The 13th annual NatWest everywoman Awards is the defining programme celebrating female business success across the UK and its 2015 winners will be unveiled today at London's Dorchester hotel. Revealing the often extraordinary stories of individuals whose determination and tenacity have driven their success, the awards shine a spotlight on Britain as a hotbed of enterprise talent.
These exceptional women have been singled out from hundreds of nominations, judged by a panel of esteemed businesswomen including Cath Kidston MBE, Amanda Wakeley OBE and Higgidy founder Camilla Stephens amongst others.
Dame Mary Perkins, founder of Specsavers, kicked off the Awards ceremony with a powerful speech about what it means to be an entrepreneur.
"All of this year's finalists are not just individually impressive, they, collectively, show us that age is no barrier, young or old. They also show us a great deal of flexibility," she said.
"Being in touch with other like-minded women is a comfort, and it's vital," she said. "Knowing that you're not alone, and the challenges you face can be overcome. We need that confidence at times, and the reassurance we get from companies like everywoman, because there are lots of ups and downs in running a business. You do need the right support to ensure you can become the best leaders in business that you can be - and I love the fact that everywoman can offer that support."
The 2015 NatWest everywoman Award was presented to Ayesha Vardag, founder of London based law firm VARDAGS. The legal world has long been a male-dominated domain, yet Ayesha changed the legal landscape for women, winning a seminal case at the Supreme Court in 2010 that made prenuptial agreements enforceable in England and Wales. The mother of three is a pioneer of flexible working and generous maternity benefits which has led to a high proportion of talented female lawyers to her 60-strong family and private client firm.
"I think women are incredibly well-equipped for leadership," she said. "All of the roles we've been given over time - from caring for families, to sending our men out to kill sabre-toothed tigers - has been management from start to finish!"
"We need to keep helping each other and create a world that fits for us, for our families, for all our different challenges, where we can work in flexible and self-starting ways. We need to do this for our sons and daughters, and prove that women are capable of running the world."
The Spirit of everywoman Award, which honours a woman whose determination, commitment and dedication has changed the landscape for women in business in the UK was given to Heather Rabbatts CBE, whose illustrious career spans law, public service, business, media and sport.
"I am both humbled and delighted to receive this Award," she said. "I left school at 16, and I was told by my careers adviser I'd never amount to much...!"
She added: "Never let anybody put you in your box. Never let anyone tell you what you can't do. Really stand your ground, and believe in yourself."
Mo Constantine OBE, co-founder of global beauty brand, Lush Cosmetics, accepted the everywoman Ambassador Award for a woman whose achievements and high profile are inspiring more young women to excel.
"It has been an incredible journey," she said. "20 years of invention and creativity, making our mark in a landscape that doesn't necessarily want to have new things, but we've done it!"
The Brand of the Future Award - sponsored by The White Company - was presented by Chrissie Rucker MBE to a woman whose early stage business is seen to demonstrate huge potential for growth: Tamara Arbib, from London – Rebel Kitchen.
"It's an incredible honour to be on this stage and have the recognition. I'm on the beginning of my journey, and I'm here to say 'yes!'" she said. "I look forward to getting stuck in!"
The Aphrodite/Mumpreneur Award – sponsored by the Daily Mail – for a woman who founded her business whilst raising a child or children aged 12 or under was awarded to Sarah Pittendrigh, from Hexham, Northumberland – Simply Bows and Chair Covers.
"Thank you so much to everywoman, the Daily Mail and NatWest for giving me the opportunity to showcase my business," she said. "I hope others will read my story and realise that anything's possible with belief in yourself and really hard work."
The Iris Award – sponsored by IBM – for the most inspirational and successful female entrepreneur who uses technology in an innovative and disruptive way was awarded to Jen Hyatt, from London – Big White Wall.
"I'm a passionate believer in supporting women in technology - there aren't enough of us," she said. "Most of the women in the senior leadership team in my company are in their 40s and 50s, and it's quite unusual."
"Here's to women in technology," she added.
The Artemis Award – sponsored by Crystal Clear Skincare - for an inspirational woman who has been trading for between 18 months and three years was awarded to Suzanne Brock, from Guildford, Surrey – Nutriment.
"I have learnt that work-life balance doesn't have to all happen in the same day!" she joked. "Thank you to my mum and my partner who are here today, because they are my partners in life, as well as in business."
The Demeter Award – sponsored by Worldpay - for an inspirational woman who has been trading for between three and six years was awarded to Poppy Mardall, from London – Poppy’s Funerals.
Poppy founded her business while her father was unwell, but told the NatWest everywoman audience about how he supported her from the beginning - even lying in a hearse as she tested its ability to hold a coffin steady.
The Athena Award - for the most inspirational woman who has been trading for between seven and eleven years was awarded to Clare Johnston, from London – The Up Group.
She said: "When I dropped my four-year-old son off at school this morning, I told him I was going to an awards ceremony - he asked if I was going to bring him back a present! I'm not sure this Award is what he had in mind, but thank you so much everywoman!"
The Hera Award – for the most inspirational woman who has been trading for 12 years or more was awarded to Gillian Pearson, from Cheltenham - Newberry International Produce & Smootheelicious.
"I feel very humbled and honoured to be here." she said. "Thank you to everywoman, and thank you to NatWest, and thank you to my husband."
While there are more women running businesses than ever in the UK, research from the University of Cambridge earlier this year found that female entrepreneurs were less inclined to highlight their achievements, despite generating higher profits than their male counterparts. With the combined annual turnover of the entrepreneur guests at the Awards estimated to be in excess of £3 billion, it has never been more important to champion successful enterprise and create role models for future generations.
Speaking about the finalists, everywoman co-founder Maxine Benson MBE comments, “Every year we applaud the achievements of the UK’s leading female entrepreneurs and this year’s winners do not disappoint with their extraordinary stories of tenacity, determination and drive. Nobody should underestimate the guts it takes to start and grow a successful business. Our winners this year share a common goal to succeed and in doing so to inspire future generations. Today we celebrate the best of British businesses and the women behind them.”
Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise at NatWest, said: “Competition this year was very tough, so we would like to congratulate all of the outstanding entrepreneurs who have been recognised. The women honoured today are amazing role models, and I hope more of the female business owners we work with will be inspired by their stories. At NatWest we are passionate about supporting women, which is why we have over 250 externally accredited Women in Business specialists, trained to understand the specific needs and the unique challenges faced by women in business.”