Ideas Fest hosted an inspiring panel talk with businesswomen Lucy Cohen, Emma Sayle, Ellie Webb, Hannah & Sophie Pycroft, where they discussed the importance of empowerment from the bedroom all the way to the boardroom. Hear their thoughts on the topic here:

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Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. 

We can’t deny that there has been progress on this topic over the last few decades: More girls are going to school and graduating from university, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality - yet there is still so much to be done, as women continue to face challenges their male counterparts will never experience. For example, did you know that on average women in full-time employment get paid 10p less hourly than their male counterparts?

It’s time to take a stand and raise our voices against gender disparity and do everything we can to encourage female empowerment - and that’s exactly what we did at this year’s Ideas Fest. 

Set in the sunny festival grounds of Ideas Fest, with a crowd ready to be inspired we hosted a group discussion from some of the most thought-provoking female leaders of today, including Lucy Cohen, Emma Sayle, Ellie Webb, Hannah & Sophie Pycroft.

Kicking off the conversation Emma Sayle, Founder and CEO of Killing Kittens Group,  told the crowd what empowerment truly means to her, and how her brand has encouraged all women to feel empowered.  “Killing Kittens allows people to be empowered every day, to go against the rules, and be the best version of themselves - and I think that’s what empowerment really means, empowerment is completely individual to what makes you feel empowered, not what someone else tells you it is.”

“I grew up with a very traditional father, with views that girls should do ‘what girls do’, and I wanted to do the opposite, and everything that the boys were doing, like playing football, and having short hair. This then grew as I got older and I started thinking ‘if boys can have one-night stands why can’t girls?’ and then this slowly spiralled and made its way into my working life. I was constantly thinking ‘why can’t we all be equal?’ 

“Killing Kittens allows that and lets all people be open about their sexuality and not be ashamed, and have a place where you can be equal and empowered in your own way.”

As a woman, making your way in the business world isn’t easy, and yes, it’s easier now than it once was, but the panel proved that there is still so much more that needs to be done as they shared stories of their struggles along the way. 

Lucy Cohen, Co-founder of Mazuma pointed out a shocking statistic to the group. “Even now less than 20% of VC funding goes to female businesses,” she said. 

Telling her own experience with this type of inequality, Ellie Webb, Founder of Caleno said, “Before I started my business I worked at a big wholesale alcohol company and I remember being in a board meeting and there were at least 15 men, and there was just 1 woman - and at the time I probably didn’t think anything of it. But fast forward a few years when I started my business I went to pitch my business and I didn’t get the funding, and my feedback as to why was that ‘They didn’t usually invest in people like me, and I had to prove myself before people would invest.’ And that’s when I noticed the problem.” 

“I’ve learnt that women, unfortunately, have to prove themselves, unlike men whose abilities are believed straight away. I’ve learnt to have the attitude that yes, I’m a solo female entrepreneur and here’s what I’ve done and here’s what I can do - that’s the mentality I now have to have,” she added. 

Another thing that many businesswomen experience is the pressure on their image, presentation, and how they ‘should’ act to be taken seriously in a world dominated by men. 

“When you think of a businesswoman you probably picture them in shoulder pads and ‘power suits’ - but we are revolutionising the typical businesswoman. There is no tick list and should be no tick list of what a businesswoman is, and what they look like. You can be whoever you want to be,” said Lucy. 


“Being a businesswoman is your superpower and you have to utilise it”, added Ellie. 

Sophie Pycroft, Co-founder of Spectrum Collections said, “Me and Hannah (sister & co-founder) have always had an entrepreneurial spirit but it took us so long to realise that we are actually businesswomen because we have always worked in creative backgrounds and we started the business because we loved it, not because we wanted to be rich business people. Especially in working in the beauty industry, it’s hard to be taken seriously - but when you have passion and drive, and people love what you do you can do anything” 

Hannah Pycroft, Co-founder of Spectrum Collections, agreed saying, “When we started out people always assumed we were the PR girls because we weren’t wearing the pinstripe suits. But we don’t want to have to wear that, I want to wear trainers and colourful outfits, and wear my makeup - and I should be taken just as seriously as anyone else for that.” 

“Ultimately, if you go into the boardroom with confidence, take a breath and believe in your business and yourself, there’s nothing to be scared of. It won’t be smooth sailing, you’re going to mess up, but you can learn from everything”

Talking about confidence in the boardroom Sophie added how important it is to truly know your stuff, “No one can catch you out on things if you know your stuff,” she said. “So know your business and have the confidence to show that. Let people see how good you are.”

So, how can we stop this cycle of inequality? One way is to watch our language and the things we teach our children and the people around us - both women and men. Words are one of our most powerful tools and as a woman growing up, negative words and thoughts are subconsciously engraved into your mind due to traditions and social ‘norms’. But it’s time to check yourself and others and make changes. 

Going on to discuss how men are often held to different standards than men Emma said, “When you get told certain things over and over again, especially as a child, it sticks with you and can affect your behaviour - like with sex, for example, women often feel shame when it comes to their behaviour towards sex, whereas men don’t - and that’s all because of the messaging that is placed on us as a child.” 

“We talk about getting more women in the boardroom but to do this we need to start young, because why is it that by say 7 years old girls think ‘things would be easier if I was a boy’ - we need to start in the schools and target the younger generation.” 

Sophie added, “We have to keep empowering each other and building each other up. Take the negative words thrown at us women and flip it - if we do this we’ll eventually lift eachother up.”