job at Gloucester City Homes – and went from a fast-moving financial job in London to a struggling council house department which had just been made an Arms Length Management Organisation to manage and improve the council’s housing stock.

“We secured millions of pounds in funding and turned it into a successful independent housing association,” she said.

Karen joined Gloucestershire Airport in 2018 and took over as Managing Director two years later. She’s now rolling out a major turnaround project for the second time in her career.

“I saw a huge opportunity for Gloucestershire Airport,” she says. “It’s an unrecognised gem. We have a wealth of land, of businesses, of aircraft that want to come here.”

She also supports promoting opportunities for young people and the airport regularly hosts young people undertaking work experience.

The biggest challenge for every airport is moving to sustainable aviation, says Karen and she’s making sure that Gloucestershire Airport is in on that conversation too. The site is currently shortlisted to be one of the UK’s first hydrogen refuelling plants.

Natalie Griffith, Games industry supremo, Unit 2 Games (a Meta company), Leamington

Natalie Griffith has spent more than 30 years in the games industry career, including in graphic design, journalism and event management, She also has more than 20 years of in-house and agency marketing, branding and PR experience. As well as time at award-winning independent

developer Blitz Games Studios, games publisher Codemasters and Official Nintendo Magazine Australia, Natalie also ran her own comms and branding agency for more than eight years, working with clients ranging from start-ups to major corporates.

Natalie is. a former Top 100 Women in Games alumnus and was awarded the MCV Women in Games Career Mentor award in 2017. She is an industry ambassador for the gaming for the disabled charity SpecialEffect and a former TEDx speaker.

As if this wasn’t enough, she is also a STEMnet Video Games Ambassador, encouraging young people into careers in games and tech, a former Next Gen Skills Academy Aspiring Women mentor, inaugural board member of West Midlands screen sector body Create Central and Industry Champion for NESTA’s Policy & Evidence Centre.

And for her day job? Natalie combines a life-long passion with making a living as head of brand and marketing at Meta studio Unit 2 Games, where she’s helping to bring the future vision of the metaverse to life.

Ros Deegan, MBA, Chief Executive, OMass Therapeutics, Oxford

Ros Deagan OmassRos Deegan joined OMass Therapeutics as CEO in May 2019 from Bicycle Therapeutics where she served as President, Chief Business Officer, and a Director of the US subsidiary of the company. Ros established the company’s Boston-based subsidiary and over a three-year period led three major transactions and grew the US organisation to more than 20 employees.

Prior to that Ros served as Senior Vice President, Business Development and Operations at Trevena, Inc. During her tenure at Bicycle and Trevena, the companies put four programmes into clinic, and raised more than $300 million in financings. Last year, under her watch, OMass Therapeutics raised $100 million to advance OMass’s portfolio towards clinical trials.

Victoria Collett, Development Director at Thomas White Oxford

Victoria CollettVictoria was appointed Development Director at Thomas White Oxford, the development company of St John’s College, last year.

She is tasked with delivering Oxford North, the city’s £700 million new global innovation district. Victoria joined Thomas White Oxford from Legal & General Capital, where she headed development for its Suburban Build to Rent business, building-up a portfolio of projects with its sister companies and local authority partners including the North Horsham masterplan in West Sussex.

Victoria is a chartered surveyor with 18 years’ development and regeneration experience specialising in development management and financial advisory for the public and private sectors.

She has worked across England and Wales as a consultant, including at CBRE and Navigant Consulting, acting for many public bodies and third sector organisations.

More recently she spent eight years in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as lead adviser to Abu Dhabi Municipality’s Investment Office, with a development portfolio of more than 40 projects.

Read our interview with two female leaders from the legal world, Antonia Shield, Managing Partner and Jo Bewley, Deputy Managing Partner at BPE Solicitors here...

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