06/03/2014 12:10 GMT | Updated 06/05/2014 06:59 BST

International Women's Day - A Light That Burns Bright

The light of International Women's Day is burning brighter than ever before. Every year, I am genuinely overwhelmed by the impassioned clamour of celebration in March. And every year, I reflect on the achievements made for and by women in every corner of the globe, and I am left full of deep optimism and hope.

Here in the UK, the numbers speak for themselves. 13.6million women are in work, 200,000 more than last year. In fact, more women are in work than ever before! But every day, women still face unfair obstacles and prejudices. International Women's Day is as much about highlighting these challenges as celebrating the successes.

We know women thrive in the workplace but yet we still see, some women battling to be heard, battling to lead and battling to balance their family and work life. The theme for International Women's Day this year is 'inspiring change' and carries particular resonance for me. I have often spoken about the challenges of climbing the career ladder while trying to bring up a family. It was difficult! We've made so much progress but ultimately, it is still a man's world.

Women are GREAT

We need to be harnessing the skills and talents of every member of our society in every industry and every walk of life. If they had the same flexibility and freedom that men take for granted in the workplace, more women could fulfill their potential in contributing to the success and growth of the UK economy.

Take tourism. This is an industry that employs over two and a half million Britons and produces £53billion in direct contributions to the UK Economy. And it's an industry on the move. Only last month we found out 2013 was a record year for tourism - 32million visitors came to the UK and spent a £21billion. It's fantastic stuff - Britain is truly GREAT! But even better than that, women make up 57% of the tourism workforce. I want to see this number grow. How do we do that? It comes back to breaking down barriers and preconceptions once and for all.

Culture change

I'm thrilled that I80 major companies, employing over two million people have signed up to this government's Think Act Report. It's an initiative which aims to change the culture of workplaces, to ensure women get fair opportunities. I'm deeply proud of it. But what really strikes a chord with me is that these companies recognise gender equality as an important issue not only because it is right, but because it makes business sense. If your company hasn't signed up, do it now! And if you have a minute, watch this - it's a lovely film celebrating the success of Think Act Report and the companies that support it.

We also know that women make fantastic entrepreneurs. Businesses run by women now contribute more than £70billion to the UK economy. £70billion! We need to nurture the creativity and drive of young women and equip them with the entrepreneurial skills they need to succeed. For that reason, I today announced the launch of the 'Women's Start Up Project'. We'll be working with Young Enterprise to support young women in university studying in the Visitor Economy and the Creative Industries sector. These women will be mentored by the best in the industry and will be given the skills and inspiration to one day build businesses of their own.

I'm confident that some of these young students will be our role models of the future, carrying the torch for women and making sure that the light of International Women's Day burns even brighter than it does now. But for today, let's cherish our successes and carry on inspiring the change we want to see.