Meet the women fighting for equality in business

Former chairs of the Norwich Business Women's Network, Carole Slaughter and Jeanette Wheeler with chair Hazel Bowen.

Norwich Business Women's Network members, Carole Slaughter (left) and Jeanette Wheeler (middle) with current chairwoman Hazel Bowen at the network's 30th anniversary lunch - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

It started the year Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street and Bryan Adams was top of the pops. 

And 30 years on, the Norwich Business Women's Network has seen its membership grow from a pioneering team of founders to a group of women determined to have a seat at the table.

The group now has 130 members, ranging from accountants, solicitors and financial planners to estate agents, beauty therapists and retail managers.

And as well as sharing ideas it has raised thousands of pounds for charity.

At its 30th anniversary lunch at the Assembly House on September 8, network chair Hazel Bowen, 34, a chartered financial planner, said: "The issues facing women are equal representation in senior roles but that will change in time as more people come through. That is going to help women, men and business consumers.

"Everyone in the network looks out for each other which is very nice. People have the same general sorts of issues whether they are in professional services or in retail.

"As women we talk about things and are honest with each other."

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It was the first time the group had met in person since the March 2020 lockdown and to replace the monthly gatherings it held virtual events.

Mrs Bowen added the pandemic had highlighted the need for flexibility in the various forms of employment and the importance of a work-life balance.

Jeanette Wheeler, former chair of Norwich Business Women's Network at the 30th anniversary lunch.

Jeanette Wheeler, former chair of Norwich Business Women's Network at the 30th anniversary lunch at the Assembly House in Norwich on September 8, 2021. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

But mother-of-two Jeanette Wheeler, partner of employment law at Birketts LLP, a former network chair, said: "There are still pressures on working women with children or those with caring roles. It is a juggling act."

She believed there would be pressure on people to be back in the office, post lockdown, as managers returned to the office.

Ms Wheeler, from Thorpe St Andrew, praised the group's energy and sense of community spirit.

But she added the workplace remained "a man's world" which was a major barrier.

The current chairwoman said things were better than in previous years and gave the following advice to young women: "You can be anything you want to be. Don't listen to anyone who says you can't do things."