24 business women in 2024 to inspire inclusion on International Women’s Day

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is all about inspiring inclusion – and here at BusinessLive we’re proud to bring you inspirational stories from leaders and entrepreneurs from across the UK.

IWD has been running for more than a century to celebrate all those committed to forging women’s equality. This year its campaign theme is “Inspire Inclusion”, with organisers saying: “When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world.”

To mark the day, business group AccelerateHER has released a survey today showing a strong appetite for growth amongst UK female company founders. The poll of 316 female founders from all four home nations showed 92% believed their business proposition had growth potential. Some 52.1% of those polled were focused on scaling their businesses with nearly two in five (38.8%) keen to achieve international growth.

Here we talk to women in business across the UK on what International Women’s Day (IWD) means to them and why it is so important to inspire inclusion.

Rebecca Armstrong, managing director of Southport’s Making Energy Greener

Rebecca Armstrong, managing director of Making Energy Greener
Rebecca Armstrong, of Making Energy Greener

“As we engage in the vital debate surrounding the future of technology, it is imperative that we ensure a woman’s perspective is at the forefront. This debate goes beyond business; it touches the lives of the people we work with and has a profound impact on our children’s future. Women bring unique insights, experiences, and considerations to the table, and their voices must be heard and supported to create a future that is not only technologically advanced but also inclusive, equitable, and beneficial for all.

“I want to emphasise the importance of women and our collective action towards a brighter, sustainable, and equitable future. Being a female leader goes beyond just being a traditional managing director. It’s about passion, leadership, and the courage to voice and challenge the norm while supporting the next generation of women and girls.

“Women today aren’t just seeking change; they are the harbingers of it, not only striving for themselves, but those coming through and making headway. We are striving for a new age characterised by both sustainability, equality and technological advancement, shaping the future of women in the tech industry and engaging them in traditionally male dominated sectors such as ours and accelerating change.”

Tara Attfield-Tomes, founder of Birmingham PR agency East Village

Tara Attfield-Tomes founded PR agency East Village which recently marked its tenth anniversary and now focuses on the tech sector
Tara Attfield-Tomes founded PR agency East Village which recently marked its tenth anniversary and now focuses on the tech sector

“I look forward to International Women’s Day every year because something happens to the female brain and we remember that we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for anything. For a week either side of March 8, women unashamedly put on events solely focused on how we improve our lives and empower ourselves. We ask for the equality that we so need and deserve.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see the sisterhood come together to demand more of our workplaces, society, government and the world. The next step is remembering that we never needed permission in the first place: all year round we have the power to force and create change. I can’t imagine, in any situation, where including half the population wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

“Even referring to women as “marginalised” or “underserved” seems ridiculous to me so we must force these conversations and ensure that inclusion is at the top of everyone’s agenda. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s crucial for productivity and the economy. Diversity of thought is where the power lies for business: we need to create opportunities, find innovative ways to work and galvanise the power that women hold.”

Jessica Cook, strategic marketing director at Caerphilly-based ventilation systems manufacturer business Nuaire

Jessica Cook of Nuaire
Jessica Cook of Nuaire

“International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of women around the world, but also reflect on the considerable challenges that remain. I’ve worked in male dominated industries for 17 years and have often been told I’m ‘too nice’, but nice actually delivers results. You can be a compassionate person who has high emotional intelligence, and be a leader who is resilient.

“Inclusion is fundamentally important to me as I am not only a woman in a male dominated industry, but I am a multicultural woman. Everybody’s different. So, everybody brings something different to the party.

“By inviting and encouraging different points of view, and genuinely listening, you continue to learn and grow as a person. It’s important to recognise and celebrate diversity and inclusivity, and ensure that everybody feels comfortable to express themselves and bring their true selves to work. Allowing people the space to develop and express their ideas and views, and then help turn those into actions, breathes new life into a business.

“From an individual perspective, I also think we have a duty to encourage and inspire other women. When you are starting out, find that one person who believes in you. And then be that one person to somebody else. Only then we can affect change together.”

Tania Cooper, managing director at Middlesbrough based Steel Benders UK

Tania Cooper of Steel Benders UK Ltd
Tania Cooper of Steel Benders UK Ltd

“As the managing director of Steel Benders UK Ltd and chair of the North East STEM Foundation, navigating the engineering industry has been both a challenge and an opportunity. Witnessing the transformative impact of women in engineering firsthand, I’ve seen talented individuals break barriers, challenge stereotypes, and excel in roles traditionally dominated by men. For me, International Women’s Day signifies a call to action, urging us to continue advocating for diversity and inclusion in the engineering sector.

“Inclusion is vital for a thriving engineering sector and society overall. The underrepresentation of women in engineering not only lacks fairness but also stifles innovation. With the North East experiencing significant industrial growth, fostering a diverse workforce is crucial. Prioritising STEM education and engaging young girls and families helps break stereotypes and encourages women to pursue engineering careers. Initiatives offering resources, mentoring, and hands-on experiences are key in bridging the gender gap. Supporting inclusive workplaces is essential for women’s advancement, unlocking untapped potential and driving innovation for a brighter future.”

Danielle Croce, commercial director of Teesside technology platform Intasite

Danielle Croce of Intasite
Danielle Croce of Intasite

“As a female tech entrepreneur, International Women’s Day holds deep meaning. In a male-dominated industry, it celebrates progress towards gender equality. My journey, influenced by strong women like my grandmother, a local entrepreneur, taught me hard work and determination. Her support kick-started my business, inspiring me to create a limitless world for my daughters. I aim for a society where gender doesn’t limit aspirations, encouraging them to pursue any path, even traditionally male-dominated roles.

“Inspiring inclusion is vital. As the only woman in my company until recently, I prioritise diversifying our workforce and valuing women’s perspectives. Welcoming our second female team member is a milestone towards a balanced, innovative, empathetic workplace. Our commitment to inclusivity empowers all individuals. Engaging men in the conversation is crucial. Together, we enhance problem-solving, team dynamics, and customer relations. Gender equality should not just an ideal, but a tangible reality for all by challenging stereotypes, breaking down barriers where every individual can succeed based on merit, not gender.”

Susan Davy, chief executive of Exeter-based Pennon Group

Susan Davy, South West Water CEO
Susan Davy, South West Water’s CEO

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate women from all backgrounds and inspire and encourage young women and those starting out in their careers to be the best they can be. We need to create workplaces which work for everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background. In doing so, we will ensure that the sector will continue to innovate, bringing together the best minds, and diversity of thought and build a lasting legacy for our customers and communities.

“I believe that all businesses today have an important role to play in championing diversity and addressing inequality. It’s a privilege to be a CEO, whatever your background, or gender, and we owe it to the teams we lead, and the customers we serve to ensure that everyone who works for us and with us, has a voice that can be heard, a point of view that can explored and a role to play. If I look back at the teams I’ve been part of – balanced teams are better at solving complex problems, delivering innovative solutions, spotting new opportunities, as well as being a powerful drivers of resilience.”

Amy Dawber, Warrington BID manager, Cheshire

Andrea Morley and Amy Dawber from Warrington BID
Andrea Morley and Amy Dawber, from Warrington BID

“International Women’s Day is an important milestone in history, acknowledging female rights and continuing to work towards a better future for women for generations to come.

“We are lucky to have such a powerful, driving force of women in business and leadership in Warrington, who help shape the town for the better but International Women’s Day is also about acknowledging different scenarios for women across the world.

“Inspiring inclusion means championing the rights and opportunities of women from all walks of life, ensuring that every woman, can thrive and while we celebrate what we have achieved here, we also recognise there’s still a long way for us to go. We must continue to fight for women’s equality.

“My colleague Andrea Morley, Commercial & BIDs manager at Warrington BID, added: “Empowered women, empower women. On this International Women’s Day, let’s remember the women who have made a difference and inspire us to be better.

“While this day is brilliant to raise awareness of female achievements, every day is a good day to celebrate and appreciate the amazing women here in Warrington.”

Candice Fonseca, proprietor of Delifonseca Dockside, Liverpool

Candice Fonseca, proprietor of Delifonseca Dockside
Candice Fonseca, proprietor of Delifonseca Dockside in Liverpool

“It’s great to see the hospitality sector continuing to lead the way when it comes to female representation, however there is always room for improvement. While the hospitality sector is the third-largest UK employer, with women accounting for approximately 60 per cent of its workforce, there’s still clearly a lot of progress to be made in gender equality, especially when it comes to leadership roles.

“I’m very lucky to work with a very hard-working, equal team but not everywhere else is like this. By bringing light to these issues, we aim to make the conversation surrounding fair proportionality of women in the workplace a more common topic of discussion.”

Jeanette Gill, managing director at brand and communications Agent in Liverpool

Jeanette Gill, Managing Director at Agent in Liverpool
Jeanette Gill, managing director at Agent in Liverpool

“For me, International Women’s Day is a reminder of the strength, resilience, and contributions of women around the world. It is a call to action to continue breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for all individuals to thrive, regardless of gender.

“At Agent, we believe in the power of diversity and inclusion. We strive to create an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to be their authentic selves. Inspiring inclusion is not just about meeting quotas – it is about fostering a culture where differences are celebrated and embraced.

“When we embrace diversity, we unlock the full potential of our team and create a workplace where everyone can thrive as who they are. International Women’s Day serves as a reminder of the importance of building a more inclusive world where all individuals have the opportunity to succeed.

“As a passionate advocate for gender equality, I’m looking forward to taking centre stage at Agent’s annual International Women’s Day event on 8th March in Manchester. I’ll be joining forces with over 200 inspirational female leaders from across the North West, to champion and celebrate gender equity and equality in the workplace.”

Beth Houghton, partner at Palatine Private Equity of London, Birmingham and Manchester

Beth Houghton, Palatine
Beth Houghton of Palatine

“We continue to work hard so International Women’s Day is not just about one day of the year. Over the past five years or so, we have seen more women being recruited into private equity, which is fantastic. However, we now need to focus on providing adequate support for women through various life stages, such as having children, going through menopause, or caring for elderly relatives.

“We need strategies that help women stay in the industry, paving the way for their rise to partnership, but this transition will take time. It is also not solely about enhancing gender diversity within the industry; it should also encompass a broad spectrum of diversity, including social, racial and disability, to ensure the industry is more accessible to all.

“Nonetheless, I am optimistic we’re heading in the right direction and have been for some years. Sustaining progress, particularly during challenging economic times, is vital to ensure that diversity and inclusion remain at the forefront of priorities.”

Sado Jirde, director of Bristol-based Black South West Network

Sado Jirde speaking at the West of England Development Conference, in Bristol
Sado Jirde, the director of the Black South West Network

“As a Black, Muslim woman leading a racial justice organisation, International Women’s Day resonates deeply with me, not only for its symbolic importance but also for its economic implications. It serves as a rallying cry to address the systemic injustices that perpetuate the marginalisation and oppression of women from diverse backgrounds.

“Beyond its significance as a calendar event, International Women’s Day is a catalyst for economic transformation. It prompts us to confront the stark realities of gender inequality in the workforce, where women, particularly those of marginalised identities, face barriers to equal opportunity and fair compensation.

“The theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’ underscores the economic imperative of creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Research consistently shows that companies with diverse leadership teams outperform their less diverse counterparts financially. By harnessing the talents and perspectives of women from all backgrounds, businesses can drive innovation, foster creativity, and gain a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

“Only through collective action can we build a future where all women have equal access to economic opportunities, unencumbered by the shackles of discrimination and prejudice.”

Helen Kelly, partner and joint head of Stockport Office at SAS Daniels

Helen Kelly, Partner and Joint Head of Stockport Office at SAS Daniels
Helen Kelly, partner and joint head of Stockport office at SAS Daniels

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity to empower women to collectively take action to make a positive difference. At SAS Daniels, in line with this year’s theme, we are helping to inspire inclusion by supporting women into employment with the donation of a substantial amount of workwear to Smart Works Greater Manchester, a charity that exists to give women the confidence they need to reach their full potential, secure employment and change their lives for the better.

“I firmly believe in the importance of inspiring inclusion for young girls; if they can see themselves reflected in the world around them, they can aim higher with their dreams and fulfil their potential. This has also been witnessed following the success of the Lionesses in the 2023 World Cup last summer – following their incredible achievements, they inspired thousands of girls into football and furthermore, raised awareness and enabled the opportunity to tackle the disparity in pay between men and women’s footballers.”

Moira O’Shaughnessy, managing partner at Merseyside financial planning and wealth management firm FPC

Moira O’Shaughnessy, Managing Partner, FPC, an independent financial planning and wealth management firm. Credit: Stephen Dodd / bigcheese.co.uk
Moira O’Shaughnessy, managing Partner, FPC

“International Women’s Day provides a moment in the annual calendar to throw a spotlight on women, show solidarity and support for those facing challenges and celebrate the achievements of those who have managed to overcome them.

“This year’s theme of ‘inspiring inclusion’ drives a sharp focus on what lays at the heart of the IWD campaign itself – making sure efforts are continuously made to bring women in from the periphery and enable them to thrive. There is still some way to go to achieve greater parity for women throughout all elements of society in the UK and being inclusive is central to achieving that.

“Through the FPC Foundation we endeavour to do what we can to support disadvantaged groups and recognise talent and achievement across the Northwest. For the second year in a row, FPC is the headline sponsor of the Merseyside Women of the Year (MWOTY) which, as a women-led independent financial advisory firm, is a particular honour.

“MWOTY is an incredible organisation which shines a light on women who really are doing it for themselves and making a huge difference to the lives of others, be that through the arts and culture to enrich lives, or businesses to create jobs – women lifting others up, drawing people in and inspiring inclusivity.”

Kavita Parmar, co-founder of Birmingham translation service Word360

Kavita Parmar is an award-winning entrepreneur who co-founded a tech-based translation service
Kavita Parmar is an award-winning entrepreneur who co-founded a tech-based translation service

“In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, the need for diverse perspectives and voices in the tech industry has never been more critical. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to shed light on the diverse realities of working in the industry and continue to call for inclusion – not just as a buzzword but as something that I truly believe has been a catalyst for innovation and success in my own business.

“As an Asian woman in a male-dominated sector, it has taken an extraordinary amount of grit and determination as well as the ability to surround myself with the right talent to succeed. With so few female senior tech leaders, I simply didn’t see the role for myself in another organisation so I set out to build the opportunity instead. I developed my business and technology skills to launch the platform from scratch in 2016.

“Inclusivity is at the heart of everything I personally stand for and that our business delivers, with our technology ensuring marginalised communities have a voice in the care and outcomes delivered by public sector services.”

Simone Peppi, chair at the North West Business Leadership Team

Simone Peppi, chair at the North West Business Leadership Team
Simone Peppi is chair at the North West Business Leadership Team

“International Women’s Day is a crucial reminder of the ongoing importance of women’s representation and inclusion in all aspects of society. As the Chair of the North West Business Leadership Team, I am proud to champion gender equality through initiatives like the ‘Delivering Women in Leadership’ Charter 2024.

“Inspiring inclusion is essential for businesses to thrive and succeed. By increasing female representation on leadership teams, we are not only creating a more diverse and dynamic workforce, but also setting an example for future generations of leaders. The NWBLT’s commitment to supporting women in leadership roles through programmes like the Rising Stars initiative is key to ensuring a more equal playing field for all.

“I am honoured to be the first female Chair of the NWBLT and pledge my ongoing support to continue fostering an environment where women can thrive and excel in the North West. Together, we can create a more inclusive and equitable business landscape that benefits us all.”

Claire Pickersgill, founder and managing director of PR agency House of Hype & Co

Claire Pickersgill from House of Hype & Co. Picture by David Wood
Claire Pickersgill from House of Hype & Co. Picture by David Wood

“International Women’s Day serves as a great platform to recognise women in business, and to continuously work to raise awareness and celebrate achievements across industries. The day is a great opportunity to spread the message, but it’s important that businesses embed this across their ethos as there are still elements of discrepancy in certain sectors, and the message of inclusion this year is key to show the importance that a diverse workforce brings to company growth and elevation.

“Inclusion is key to drive successful business and to cultivate a high growth environment. A culture of inclusion brings a multitude of different perspectives, problem solving and innovative capabilities to the company and specific projects. Diverse teams have the capacity to propel companies to a whole new level.”

Eve Piffaretti head of Wales at law firm Blake Morgan

Eve Piffaretti
Eve Piffaretti

“International Women’s Day is a powerful reminder to me of the strides that have been made towards gender equality while also highlighting that there is still more to be done. It’s a celebration of the achievements of women from all walks of life and acknowledges their unique challenges. For me, the day itself visibly marks the collective action and solidarity needed to break down barriers and build a more equitable world every day.

“Inspiring inclusion is crucial because it’s not just about opening doors; it’s about ensuring everyone has a seat at the table and all voices are heard. Inclusion drives diversity of thought, creativity, and innovation, as well as the enrichment of our workplaces and communities.

“At Blake Morgan, we’re committed to fostering a culture and environment where everyone, regardless of gender or background, can thrive. This means actively challenging biases, supporting flexible work practices, and championing policies that support women’s advancement at all stages of their careers.

“Embracing inclusion strengthens our businesses and public services, enriches our social fabric and paves the way for a future where everyone can achieve their full potential. International Women’s Day is a fantastic opportunity to reflect, celebrate and commit to being champions of diversity and inclusion – not just today, but every day.”

Nicola Pink, managing director at We Are Pink

Nicola Pink, Managing Director at We Are Pink
Nicola Pink, managing director at We Are Pink

“In the past 12 years, our business has been built on the foundations of successful women.

“We Are Pink wouldn’t be what it is today without the hard-working team and the passionate and determined women behind the business. And while we do employ men, I’m very proud that several senior positions are led by talented females.

“It goes without saying though, that not every business is like this. While we are celebrating women today, we need to remember to continue to have the conversations around gender equality every day, and not just save a day for it in the diary – because if we can’t build a future for the next generation that’s fair for all, then what else?”

Cardiff-based communications consultant Sara Robinson

Sara Robinson
Sara Robinson

“International Women’s Day presents an invaluable opportunity to push beyond the superficial gestures often associated with it (don’t get me started on pinkwashing!) and drive towards real, impactful change. It is a day to celebrate progress and confront the ongoing challenges in achieving gender equality.

“Crucially, the essence of International Women’s Day should lie not just in acknowledgement of where we are, but in inspiring action and fostering inclusive environments where every woman’s voice is heard and valued.

“Inclusion is fundamental to equality; it’s about ensuring that every woman, regardless of her background, race, or belief, has access to the same opportunities and is valued equally in all spheres of life – economic, social, political and cultural. This is why inspiring inclusion is paramount. It dismantles barriers and creates a world where diversity is celebrated, leading to richer, more innovative communities and workplaces.

“By inspiring inclusion, we are advocating for a world where women’s contributions and potential are unrestricted by systemic biases. It’s a call to action for everyone – men and women alike – to dismantle the barriers that hinder women’s full participation in society. This commitment to inclusion is what can transform the symbolic observance of IWD into a sustained movement towards equality. IWD can be a catalyst for sustained commitment to these principles, driving forward the change we so desperately need.”

Janine Ross, marketing and communications director at the National Football Museum in Manchester

Janine Ross, Marketing and Communications Director at National Football Museum
Janine Ross from the National Football Museum

“International Women’s Day is an important opportunity to reflect on all aspects of society; work, lifestyle, culture, sport, and how we can continue to strive to for true gender equality. Football plays an important role in inspiring inclusion for the next generation. If young girls feel more included in sport and culture, this translates to confidence in everyday society.

“At the National Football Museum, we acknowledge we have an important part to play in telling the stories – from on and off the pitch – that will empower women and young girls to feel that they belong in sport and culture today. We continue to speak the narrative of not just men’s football, but our exhibitions explore themes around gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and much more.

“International Women’s Day is not just about one day of the year though, it is about continual reflection every day and having an open mind to make the changes required for true equality.”

Kate Shane, regional director of Merlin Entertainments Blackpool and chair of Tourism BID Blackpool

“While it’s important to celebrate the achievement of women through the years and to look forward to what will be achieved in the future, as a society we need to appreciate the constant and continuous impact women have across the world, every single day.

“Whether it is leading business or (the often unrecognised) caring for their loved ones at home, women continue to be a driving force for growth, development and change. I would like IWD to be a force to break the limitations on young women that still exist today.

“The most disheartening stories are when young women are victims of gender discrimination and inequality. We need to work together to create a society where young people are taught to promote and prioritise inclusion of women on all levels and the older generations are encouraged to let go of historical conceptions of what a woman should and should not do. We need to be in a world where everyone can be their true self and achieve their full potential, something which is a key value within Merlin across the globe.”

Janine Smith, director of Manchester’s GM Business Growth Hub

Janine Smith, director of the GC Business Growth Hub
Janine Smith, director of the GM Business Growth Hub

“On International Women’s Day, it’s crucial to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the journey ahead. Today, we remember the courageous women who fought for our rights and freedoms, while also recognising the need for ongoing change. We must continue to advocate for gender equality, including closing the gender pay gap.

“For me, Inspiring Inclusion embodies creating an environment where every voice is valued and heard. It’s about actively listening to feedback and translating it into meaningful action. It means fostering a culture of empowerment where everyone feels welcome. Organisations must prioritise an open-door policy and seek feedback at all levels to ensure inclusivity.

“Role models are really important. My great grandmother, serves as my inspiration. A trailblazer in her own right, she established multiple successful businesses, defying societal norms. Just as she fearlessly pursued her entrepreneurial dreams, today’s female entrepreneurs are challenging norms and driving change in the business world.

“I’m proud to share that female founders represented 28% of our clients, surpassing the 16% national average. While we’re making strides, there’s more work ahead. Let’s continue to champion diversity and inclusion, not just today, but every day.”

Kirsty Wells, chair of Northumberland construction specialist Merit

Kirsty Wells of Merit
Kirsty Wells of Merit

“International Women’s Day is a poignant reminder of the strides we’ve made and the distances we’ve yet to cover in achieving gender equality, especially in STEM fields. This important day is not just about celebrating achievements, but also to highlight our ongoing commitment to creating inclusive environments where every woman can thrive in STEM.

“Embracing diversity and ensuring equal opportunity unlocks great potential for a more innovative and thriving workforce. Many construction firms have massively benefitted from the growing number of women who work across the sector and continue to prove that there are jobs for everyone, regardless of their gender.”

Ella Woodward, development manager at nationwide placemaker Muse

Ella Woodward, Development Manager at nationwide placemaker, Muse
Ella Woodward, development manager at nationwide placemaker, Muse

“I am always intrigued to see what the annual theme is for International Women’s Day. This year’s theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’ highlights the importance of using our position and any influence we may have to extend an embracing arm of inclusion to women from all aspects of society. To create a level playing field – be that in our professional or personal lives – we need to ensure everyone has equal access to opportunities and the chance to fulfil their potential.

“While equal opportunities are on the radar of companies, they must actively invest in women to ensure their development matches that of their male peers – it’s about recognising potential, nurturing it, and inspiring them to excel.

“Promoting healthy lifestyles in the workplace is another way to demonstrate inclusion. Understanding the importance of mental wellbeing (which applies to men as well) can foster connections, resulting in a happier workplace, higher staff retention and advanced opportunities.

“Working practices have changed because of the technological enhancements that surround us daily, and while we’re grateful to have flexibilities such as working from home, we need to invest in adapting our offices for a healthier 9-5. We’re all responsible for responding accordingly, to enable productive, sustainable, and balanced lifestyles for everyone – something that hopefully helps to inspire inclusion in the workplace.”

Original artice – https://business-live.co.uk/all-about/yorkshire-humber

Scroll to Top