Cherie Booth opens up to women in the North West about the challenges of juggling work and family life
Addressing 200 businesswomen at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester, Cherie was frank about the demands she’d faced as the Prime Minister’s wife, a career woman and mother. In an unguarded moment, Cherie (who is a leading barrister) revealed that during Tony Blair’s time as PM she had sometimes had to race home from the courtroom or office to prepare dinner for Tony’s guests.
However, Ms Booth made it clear that she had no regrets about her choices, saying she was confident that her decision to return to work had not had a negative impact on her children and adding that she’d enjoyed an excellent relationship with her own mother who worked during her childhood.
She did, however, call for men to play a more active role in childcare, stating that society as a whole would benefit from improvements to paternity leave. Cherie is keen to see maternity leave being shared between men and women, helping both genders to focus on family life without jeopardising their careers.
Kate Baldwin, a successful Knutsford businesswoman who was responsible for securing Cherie’s visit to the region as part of her work with the professional networking group Pro Manchester, was delighted with Cherie’s comments.
Kate, who co-founded Xentum Wealth Management based in Lymm with husband Dominic in 2004, said: “Cherie Booth is a formidable character who has forged an exceptional career as a barrister. She was the perfect speaker to discuss overcoming barriers to equality. It was a great coup to secure her visit and she even agreed to waive her fee as she is so passionate about the issue.”
Cherie added: “Equality in the workplace is something I feel passionate about, so I was delighted to be able to share my experiences of the legal world and to encourage discussion among senior businesspeople in Manchester.”
Following Cherie’s comments, local businesswomen spoke out about their experiences in the workplace. Encouragingly, most accounts were overwhelmingly positive, with several women emphasising the support and mentoring they’d received and suggesting that setting up your own company could provide the flexibility that many working mothers crave.
However, it wasn’t all good news, with everyone agreeing that more women needed to make it to the top in business in order for a more diverse range of views and skills to be represented in the workplace.
This was a hot topic, as the view of the Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) (currently looking at the huge gender gap in financial services) is that the current financial situation could have been avoided if women were better represented in the boardroom.
When looking at ways of breaking through the glass ceiling, Cherie declared that she is strongly opposed to positive discrimination and thinks women and minorities should be appointed on merit only.
This view seemed to reflect that of her audience of ambitious North West professionals, all of whom have forged successful careers on their own merits.
Clearly we still have some way to go in terms of closing the pay gap, helping couples to juggle work and childcare and encouraging young women to break through that glass ceiling. However, listening to Cherie and a room full of entrepreneurial northern women you can’t help but be struck by how far we’ve come.