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Women have a 170-year wait for equal pay – will you be around that long?

March 8 is international Women's Day - Jo Henwood asks if we need more than one a year

Alison Fadil, Alison Lobb, Jeannie France-Hayhurst and Sally Penni at the International Women’s Day Conference in Chester

Last Friday In Chester I met a stockbroker, a barrister and an engineer. I had morning coffee with an accountant and a manager of a chain of shops, lunch with a coach and spent the afternoon with a CEO. Early evening I relaxed with a company director and a gin trader. And they all had one thing in common. They were all probably earning about 20% less than other people in their place of work. Because they are all women.

I was at the Women Leaders Association International Women’s Day conference at the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester. According to the World Economic Forum the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186 and in this suite full of women were just some of those trying to bring that date forward.

Beth Tweddle inspires women to succeed at Chester conference

Director of Audit at KPMG Jessica Katsouris, mother-of-two and part-time worker, set the agenda by busting a few myths including that child-rearing stops women from progressing. Typical of many women in the world of work, she was brought up to believe that girls and boys are equal, chose a racing bike as her first mode of transport, studied hard at her local comprehensive school and trained as an accountant. Job done.

Audit director at KPMG UK Jessica Katsouris at the International Women’s Day conference in Chester

Except as she progressed through her career, reaching higher and higher echelons, she became more conscious of the assumptions and limitations that are placed on women and is determined to be part of the solution. Oh and she proudly answers ‘yes’ every time she is asked if she has any connection with the Katsouris deli in Manchester. It is run by her husband, although I doubt he is ever asked if he knows Jess (whatever her maiden name is) because we still follow that archaic rule of taking our husband’s surname after marriage. However, I am confident that if anyone can change the world, she can.

Jess’s top tip: Build a network.

Director of HR with the Co-Operative Food Helen Webb at the International Women’s Day conference in Chester

Next up we hear from Helen Webb, who has 25 years’ experience in retailing and financial services. She is HR director for the Co-op food business and non-executive director of the charity Housing for Women. She started work before Jess and was ‘not allowed’ to return to work part-time after her first maternity leave. Undeterred she left and found a more sympathetic door open.

Helen’s top tip: Say Yes to all challenges.

Elizabeth Garu and Jo Henwood at the International Women’s Day Conference in Chester

Before lunch, those women in the room who are underpaid took more top tips from the panel of lawyers – award-winning barrister Sally Penni, recently retired lawyer Jeannie France-Hayhust and solicitor Alison Lobb – on How to Ask for What you Want - and Get It. I came away with the following:

  • Know what you want
  • Build resilience
  • It is OK not to be liked
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  • Your career is a marathon not a sprint
  • Develop yourself to the maximum
  • Work as hard as you can
  • Say yes more often
  • Look after yourself
  • Juggle
  • Sleep less.

By lunchtime I am feeling only a little bit uneasy as I wonder how we would feel if, in the next door suite, there was the Men Leaders Association conference on International Men’s Day.

Alistair Haigh, MD of Rullion, was one of the speakers at International Women’s Day Conference in Chester

Afternoon masterclasses focused on career negotiation, executive presence, being a non-executive director and authentic networking before a gin tasting from Manchester’s Atlas Bar and a final keynote speech from Chester’s own Beth Tweddle.

Her video chronicled her journey to an Olympic medal and walking away with the crown in ITV’s Dancing on Ice - swinging undaunted on the asymmetric bars, taking leaps of faith in mid air and doing a head banger with partner Dan Whiston. Which just served to remind us all that there are just some things in life we are unlikely to ever achieve. Woman or man.

The hashtag for the 2017 International Women’s Day on Wednesday, March 8 is #BeBoldForChange. Perhaps women need another 364 special days every year to help get that pay rise a bit earlier.

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