Woman making progress – but it remains too slow

International Women’s Day is once again upon us and while there has been some progress in both pay equity and career advancement – it remains frustratingly slow. Jennie Lewis reports

Fiona Creed
Fiona Creed, general manager of Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool


Today (Friday, March 8) marks International Women’s Day, a day of promises and platitudes – but progress for women in the UK, and across the world, is painfully slow.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2023 still saw a 7.7% gender pay gap among full-time employees and a 14.3% gap for all employees, although it points out this has been declining over time.

On earnings the ONS reveals the median weekly earnings for men was £666 in 2023 and for women £491. For just those in full-time work, the figures were £725 for men and £629 for women.

And earlier Government Equalities Office analysis stated there is a gender pay gap from the beginning of working life, indicating structural inequalities.

The gap then widens notably for over-40s, in part demonstrating the impact of working part time or leaving the labour market due to unpaid care work. The effects “accumulate across the life course”, peaking when women reach their 50s.

Career advancement and progression of women into senior roles is also an issue and examples of this can be found across multiple sectors. 

Liverpool hotel bucks the trend

Hospitality is a major driver of the economy in Liverpool city centre. It is also  an industry that offers a stark insight into existing barriers for women.

The Boutique Hotelier Women in Hotels 2023 study reveals women currently make up 50% of the workforce in UK hospitality yet only 26% of senior leadership positions are currently occupied by women.

Here in Liverpool, Fiona Creed is looking to buck that trend. She is the general manager of Hope Street Hotel and runs an all-female senior management team.

Fiona started her career back in 1997 completing an HND in hotel, catering and management at Wirral Metropolitan College, then going on to complete a degree in hospitality studies at the University of Central Lancashire.

She said: “It’s funny as well as I read an article in the Caterer and Hotelkeeper about 25 years ago that had some stats on the number of women in the industry far outweighing men – but the number of women in management roles was such a tiny percentage.

“I wanted to do my dissertation on this subject but wasn’t allowed to as there wasn’t enough written material on the matter. Sadly things don’t seem to have changed much.

Fiona’s senior team is made up of operations manager Zoe Hannah, sales manager Sarah Docherty and commercial manager Louise Richards.

Science Corridor that provides opportunities

Chester Zoo’s head of sustainability, Dr Jennifer Kelly, says the diversity and breadth of Cheshire Science Corridor will encourage more women to embrace STEM jobs and become a “showcase to the world”.

Led by the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the Cheshire Science Corridor is a globally recognised hub for science and technology.

It has a primary focus on life sciences, net zero, nuclear innovation, and high-value manufacturing. It is home to over 7,000 businesses and world class science and technology assets.

Chester Zoo joined the science corridor last year, and Jennifer believes it offers a “showcase to the world” and could encourage more women, still underrepresented in STEM sectors, to play leading roles in life-sciences and other industries.

She said: “Seeing diversity across a range of organisations, like those in the Cheshire Science Corridor, will only make STEM subjects more attractive to women.”

Jennifer grew up near Chester Zoo and says it was this that inspired her to pursue a career in sustainability and conservation.

Following a varied and successful career spanning government bodies, and education and engineering sectors, she he was appointed as the zoo’s head of sustainability for global wildlife conservation and education charity in 2022.


Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo’s head of sustainability, Dr Jennifer Kelly


Jennifer adds that being part of the Cheshire Science Corridor has opened doors for collaboration and networking for the zoo, while being part of a wider scientific community has facilitated greater consideration of nature within science.

“(Those networks) play a really important role in inspiring women, and everyone, across our region”, highlighting their role in creating and showcasing opportunities” she explained.

Jennifer also advocates the value of mentorship, highlighting the “incredible confidence that you can build with support and advice from people who have gone before you.”

And she praised platforms such as the Women’s Engineering Society for their role in championing women in STEM. Jennifer was amongst the Top 50 Women in Engineering in 2020 for her work on sustainability.

On a mission to transform the construction sector

There are now record numbers of women working in the UK construction sector but they still make up less than one-fifth of the workforce.

According to the ONS there were around 1.8m men employed in the UK construction industry in 2023. This compares to around 340,000 women. It is the highest number since records began but still represents just 15.8% of the workforce.

Millie Edwards is determined to increase that number. She is a development project manager at affordable housing provider, Riverside Group. The Liverpool-based business has 76,000 homes across the UK.

This week is also Women in Construction week and Millie wants to use this week to help inspire more girls and women into her industry.

She regularly oversees construction projects costing more than £40m. Millie started her career in housing management but since moving into construction eight years ago she has never looked back.

Since then, Millie has been involved in the delivery of thousands of affordable homes spanning multiple development projects across the country, including extra care apartments.

Although figures show increases in women working in construction, Millie feels the story feels quite different on the ground.

“I’ve worked in the housing industry for 18 years and while I’ve definitely seen a slow and gradual rise in the number of women working in construction, there’s still a lot of work to be done to tackle the gender imbalance,” she explained.


Millie Edwards
Millie Edwards, a development project manager at Riverside Group


“I was only one of two women studying while completing my construction management apprenticeship, which was a class of 30 people, and again during my Construction Management degree which was a smaller group of 12,” she said.

“At Riverside, across our development team, most of us are female, though are mainly sitting in management roles rather than trade positions.

“Of course it is amazing to hear of rises within the industry and more so to see women in leadership, but it’s especially far off being a 50/50 split of men and women when it comes to skilled tradespeople working predominantly on building sites.

“I’m always in awe when I see a female in a trade role because you sadly still don’t come across them as often as you’d hope.

“I think there is more to be done around actively seeking different demographics and promoting the opportunities available within the industry earlier, to help young girls and women realise there is more they could achieve and be a part of.”

Changing the landscape for future generations

International Women’s Day was first recognised by the United Nations in 1977, though it has earlier roots in the labour movements of the early 20th century.

For 2024, UN Women’s theme is Invest in women: Accelerate progress, focusing on the fifth sustainable development goal of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls by 2030.

Ellie Kerr is a business consultant and founding director of Merseyside Women of the Year Awards (MWOTY). She says that whilst there has been some progress for women getting into senior roles, it is not enough. 

“Only 4% of CEOs at FTSE 250 companies are women. The employment rate for women with dependent children is 74% compared to the 93% for men in the same situation and the UK’s position on the Women in Work Index is at a low 14th, having dropped five places since 2020.”

But Ellie believes that barriers for women extend beyond maternity and care-giving, and that real and practical action is required to create workplaces that empower and include women and fully enable their contribution and growth.

“Confidence is a huge issue amongst women. Women need a network, information, money and self-belief to thrive and gender inequity can often lead to an absence of one or more of these things.” Ellie continues.


Ellie Kerr, MWOTY founding director, right with Moira O’Shaughnessy of FPC and June Russell from Halle’s Hub CIC.  Picture by CM Digital Collective


“We have to be mistresses of our own destinies, to stick our elbows out and make space for ourselves in rooms where we might often be overlooked and that takes confidence, especially when faced with societal norms that expect us to be quiet, well-behaved and stay in our lane.”

“Great policies in businesses that support women, such as robust childcare policies, menopause policies and flexible and hybrid working, are vital but they won’t be the big changes required in a vacuum. 

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“We need to collaborate more as women, develop our professional networks and not pull up the ladders behind us. 

“We also need to involve men more too, to find and create great allies. Equity at the highest levels of business is good for everyone as it brings personal, social and profit growth.

“The fact is that innovation and change will not happen unless women are in decision making roles, where we have the power to change the landscape for future generations as a whole.”

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