Surrey Chambers – Supporting businesses and a diverse workforce

By Louise Punter, CEO, Surrey Chambers of Commerce

Louise Punter, CEO, Surrey Chambers of CommerceSurrey Chambers of Commerce is a business membership organisation working with companies that are based or working in Surrey. Sitting at the heart of the business community, we act as a catalyst by connecting business people to opportunities, skills, knowledge and valuable contacts. We help raise the profile of all of our members by promoting them on our website, in our magazine and via our newsletters.

Through our helplines, library of resources and our access to so many experts, we provide the best support possible. We help over 400 businesses a year to export their products across the world, providing documentation and advice to ensure a safe transition through customs.

Surrey Chambers is further enhanced by being part of a worldwide network and is one of the British Chambers of Commerce accredited chambers representing the needs of our members at the highest levels of government.

For the last 16 years I have been the CEO leading the organisation, which employs four men and six women across all ages. Chambers are no different to any other sector, whereby the majority of chamber CEOs are men, although over the last few years this balance has shifted.

In the UK this year, we are celebrating 100 years of women getting the vote (if they were over 30 or house owners!) with all women over 21 gaining the vote 10 years later. As someone who has been in the workforce for nearly 40 years, I have seen massive changes. The year I was born, 4% of Members of Parliament were women; this year the figure is 29%. Still a far cry from the 50% representing the population split but certainly progress!

In 1971 52.8% of women worked, with 92% of men in employment; in 2017 the figures were 70.8% of women and 79.8% of men but even though the levels of women working have increased significantly, only 6% of the top 100 corporates have female CEOs.

Putting aside the change in the gender make-up of the workforce there have been massive changes in the working environment. Anyone joining the workforce after 2000, when broadband was delivered, would have no idea of the inferior communication vehicles we used to use; namely ticker tape telex, faxes and dial-up connections. Before emails and the ability to attach huge files of data we would have to rely on the post (or snail mail as it has become known!)

Technology has provided a huge advantage for flexible remote working, BUT also instant response expectations make it difficult for part-time workers. Whilst it is important to be aware of the gender balance in different levels of an organisation to be a great leader you have to accommodate many different ways of working not just a male and female way of doing things. There is no doubt that a more diverse team will result in higher levels of productivity and this diversity could be as simple as different personality types!

Surrey Chambers of Commerce has a Business Women In Surrey (BWIS) group, holding events which deliver inspiring stories from all walks of life. We acknowledge issues specifically facing women, like finding difficulty networking in a male environment, having to take time off to deliver babies and developing the confidence needed to re-enter the workforce. Unless men are part of this recognition, things will never change so they are very much encouraged to join us and celebrate women in the workplace. As a mother of two daughters in their 20s, who have grown up in a more gender equal environment, I believe we are half a generation away from real equality.



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