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International Women's Day 2021

TGt Meets...Laurel Penrose, Principal & CEO of Bath College - IWD Special

By Laurel Penrose who is the Principal/CEO of Bath College- Further Education College in Bath City centre and in Westfield/Radstock site.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #choosetochallenge – what would you choose to challenge when it comes to gender equality or inequality this year? 

Looking at the global picture, women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women, even though this is a basic human right. 

Empowering women has also shown that not only does society improve but also results in economic benefits. Therefore, what I would challenge would be the ability to secure equal access to the most basic of rights, for example, access to quality education, being safe and health, economic resources and participation in political life for both women and girls and men and boys, to employment and to positions of leadership and decision-making.

Thinking of your own experience in the world of business – which inequalities, if any, have you experienced personally or witnessed around gender? 

The one experience concerning inequalities within the world of business, centres on the gender pay gap. 

Some years ago, having secured a role, where the pay offered was lower than the previous incumbent (purely on the fact that I was a woman and my income would be supplementing my husband's and therefore could be less), was demeaning. I have to say this was a while ago and I did not take the job!  

Have you during your career ever challenged a situation where you felt a woman (even it’s yourself) has been disadvantaged by gender? 

Working in the vocational and technical skills development environment, it is apparent that several sectors still have a gender bias. For example, construction, engineering and IT- still have a significantly higher proportion of male employees, whereas the care professions and some service industries, for example, hair and beauty, are predominately female enclaves.

Part of my role and that of the college, is to reduce preconceived ideas of careers being gender specific, remove entry barriers and enable all to work in the career they want.

What do you think women offer in particular to the world of business? 

Often “softer skills” are cited by business as being most in demand and are seen a strength of women. Although characteristics like effective communication and emotional intelligence are difficult to measure, they are highly valued and can make a real difference to a work environment. 

Is gender important when it comes to success in business? 

I believe that a diverse workforce results in a more innovative and dynamic working environment. Different experiences and backgrounds shape individuals approaches to business. Alternative views, approaches and perceptions that a gender balanced workforce brings can only be beneficial.

Can you name up to three women in business or in your organisation or in the wider business community that you admire? 

Helena Kennedy QC – because she has an obvious clear strength of character and does not compromise on human rights. Has forged her own path in a demanding work environment.

Carole Stott OBE - Chair of Governors for Bath College – because of her support for the FE sector, her open and dedicated approach to students and disadvantaged learners and her selflessness in time and energy given to the College.

Rachael Flanagan - after failing her business “A” level set up her own cleaning company. From a £20 start in an investment in promotional flyers, her company now employs over 250 people throughout Bristol and Cardiff. It just shows what can be done, with determination and tenacity and is a brilliant example for our students.

Do you think women who start their own business experience more challenges than men? 

Any new start in business is particularly difficult, even more so in the current environment. Often the “old boys’ network” is quoted as having influence, but I believe this is limited and unsustainable in the current business climate. More important is the support an individual can access, it’s about the business plan, vision and the self-determination and dedication to make things work and succeed that counts.

What do you think about the gender pay gap? 

Completely wrong. My understanding from the most recent ONS report is that for full-time employees the gender pay gap in April 2020 was 7.4%, worse for those in the 40+ age cohort, being over 10% of women’s earning less than men in comparable jobs. I cannot understand the logic or rationale for women being paid less than men -  the same job requires the same pay.

What do you think about the International Women’s Day movement? 

International Women's Day is an UN-recognised annual event and began with women demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world these rights have yet to be achieved and until this happens this movement will be necessary. I think I should also point out that there is an International Men’s Day, (although not recognised by the UN). 

And finally:

Gender inequality is one of several characteristics that are often discriminated against, all of which bias should be removed to enable a fair and equitable business environment and life beyond.

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