Katja Hall, chief policy director of the UK's leading business lobbying organisation, the CBI, said last year's First Women Awards winners are "true role models for future generations of women" and "are proof that the sky really is the limit when it comes to achieving." Two statements I agree with whole-heartedly and work hard to instil in other women in business and female entrepreneurs.
As I have said previously, receiving the First Woman in Business Services award last year has opened doors for me and put me in a privileged position to make a difference in an area I am hugely passionate about. I feel a sense of duty to help other like-minded females across all sectors achieve their goals, whatever they may be. Whilst significant progress has certainly been made and awareness raised through the likes of summits, awards and mentoring, it's a continual process. Taking a half-hearted approach will not generate the outcomes or benefits that are deserved.
Sharing experiences is a key part of this - and I would like to share three core lessons that I've taken on over the years of battling in very male dominated environments; lessons that I believe all females operating in business should carry with them.
It may be an old adage, but if you don't believe in your skills, capabilities or abilities to achieve, nor will anyone else. You will always face obstacles, but in maintaining belief, these challenges will be easier to overcome. For me, this was particularly important when I set about establishing my company, PJ Care, a neurological care provider. I soon realised, when trying to secure funding, that many bankers, notably all of whom were men, simply saw me as a nurse. The collision of the healthcare sector with the business world was unthinkable and they struggled to recognise that my business proposition was indeed a viable one. Belief in my idea and myself were critical in carrying me through this stage. If I had let those lacking the belief beat me, I'd not be where I am today.
Don't shy away from a chance to learn
You can never have enough experience. In striving to continually better yourself you will keep moving forward as a businesswoman. Whether this experience comes in the form of further qualifications, developing a skill set or joining a community or network to share knowledge, being open to enhancing your capabilities will enable you to overcome challenges with greater ease and confidence. I left school at 15, without any qualifications, and quickly realised I needed to address this; particularly vital if I was going to maintain the belief in myself! In educating myself through a variety of methods - from expanding my vocabulary through reading Reader's Digest to eventually completing an MBA - I understood and could see the value in learning. There are always ways to improve - and in investing time to do so, you'll feel the benefits across all aspects of your life.
As I have said, the challenges will never disappear - no matter how senior, experienced or successful you are, but by maintaining a strong character and determined attitude, you will emerge from these positively. Whilst the issues surrounding the male-female gap within business are being brought more to the forefront - there is still a huge amount to be done. It is still very much a man's world, in my sector and numerous others. I've experienced senior male healthcare managers ignoring and turning their backs on me, so as a gender we must remain strong to inspire each other and most importantly, show our male counterparts what we can achieve.
I hope all the nominees of this year's First Women Awards reflect on their achievements and celebrate what they have done and are doing for women in business and female entrepreneurs everywhere. In keeping these three lessons with them, I have no doubt we will achieve great progress in coming years. A truly inspiring prospect.