Suffragette100: ‘When can women affect change? The right time is always now...’ - St Albans businesswomen speak out

A policeman restrains a demonstrator as suffragettes gathered outside Buckingham Palace, where an at

A policeman restrains a demonstrator as suffragettes gathered outside Buckingham Palace, where an attempt was made to deliver a petition to the King. Picture: PA/EMPICS Sports Photo Agency. - Credit: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

Today, not only do the majority of mothers work, but women also represent just under half of the UK’s total labour workforce.

St Albans district council chief executive Amanda Foley.

St Albans district council chief executive Amanda Foley. - Credit: Archant

Although there is still discimination and disparity of pay in some areas, the changes we have seen in the last century would have been undreamed of by those women first granted the vote in 1918.

Culmulative changes in women’s rights over the subsequent decades, including laws affecting divorce, property, abortion, equal pay, sex discrimination and maternity services, have transformed the opportunities available for women in today’s society.

As part of our special coverage celebrating the anniversary of women’s suffrage, we spoke to some leading local businesswomen about how they think the workforce has changed.

The recently appointed chief executive of St Albans district council, Amanda Foley, said: “The vote was the start of women participating formally in the democratic process. That in itself was a huge step forward.

Speaker June Cory

Speaker June Cory - Credit: Archant

“But it was also a glaring signal of change. It clearly demonstrated to the world of that time that British women had a serious place in society. It was, in effect, a cultural revolution.

“I wonder what those courageous women of yesteryear, especially those from our local community, would make of the women who are leading local government, education, health and the business and charity sectors in our district. We have much to be thankful for. Today, equality matters for everyone. That step 100 years ago was the first stage in our progress towards becoming the democratically engaged people we are today.”

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Katherine Rayden, partner and founder of Rayden Solicitors, said: “I came to St Albans when I was four and at seven I went to St Albans High School for Girls.

“My school emphasised all of the opportunities that its pupils had and it was made very clear that my gender should not be a bar to my achievement. This was inspirational but as I made my way through the legal profession, it was not a view shared by everyone I met. When I became pregnant, one of my bosses told me ‘part-time workers could never be good solicitors or good mothers’, another told me that part-time work was ‘unfair’ on full-time workers and therefore they should be paid less than the equivalent pay.

Katherine Rayden, founder and partner of Rayden Solicitors.

Katherine Rayden, founder and partner of Rayden Solicitors. - Credit: Archant

“When I was 35, my eldest child started school and I had my third child. In August 2005, I started my firm Rayden Solicitors and decided that this would be a niche family law practice. I began working two days per week. As we grew, most of the solicitors were part-time as this ensured that the growth was steady and also enabled me to attract high calibre staff who felt that they wanted they could be a lawyer and parent.

“We now have 40 members of staff and there is a balance of full-time and part-time workers. There is an increasing number of parents taking shared leave and there is no longer a presumption that the mother will take time off when their child is ill.

“Technology helps a firm to promote flexible working – remote access and smart phones enables lawyers to keep in touch. In addition, our case management system and our team approach means that every case has at least two lawyers who are up to speed every day.

“The success of our firm shows that excellence can be achieved by a diverse workforce and flexible working but we must never rest on our laurels.

“I think the key to life is to learn from the past and never be hindered by it.”

Business owner June Cory, of My Mustard, said: “We owe everything to the brave women who risked everything at the start of the 20th century; they smashed through ceilings for generations of women to come.

“They fought for much more than the vote – they gave their lives and liberty in the search for equality and the right to education for their daughters and granddaughters.

“Voting gives us the power to create change. And we must become the change we want to see. We should all vote even if we don’t think our candidate will win. Leave your ballot blank if you don’t agree with any of the parties. Staying at home makes you a statistic, become a voice for the disengaged.

“There are key areas of current policy that affect half of the population more profoundly that the other half and need attention, support and investment; health and social care, human trafficking and low pay are all fundamentally female issues. Choose one that motivates you and start to make a difference. When can women affect change? The time is now, the right time is always now.”