‘Women are taking charge – but we must keep pushing’

International Women’s Day on Tuesday is an opportunity to reflect on women’s achievements and also the challenges that remain – Maggie O’Carroll of The Women’s Organisation, and seven other women, tell LBN what the day means to them

Maggie O'Carroll
Maggie O’Carroll, chief executive of The Women’s Organisation


More women than ever before are starting their own businesses and their growth is outstripping the growth in male-led businesses for the first time.

So says the chief executive of Liverpool social enterprise The Women’s Organisation (TWO), Maggie O’Carroll. TWO has supported more than 70,000 women across the North West and she said there is clear evidence emerging of “women taking charge”.

Maggie is one of eight women across the Liverpool city region who have told LBN what International Women’s Day (Tuesday, March 8) means to them.

TWO has been supporting women to bring about transformation in their lives for 24 years and is internationally renowned for its work in inspiring women to start their own businesses. With the help of its team women had been able to “assess their skills, test the viability of an idea, grow their confidence, and become economically empowered”.

“International Women’s Day 2022, for me, is particularly poignant,” said Maggie. “The social and economic impact of the pandemic has unarguably presented a pause in terms of progress on gender equality – perhaps even a u-turn.

COVID-19 has presented new and unprecedented challenges for women in terms of balancing additional care and their careers, and those sectors in which women are predominant have been hit the hardest by furlough, cuts and ultimately redundancy.

“Last year, we saw the gender pay gap widen for the first time since 2017 – experts predict the time needed to close the global gender gap has increased by a generation. And pre-existing social disparities have been exacerbated too, with worrying spikes in domestic violence and threats to women’s personal safety.

“International Women’s Day calls for us to imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive. And in so many ways, certainly in the last two years, this has felt almost impossible to do.”

However, she adds that the pandemic has also demonstrated how women are “resilient, fearless, unsurmountable and enterprising”.

Last week, an update from the Rose Review into female entrepreneurship, written by Alison Rose, chief executive of NatWest, reported that more women than ever are starting new businesses, with 145,200 all-female-led incorporations in 2021, up from 56,200 in 2018.

This represents an average year on year growth of 37% per annum. These incorporations comprised 20% of the total in 2021, up from 16% in 2018. All-female led is defined by businesses who are incorporated with 100% female directors. The total 2021 figure including those led by a majority of female directors was 148,800.

Maggie said data from TWO backed up this research. She added: “Throughout lockdown, we saw our enquiries at The Women’s Organisation almost treble – a heartening sign that women weren’t about to just accept the hand they’d been dealt.

“The growth in women-owned and all women-run businesses outstripped growth in male-led firms for the first time, and this is not by accident. It is a clear indication of women taking charge. Women creating better futures for themselves and for all women.

“The first International Women’s Day was in 1909. And now, 113 years on, women still spend their entire lives breaking socio norms, because ultimately and unfortunately, many challenges and obstacles for women still exist.

“However, inspirational women from across the social, political and business spectrum, too many to count, are working to smash the barriers of bias and transform our society every minute of every day – and they do so unphased, unequivocally, and often unintentionally – it’s almost written into our DNA.

“So, let us take International Women’s Day as a moment of positive pause after two years of turmoil and momentous change. Let’s take a breath and then continue to break the bias in our workplaces and in our communities as we forge ahead in our collective pursuit for an equal, fair and sustainable future.”

Other women from around the Liverpool city region have also shared their thoughts on International Women’s Day 2022…

Lesley Martin-Wright, chief executive of Knowsley Chamber of Commerce:

“Women in business have been breaking glass ceilings for some time now, but still too often those breaking those ceilings need to fight much harder than they should.

“If we want to see more women climbing to the top in business and creating a more even landscape in our boardrooms, then we need to break the bias.  For centuries the perception of women in leadership roles has been tarnished, despite the many positive role models that exist.

“I am delighted the tag line for International Women’s day for 2022 is #breakthebias.  If we can break the bias, that still exists today, at all levels in business and society, then more women will become the true business leaders they are, and our businesses and society will benefit accordingly.”


Lesley Martin-Wright
Lesley Martin-Wright, chief executive of Knowsley Chamber of Commerce


Ciiku Sondergaard, director of Liverpool charity 4Wings:

“My favourite quote is from American writer Audre Lorde, it says ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own’.

“This, to me, encapsulates how I feel about International Women’s Day. Yes, it is important we celebrate and recognise women’s achievements. And I am also a strong supporter of intersectionality when it comes to gender equity and equality.

“But it has to apply to all otherwise it means nothing. Terrible things happen to women every day that wouldn’t happen to men. How do we change that?

“Even among women, there is a disparity. We give out awards and we always hear the same names mentioned. But there are millions of ordinary women out there doing extraordinary things against enormous odds and they are invisible. Too often we take one step forward and 50 back. This must change, and change for everybody, before we are truly free.”


Ciiku Sondergaard
Ciiku Sondergaard, a director at Liverpool-based 4Wings


Ruth Wood, head of commercial at Mersey Maritime:

“I think it is really important that we celebrate International Women’s Day. However, in order to drive real changes gender equality and diversity should be top of mind every day not just tomorrow. This year’s theme of #BreakTheBias is very relevant for the maritime industry which is largely male dominated with little female representation across all levels and little diversity.

“Breaking the bias on the roles and careers available in maritime as well as ensuring that it is not only inclusive, but also supportive to all is critical for the long term growth of the industry.”


Ruth Wood
Ruth Wood, head of commercial at Mersey Maritime


Melanie Lewis, chief executive of Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot:

“International Women’s Day is an incredibly significant day and a day that we can celebrate the successes of female leaders and activists around the world.

“The day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the achievements and the work done already, as well as to remember the sacrifices made by women, who have subsequently given us the freedom that we now enjoy.

“Unfortunately, globally, I am still in the minority when it comes to having these freedoms and it is crucial in what seems like such a divided world with human rights under threat in so many ways, that we look at how we can all contribute as women to make the world a better place for generations to come.

“I have been really lucky growing up with amazing role models – with three sisters who are business owners, a mother who was the first woman to ever grace the Liverpool Stock Exchange Trading Floor and a father and husband who are strong feminists too.

“However, it is important to recognise that not everyone has these strong role models and support. Days like today will hopefully give others the confidence and the power to stand up and become the leaders and activists of tomorrow.


Melanie Lewis
Melanie Lewis, chief executive of the Shakespeare North Playhouse


Sam Bushell, head of family law and managing director of Liverpool law firm, Brown Turner Ross:

“At Brown Turner Ross, there is great importance placed upon the celebration of our incredible female lawyers and employees, and this praise cascades down through the office and ensures a happy and motivated workforce, both for males and females.

“As a company with a female managing director and over 60% of our workforce being females, we are fully aware that our actions can and will inspire the future of our sector for years to come.

“I am very proud that we continue to nurture and attract such a high calibre of female lawyers at the company, further ‘breaking the bias’ in a stereotypically male dominated industry.”


Sam Bushell
Sam Bushell, managing director at Brown Turner Ross


Lynn Lock, chief executive, I Am Moore:

“With International Women’s Day 2022 focusing on breaking the bias, I Am Moore has worked with so many young women throughout the last 18 months that have been desperate for opportunities, but unable to have their voices heard for so many different reasons… until now.

“There is still a stigma when employing in some sectors, that women are less qualified or less able to complete a high-standard of work than their male counterparts, but this is completely untrue and there is a huge pool of talent out there that if given the opportunity, can be the female business leaders of generations to come.”


Lynn Lock
Lynn Lock, chief executive of I Am Moore in Liverpool


Jacqui Johnson, communications director at civil engineering consultancy, Sutcliffe:

“Into my 27th year at Sutcliffe, I have seen the company and the sector evolve greatly throughout the last two and a half decades, with approximately 14% of the construction industry now made up of strong, successful and knowledgeable women.

“Misconceptions about gender specific roles are gradually diminishing and it is encouraging to see higher numbers of women leaving school, college and education, and now choosing a career in construction.

“Days such as International Women’s Day and Women In Construction Week are helping to shine a spotlight on the career paths available for the next generation of engineers.”


Jacqui Johnson
Jacqui Johnson, communications director, Sutcliffe


Dr Natalie Kenny, chief executive of BioGrad: 

“As a business owner and a member of society, I am a fierce advocate for gender equality. I think the only way we will see real change though, is if we look directly at the working environments for men and women.

“I don’t want any parents working at BioGrad to be concerned about returning to work because of the cost of childcare or the very limited amount of paternity leave given through UK legislation – as a business leader in my community though, these are things I can actively change.

“Frankly we shouldn’t even need an IWD, we are the biggest percentage of the population and we go around free of charge (in many cases) to discuss how we aren’t getting the opportunities that we deserve! However, it is up to women to actually be vocal and name and shame the gender bias they’ve experienced in the workplace in order for this to change.”


Dr Natalie Kenny
Dr Natalie Kenny, founder of BioGrad in Liverpool

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