International Women's Day

Today's celebration marks the 101st year of International Women's Day and while many challenges remain there is also a lot of good news, especially for women in business, an issue that is rarely out of the spotlight.

The on-going debate on whether the government should introduce gender quotas in the boardroom is splitting opinion although it's safe to say that a majority would prefer to see more women in top positions without any kind of forced quotas. Since the Davies report last year stated that by 2014 a t least a quarter of FTSE100 boards should be women the figure has gone up slightly from 12.5% to 14.2% but the talk of quotas is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

However, what is clearly the corporate world's loss is totally entrepreneurship's gain. As launching your own business has become more widespread more women have struck out on their own. They might think that they can't fulfil their ambitions working for other people, or some struggle to achieve a reasonable work/life balance or they just want the freedom that comes with running their own business.

According to the Forum of Small Business, about 29% of self-employed businesses are owned and run by women and more join every week as it becomes easier to launch.

We are constantly inspired by enterprising women who convert their great ideas into reality as they start and grow their business.

We have picked five of our favourites  here:

Sohphi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate

Since taking the helm at Divine, one of the biggest fair-trade success stories in the UK, in 1999 Tranchell has transformed the attitude to fair-trade while growing and innovating the company. She set out with the bold ambition to change the way the chocolate industry works and she has succeeded: major brands including Nestlé and Cadbury have converted to fair-trade for some of their chocolate bars.

We think:  Tranchell is a true trailblazer in ethical business and sure to have inspired loads of social enterprises in the past decade, while changing the world for the better.

Martha Lane Fox, founder of Lucky Voice

The Government's digital champion is a pioneer in online business - with lastminute .com, the online travel and gift website, which she founded alongside Brent Hoberman in 1998 she proved that people wanted to shop online. After a successful exit in 2005 she has also showed that there is a hunger for Japanese style karaoke clubs when she launched

We think: Lane Fox has positively contributed to the way we live our lives and continue to do so as the Government's digital inclusion champion. A thoroughly impressive business woman with an eye for a great opportunity.

 

Hilary Devey, Pall-Ex

 

The Dragons' Den star transformed distribution in Europe by creating a new business model that resulted in a cost effective way of transporting freight. Her innovative system was rejected by investors so Devey was forced to sell her house to fund the business and couldn't even afford Christmas dinner for her and her son in the first year. Now Pall-Ex boats a turnover of £100m and Devey is helping fresh entrepreneurs by investing in start-ups.

We think: Devey is an inspirational woman who had the courage to believe in her idea when others didn't. The growth of Pall-Ex is staggering and she deserves her place on this list.

Stella McCartney, Stella McCartney Fashion

 

The daughter of Paul decided not to live off her fathers name and has created a legend of her own by flying the flag for British fashion. Her fashion ranges are respected all around the world and the lines she has designed for high-street stores have been extremely popular too, for instance the range she designed for H&M sold out in record time.

We think: Helping to put Britain on the map in a very competitive industry. A creative businesswoman who's fazed by nothing.

Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers and Knickerbox

Rose from work experience at Anne Summers to CEO and helped to turn the company into a hugely profitable business and introduced the Anne Summers party concept that now holds 3,500 parties every week.

We think: Helped to commercialise the sex industry and liberate the sexual attitude of British women.

Do you agree with us? Who have we missed out and who do you think should have made the cut? Get in touch with your suggestions.

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