Speech at The Allbright on International Women's Day

It’s great to be here at The Allbright, with so many great entrepreneurs and proponents of women in business.

Today, I want to talk about women, money and power.

  • I believe that in order to supercharge our economy, we need to do more to unleash the creative talents of the whole population.
  • Because there are millions of women out there with great energy, ideas and enthusiasm that could drive us forward.
  • I don’t buy the argument that this is somehow detrimental to men. On the contrary, everyone stands to benefit from true economic and social freedom.
  • I am a feminist, because I believe in freedom. From an early age, I wanted to follow my own path, and I hated being told what to do. In particular, I hated being told I couldn’t do things because I was a girl.
  • This came to a head when I was 12. I was going on holiday with my family, flying with KLM. When we boarded the plane, my younger brothers were given badges that said “junior pilot”, while I was given one that said “junior air hostess”.
  • This made me incredibly angry, and I was radicalised by KLM. Ever since, I have worked to change things.
  • I have got a few thoughts about how to move things forward.
  1. Stop being squeamish about money.

If women want to have power over their own lives, having economic power is incredibly important. This is the final frontier.

I think women need to be less squeamish about money. We need to be happier talking about money, and happier about having money.

The citadel of economics and finance has not yet been stormed.

  • I came across economics by accident. When I was applying to university, I wanted to study politics and philosophy. But Oxford University operates a three for the price of two deal. So I did PPE.
  • And for me, studying economics was an epiphany: I began to understand how money works and how the world works.  
  • I found this route accidentally, so I was lucky. But too few women are interested enough in economics and finance, even though they are central to our lives.
  • Destiny’s Child had it right when they celebrated all the honeys making money – the key line in the song Independent Women is “I Depend On Me”!
  • But the field of economics is dominated by men, and the reality is that in recent polling, 26% of men rated the economy as one of the most important things facing the country. Just 17% of women agreed.
  • We need more girls at school studying maths to a high level. 18.1% of female A Level students took maths in 2016-17, compared with 33% for males. This is important, because people that do A-level maths go on to earn around 10% more in their 30s.

 

  • [At the highest levels, we need more women…]
  • I am the first female Tory Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
  • We still haven’t had a female Governor of the Bank of England.
  • We still haven’t had a female Permanent Secretary of the Treasury – the most senior civil servant in the department.
  • And we still haven’t had a female Chancellor.
  1. If we want to be at the heights of our economy, something has to give.
  • As Shirley Conran said – life’s too short to stuff a mushroom. I don’t believe in perfectionism.
  • My domestic standards are very low: no one ever wants me to do the washing up twice.
  • And I don’t mind having cold pizza for breakfast.
  • I don’t care if my cushions are plumped.
  • I also make sure I involve my children in everything I do. Which has led to some extraordinary scenes.  
  • In December 2015, I was driving with my two daughters – scrapping away as usual – and my Christmas shopping in the back of the car. I had to pull over to participate in a conference call with senior officials about the floods that were going on in the North of England. In the middle of their explanation about what was happening, I had to shout “Don’t touch the turkey!” at my daughters. Those on the other end of the line were utterly bemused.
  1. Be bloody difficult.

We also need more bloody difficult women!

You don’t succeed without a bit of bloody-mindedness.

  • Because all the great inventors and innovators have had the courage to be disagreeable. To look at the status quo and think – this needs changing.
  • There are some countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia, where women start just as many, or even more, businesses as men.
  • In Canada, for every ten men starting a business, there are seven women doing so.
  • In the UK, women are less than half as likely to be starting them.
  • In the North West, this is as low as a third – so I say to Andy Burnham, pull your socks up!

In Britain right now, the economy is in a really strong place. Opportunities abound. So I want to issue a call to arms to all women. To grab the chance in front of you. It’s never been easier to set up a company.

If women started as many businesses as men, we would have another 1.2m businesses in the UK – just think, one of those could be the next Anita Roddick or Martha Lane Fox!

  1. Be agents of change.

Finally we need to tell girls that they are the agents of their economic destiny, not the victims. We do have to deal with injustices – I am not ignoring that.

But I draw the line at the Labour Party approach which is to say all women are being supressed by the patriarchy, and that we are victims.

When I meet young women in schools and businesses around the country, I see steely people who know what they want.

So let’s big them up and encourage them. Us in politics and in the media need to give them the limelight and encouragement they need.

We need to tell them that they own the future.