Jane Reynolds – TVBC chair (pictured)
Business development manager, North Star Ventures
Emily Bentley – TVBC director
Marketing and business development manager, Evolution,
Angeline Stewart – TVBC treasurer
Audit manager, Evolution
Lisa Holt – TVBC director
Managing director, The Creative Alchemist
Why did you decide to get involved in the club and how does it help your business?
Jane: In 2006, I joined a company based in Newcastle which had a remit to engage with Tees Valley businesses. I made it my plan to attend all Tees Valley networking groups. TVBC was one of these and I immediately noted its potential to deliver what I was looking for.
Lisa: I decided to get involved with the club about five years ago as I was keen to raise my profile in the Tees Valley business community. From the start, the dynamics of the club felt right and I really liked the format of each event as it was a great opportunity to hear about things that are happening in the business community as well as having the opportunity to network. The board initially asked me if I would support them in an ambassador role and I have since gone on to be appointed to the board.
Emily: When I became business development manager at Evolution, I knew it was important to raise the firm’s profile in the Tees Valley region and one of the ways to do this was through networking. TVBC offered an ideal platform for this and, as a helpful person, I offered my services and was invited to join as an associate and then as a director.
Angeline: The previous treasurer of TVBC was stepping down and Emily, who I had worked with since 2007 at Evolution, asked if it was something I’d be interested in. I previously hadn’t had much experience with networking and found it a rather daunting experience but I wanted to challenge myself and accepted the new role.
How does it feel being part of an all-female board?
Angeline: It’s never been a conscious decision for the board to be all female, that is just how it has worked. It’s great that we all get on and have similar opinions on how we would like to improve the club so our members get the most out of it.
Lisa: To be honest it hardly crosses my mind that we are an all-female board. My own business is currently all female, too, so it is normal to me. I just see us as a group of people who work really well together. We are clear about our vision for the club and focused on delivering that – we support each other to get the job done.
What are the benefits of an all-female board?
Jane: The benefits of the female board is that we are like-minded people who feel comfortable working together. We strive to bring together a quality offering for the Tees Valley mixed business community. I do believe that when we meet we are extremely focused and once our discussions are concluded we take action.
Angeline: I think all of the board members are quite organised – but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be if the board was a mix of male and female. There can be quite a lot of preparation involved in our events as well as the day-to-day running of the club and in addition to this this we all have full-time ‘day jobs’.
Is there a supportive female business community in Teesside?
Lisa: I have always found other women in the local business community to be extremely supportive of each other. I think this comes from a place of wanting women to be successful and a desire to see them succeed and make a positive difference.
Jane: My experience is that the female business community exists within the mixed business community by and large. There is help and support on offer to anyone requiring direction, with an awful lot of signposting in existence.
Emily: Personally, I don’t tend to engage with all-female groups as I love open networking and speaking to new people regardless of gender, age, etc.
Do you think a glass ceiling still exists for women in business?
Emily: I do and I don’t. Maternity leave can still create a gap in a woman’s career which can be difficult to close and can put us at a disadvantage in terms of progressing up the ranks. However, in more recent times, I have noted a bit of a change in some strong business women climbing. The likes of Jane Turner of Teesside University, Sharon Lane of Tees Components, Alison Thain, formerly of Thirteen Group, and of course our chair, Jane Reynolds – they are all inspirational characters and great role models for younger business women to aspire to.
Jane: I do not. I think if you are able to demonstrate competence and confidence in your field of work, this will make you stand out and promotion will follow.
Lisa: Personally, this isn’t something I have experienced in my career but that doesn’t mean to say that it doesn’t exist. I certainly see ambitious, entrepreneurial women going out and setting up their own business to give them more control over the hours they work.
What do you think would promote greater gender equality in business?
Lisa: Business should be encouraging women into senior positions because it makes perfect business sense. An analysis of FTSE-listed boards found that operational performance and share prices were both higher in the case of companies where women made up over 20 per cent of board members.
Angeline: There have been vast improvements over time to help bridge the gender equality gap so I think it’s definitely moving in the right direction. I’d like to see more women shouting about their success in business.
How do you think Tees Valley Devolution will help business in the area?
Jane: This is a great opportunity for the region. I think a large factor will be engaging with businesses and bringing them together to help understand how they may play a part in the success.
Emily: I feel hugely positive and encouraged by the devolution deal and the new Tees Valley Combined Authority. I think this is a real opportunity for the region to rid itself of its dowdy image and really market itself properly as an important, innovative and exciting place to live, work and play.
Angeline: I think it’ll help bring more control to businesses in the area. We have a lot of business success stories in the Tees Valley – I hope devolution will help business grow further and build on the success stories so far.
Lisa: I feel this could be a real boost for business in the Tees Valley and an opportunity to deliver transformational change. Investment in skills and infrastructure is exactly what we need if we are to grow our local economy.