Women in Business Event: Challenge, Change & Coronavirus, where are we now?

March 8, 2021

International Women’s Day, 8th March 2021

Where are we now and what are the new challenges we face in a remote working environment? If you missed our event and want to catch up, view our recording or write-up below.


Thalis Vlachos – gunnercooke Partner and advocate for the Women in Business campaign.

Rashmi Dube – gunnercooke Partner, serial entrepreneur and writer for the Yorkshire Post.

Jennie Johnson MBE – retired CEO of Kids Allowed.

Ann-Marie Atkins – only female managing partner of Tilney Financial Planning Ltd.

Michelle Mills – managing partner of Marsden’s, a global legal recruitment business.

Claire-Marie Boggiano – Director & Coach of Lurig Change & Development, and lecturer in leadership at the University of Salford.

Joanna Dai – founder of Dai, an innovative womenswear brand.



Has the pandemic set gender equality paybacks and other workplace challenges back by many years?

Jennie – time will tell. The workload hasn’t been as fairly shared as it should have been. Many women became teachers on top of everything else. This varies across different families, however. The pandemic has made us less tolerant of issues, we are finding our voice and calling people out. I’ve decided to be brave but be kind going forward. In the past I’ve let things slide and it’s been uncomfortable to say something. We need to be there for each other and those that are feeling strong need to help the others that need support on their journey.

Ann-Marie – there have been some positives we can take out of this time such as the drive for diversity and inclusion and the conversations we are having. It’s on the agenda, more so than it was pre-pandemic so I’m really excited about that. Women have been hugely impacted by the pandemic. We tend to have more interrupted career breaks, and this will have an impact on career progression and our savings for pensions etc. We should be bringing this into conversations. The government cancelled the gender pay gap reporting for last year and it’s very interesting that this was what they chose to cancel.

Why do women feel this extra pressure to take on responsibilities?

Ann-Marie – often they may be the only individual working from home so don’t have a choice but to do the home schooling. Generally, women are more aware of the schooling requirements e.g. timetable and homework. Men sometimes want to work without distractions. Are women better at multi-tasking so they choose take this on?

Jenni – I hate the idea that we are Superwomen and can do it all. We spread ourselves too thinly. I learnt to say no a few years ago. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed and I needed this to change so I invested in myself. We need to stop taking everything on. Figure out responsibilities between the family, assign tasks like a team. If you juggle too many balls you’ll drop some. Superwoman shouldn’t exist.

What challenges do we face by allowing teams to work more flexibly? Are there any positives with remote working?

Michelle – there are a lot of positives that have come out of this. It’s a unique moment that we can reset and rethink how we approach business. Many businesses had already had a shift towards flexibility due to technology advancements and change in attitude too. But remote working became a necessity. Communication is one of the biggest challenges and is needed to make a successful working environment. Technology such as Teams has been a big help in replacing face to face contact. Action needs to be put in place to keep people engaged, collaborating and informed. For smaller businesses who don’t have a comms team this is even harder as it falls to the leadership team. Being in an office is great for building relationships and collaborating.

In future should we be looking to offer more flexibility as a standard?

Michelle – in the past it was tougher to achieve working from home in certain professions. It was hard to get this approved and you worried you looked less committed. This attitude will be revolutionised as a result of the last year. We can give people more balance now.

Claire-Marie – trends that were already happening have been accelerated, at a business level, team level and individual level. We have been experts in the digital world. I have been so impressed at how agile we have all been. There are big lessons in there for individuals, leaders and organisations. We need to remember we are still in the incident and what will happen over the next few years will all roll off the last 12 months. There’s been some serious unexpected benefits. Networking in the past has been hard for women if balancing family life – it could be hard to be at a 7.30am meeting in the city. Our attendance has doubled since being online. More people can come along to events now. We want to meet face to face in future but still harness the power of what we’ve learnt so far and the benefits of these digital meetings.

Joanna, you are keen to be a trailblazer and are keen to celebrate women in a special way. How are you doing this?

Joanna – we have gone through a lot this past year and at the start of this year with lockdown 3, I wrote a newsletter with a voice of honesty and empathy. It was a dark time for everyone and we wanted to be honest with people. We are giving away a gift package to women who share their story with us for International Women’s Day. We want to celebrate all of the different stories of women. Let’s focus on the positives and the hope. We have shown how much strength and resilience in all of our characters.

Do you think the cancellation of the gender pay gap reporting has sent a message to people?

Joanna – according to the UN it’s going to take 257 years to achieve gender equality in pay. But taking the survey away last year it’s sending the signal that it’s not a priority for the government. We need an acceleration for this to happen quicker.

Joanna – it’s interesting as in this digital world, it matters less what gender people are on these tech platforms, but there is more work to be done to move this into government documents for example. The next generation are more digitally savvy and have a stronger voice and are helping lead this change.

What fundamental things would you like to see in the future as a result of the pandemic?

Jennie – our new colleagues are completely flexible and can work at any time of day. I wouldn’t have thought this way before Covid. I’ve put a cap on the hours that this can be worked, but it’s spread how they like. We’ll create a shared space that people can come and visit for camaraderie one day a week, but most of their work will be flexible. This is exciting as incredible talent will join that previously may not have been able to take the job.

Joanna – as an employer, if you can offer women flexibility such as being able to work on a trading floor but also take time at home if needed, this will be brilliant. Something to consider is when people go back, are men more likely to go back and women choose to take the time at home? Will this be a detriment to the women that choose the time at home?

Rashmi – it’s interesting to see what appreciation of the working from home time will be carried forward from the pandemic and if attitudes will shift.

Joanna – a year ago my investors were 100% male. I made it a priority at my last fundraiser to go after female investors. We are now at 65% female investors and two thirds female on the board. Yes, we are a small company but if people make this a priority they can make change faster.

Do you think agile working will affect city salaries negatively if location becomes irrelevant?

Michelle – for those clients where they only have one site e.g. London, it will be less complicated than those with offices around the UK. People may be commuting further distances but working from home more. It’s a difficult conversation to have for example, why would you be paid a Leeds salary if doing London work etc.

Will employers be giving up the office permanently?

Michelle – it’s about balance and it depends on the sector and demographic of your workforce. If bringing on juniors and mid-level staff it’s important for people to learn their craft from those around them and not just on the phone. Seniors can also learn from junior team members too in terms of technology and their approach for example.

What is the most critical change we must make to face the future effectively?

Claire-Marie – we need to stay alert and be willing to learn and re-learn. There’s going to be more change not less. So get comfortable with that. Look at your energy level and what does it for you. When do you like to work in the day? Look after yourself and be your own best friend. Get support e.g. a coach or do a workout. And get a good night’s sleep. If things aren’t adding up in your life, start subtracting things.

Joanna – challenge the norm and don’t be bound by convention. The pandemic has proved we can all adapt and think differently, we can all work in a new environment. Organisations should think how we can do things better for our employees and the organisation as a whole. We also need to look at sustainability and the impact we’ve had on our planet.

Do you think the pandemic will result in more men seeking flexible working now that the benefits are clear? Will this be a positive as flexible working won’t just be seen as something for women?

Jennie – I would be surprised if everyone goes back to how we were before. I know many men who don’t intend on going back full time. My view is that both men and women will be taking advantage of flexible working for good.