16/09/2014 UPDATE: Extract of Jurga Zilinskiene speech at the event added. Click to read the extract
Last week saw the realisation of a dream of mine – an international women’s trade mission from Houston to London. Fifteen of Houston’s top businesswomen from the GHWCC (Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce) across the retail, energy, legal and medical sectors came to London to meet their counterparts, share knowledge and forge new partnerships.The day was a huge success and inspirational in so many ways. Suzan Deison, Founder and President of the GHWCC, has achieved so much with their Chamber of Commerce. They now have 780 members and they have helped so many more women to start businesses. They are also running a STEM programme to help more girls get into technology areas too, and have seen 500 girls graduate through the programme already. In Houston, women on average currently only constitute 11.9% of the city’s boardrooms and their goal is to increase that.
During their site visits in Aberdeen earlier that week, they were told only 2% of women are at board level. In London, it has grown in the past few years from 12.5% to 21.6%. My aim is to try and improve that further and help more women to start their own businesses too by founding a London Women’s Chamber of Commerce. The time feels right for this initiative and talking to all the women in the room on Wednesday reinforced that.
At our networking dinner in the evening, Carol Rosati from Harvey Nash spoke about the incredible work they have achieved with “Inspire” Initiative, which has grown from a handful of women to over 4,000 women globally and has led to partner projects Aspire and the Women’s Directorship Programme in partnership with the University of Hong Kong. It is now Carol’s full-time job to help promote this women’s ideas exchange network globally and she travels around the world spreading the word.
Kerri McKechnie, a founder of City Of London’s Entrepreneur Academe, of which I myself am an ambassador, spoke about what they are doing to mentor new female-owned start-ups, with 13 new business currently going through their mentoring programme.
The need for a London Women’s Chamber of Commerce was echoed by every woman at the dinner, women from top companies across every industry from Marks & Spencer, Shell, BUPA, Barclays, Thompson Reuters, DWF and many more. While I’m still working out the precise format the London Women’s Chamber of Commerce will take, I do know that this is something that needs to happen for women to join together and continue to rise up through the business ranks as well as getting more women starting businesses of their own.