Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

International Women’s Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:32 pm on 5th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire 1:32 pm, 5th March 2020

I am going to mention a lot of women, and most people in this room will not have a clue who they are, but they are important women in my life, my constituency and my community, and I make no apology for mentioning them.

I will start by challenging my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes. I know that Florence Nightingale is buried in Romsey, but she spent most of her time—apart from when she was nursing in the Crimea—living in Derbyshire. This year, we are celebrating 200 years since her birth. I think she would congratulate the current Government on their policy on washing hands, because she was really keen on cleanliness in the Crimea and the other places she served in. She would recognise that that is probably the best thing we can do against the coronavirus. First and foremost, I want to celebrate Florence Nightingale. We have a statue of her in Derby, and there is a lot of controversy about whether it will be moved.

Another important person in Derby and Derbyshire is Alice Wheeldon, a suffragette who was imprisoned wrongly in 1917 because it was claimed that she plotted to kill the then Prime Minister, and there is a big campaign to get that overturned. Recently we celebrated Nancy Astor—who has no connections with Derbyshire, as far as I know—making her maiden speech 100 years ago, which was very important in the progression of this country. It is important that the women in this place today celebrate those women, of whatever party, who were first in their field, because they are trailblazers for the rest of us.

Yesterday I was lucky to go to WE Day, which is one day a year run by a charity, following a whole year of social action for children. We heard inspirational speakers at Wembley arena, and two in particular resonated with many of the young people there. One was a trainee doctor—a girl who is almost deaf and almost blind. Everybody said that she could not get on to a course to become a doctor. Well, she has, and she continues to train as a doctor. She will have tremendous empathy with disabled patients and a lot of sympathy for the people she will be treating. It is brilliant that she has got on that course.

The other speaker was a Syrian refugee, who was told that because of her accent and because she was a refugee, she could not achieve virtually anything. She is training to be a pilot and working with Airbus at the moment. Those two young women were inspirational to the audience of 12,000 young people between the age of nine or 10 and 17.

Derbyshire is touched by some amazing women, not least Severn Trent chief executive Liv Garfield. The Severn Trent water authority goes through the whole of Derbyshire. Severn Trent is now on the London stock exchange. It is one of the FTSE 100, and is led by this amazing woman who goes at 1 million miles an hour. It does not matter what you ask her about her company, she can answer it. She is a pioneer, and there are many other women in the FTSE 100, but not enough. We need more women to get up to the top.

In Derby we have a lot of this country’s rail industry, which is predominantly a male bastion. There is a company in Derby called Resonate, led by Anna Ince, who is a pioneer running an organisation that combines technology and transport to optimise traffic management solutions. That sounds terribly boring, but she can transform the way that our rail works and provide other logistical travel solutions. She has taken that company from being a fairly average company to a really impressive one.

Porterbrook, which specialises in the leasing of trains, is run by a woman called Mary Grant. She is fantastic, because she has come along after a series of men, and she is changing that industry. There is Elaine Clark, who is the CEO of the Rail Forum Midlands. She is doing incredibly well in leading a series of 200 companies in the rail industry, which is male-dominated. Helen Simpson and Chandra Morbey are directors of innovation at Porterbrook, and they are the brains behind the HydroFLEX, which is the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train. Again, those are women in a very male-dominated industry.

Another male-dominated industry is printing, and yet we have Amanda Strong of Mercia Image, who has moved that printing company forward so far and is an incredibly successful chief executive. She does a lot of charity work alongside that—she is not just using it to make a lot of money; she is using some of the money for charity.

In Derby, we have a university that was very poor but is coming on in leaps and bounds. It had men running it for a long time, but it now has a very dynamic woman, Kath Mitchell, who is taking it much higher, much faster than we have ever moved before. We also have Derby College, which goes from GCSEs to hair and beauty and land-based courses, including looking after wallabies and meerkats, tarantulas and other spiders, and snakes and all sorts of things in order to train veterinary nurses in how to handle unusual animals. Mandie Stravino—again, a woman after many men—has moved that college forward so far. I have to congratulate those two women in education, who are brilliant.

In Derby, we also have the first female bishop. She did not start in Derby as the first female bishop, but she has moved to run the Derby bishopric. She is amazing, and again, she is changing the dynamics. She has a lot of women supporting her, including the suffragan bishop, the Bishop of Repton, Jan McFarlane—again, a woman.

We are finding that many women in Derbyshire are coming to the top of their profession and leading from the front, including as high sheriffs. At the moment, we have Lord Burlington, who is a very good high sheriff, but before him we had Lucy Palmer, the late Annie Hall— sadly, she drowned in the floods last year—and Liz Fothergill, who has gone on to develop the Derby book festival, which had not happened before. These people are inspirational leaders within the Derbyshire community.

Another amazing woman is Dionne Reid, who runs Women’s Work, which is trying to help prostitutes get another life so that they do not have to be prostitutes any more. At the end of the day, prostitutes are victims, and we need to give them another opportunity in life so that they can get out of that job and get a different kind of job that will be more fulfilling.

I have something of a beef with Derby because the gender pay gap there is very wide. It is much worse in Derby than in the rest of the country. I think it is about 31%, which is terrible. I would say to Derby businesses, “Listen, we’ve got some brilliant businesses and some amazing leaders, but we’ve got to do better. Get on your bikes and do better for the women in Derby!” For the women coming through to the top, we have to make sure that they have equality.

I have talked before in the Chamber about some very inspirational women who have undertaken fantastic schemes, such as Jacci Woodcock who is running the “Dying to Work” campaign, having been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. She is unwell now, but she is still working hard to try to get as many companies as possible to sign the voluntary charter for women who have been given a terminal diagnosis and want to carry on working—not everybody does but some do, and some have to in order to pay the bills—so that they are not defined by their illness, but are seen as people, because such people are very often defined by the particular illness they have.

There is Siobhan Fennell, who is running Accessible Belper. She is in a wheelchair, and she can only drive it with her head now, but she is an inspirational person. She goes out and does training for businesses, councillors and all sorts of people to get them to recognise that accessibility is not just about wheelchair accessibility, but about how those in a shop should deal with someone with autism or dementia. There is also Fliss Goldsmith, who is another volunteer. She has two very active young children, and she has several illnesses of her own and has had multiple operations. However, she is still highly active in the arts scene, which is very important in Belper, where many other people are working to make it a much more dynamic town.

I am very lucky in that I have five grandchildren, and two of them are girls. The choices that they will have or that they have—Poppy is 16 this year, and she is doing her GCSEs—are much greater than when Nancy Astor made her first speech in this place. I hope that the girls in my family and in everybody’s family have such opportunities, as well as the boys. As the Minister said earlier, it is important that boys can also do things that are not just traditional boys’ jobs; we need to make sure that anybody can do any job whatsoever. I believe that, even in the last 25 years, the opportunities for girls have changed dramatically and they will continue to change.

Poppy has got fantastic opportunities, but the trouble with being at school is that children do not know about all the opportunities that are out there and the jobs that are out there that we see in our everyday lives—with charities, in business or whatever they are. We see an amazing number of different jobs that are never suggested at school, but Poppy has fantastic opportunities for where she is going to go when she has finished school. Whether she goes to university, does an apprenticeship or whatever she chooses to do, the world is her oyster.

For Betty, who is only five, her opportunities, even after Poppy has started work, will be completely different again. There will be many more opportunities that we probably do not even know about at this stage. I look forward to what they can achieve in their lifetimes, and to the opportunities that all girls now in school can look out for, take up, grasp and run with to become leaders in their field. I believe that young people now have such fantastic opportunities, and it is up to us to make sure that as many people as possible know what those opportunities are for young girls. However, let us not forget the boys, because they are very important. They are very important in my life—I have three grandsons—and I want them to have fantastic opportunities as well. Those opportunities are out there, and I think young people should go out and grasp them.