Caroline Dinenage MP Interview

Impressive Caroline Dinenage is an MP super mum, who juggles her family life with her work in Westminster. Daughter of much loved UK screen celebrity Fred Dinenage, Caroline has carved her own identity through her extensive work in promoting the Gosport peninsula as an excellent place to do business. She has also worked hard to ensure that relevant government policies are made with women and children in mind. The ACN sat down with Caroline to get her views on women in business.

 1.   Why is it important that woman succeed in business?

It’s important that women succeed in every profession, but especially that they are given every encouragement to aspire and to fulfill their ambitions. Women make great business people & fantastic entrepreneurs.  And of course businesses perform better when they include a cross-section of people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives – so who better to understand the products & services needs of the 51% of the population who are female?

2.  Do women bring to business something men don’t?

Lots of things, and we are all different, but there are typical female traits that I think are an asset in business (and politics!).  The simple ability to listen & to empathise – gives a distinct advantage in understanding & delivering for clients as well as managing a team.  Women tend to invest 100% of themselves into everything that they do, that’s why, though female MPs only make up 24% of Parliament, the always make up more than 1/4 of any meetings or debates.  And of course there’s our unique ability to multi-task!

3.  What motivates you to succeed?

Having mortgage & school fees to pay are a pretty good incentive for me!  Other than that I guess it stems from having two successful & entirely self-made parents, both with a really strong work ethic.  It’s also really important to me to send a positive message to my own sons about the importance of working hard and striving to fulfil your ambitions.

4.  What advice do you have for women hesitant about their own abilities?

The biggest difference between men & women (and of course I’m generalising again) is the almost innate sense of self-confidence that men seem to have in their own abilities – they are born like it – I see it in my own sons, particularly my 5 year old, who thinks he’s the bees knees at everything!  Women tend to be much more modest and self-deprecating.  If a job advertisement cites 10 requirements & a man has 5 of them he’ll go for it, meanwhile a woman who has 7 of them will think she’s unqualified & not apply.

Also we pour so much of ourselves into everything we do that we tend to take rejection very personally and it sets us back.  Many women in business tell me they are ‘rubbish at selling’, yet when they talk about their product or service their passion shines through, it almost sells itself.

So my big tips are – be brave, don’t be afraid to go for it.  Try not to take rejection too personally, learn from it and move on.  In life you shouldn’t regret the things you’ve done – only those you haven’t done.

5.  Do women do enough to help other women in business?

Totally varies – there are amazing, inspirational women in business like Helena Morrissey & her 30% Club, doing fantastic work to drive forward women’s representation on company boards.  There are others that seem to climb the ladder & then pull it up after them!  On the whole though I don’t think that we do mentoring as well as men do.  We need to create our own version of the ‘old boys network’, the golf games & networking opportunities. The Mentoring Foundation has done some good work in this area, but on the whole it’s something we could do better.

6.  What top tip would you give to a woman trying to get ahead?

Communication is key – make as many contacts as you can, networking is really important.  Never be afraid to ask those who’ve ‘made it’ for advice, they are usually more than happy to give it. Don’t try and become one of the men – don’t compromise who & what you are.

7.  Do you see a culture change-taking place in the boardroom? 

On average FTSE 100 companies have only got around 17.3% women on their boards, of course some are far better and some far worse than this. This is seen as good progress – in 2010 the figure was 12.5% and in 2004 it was a mere 9.4% but the pace of change is still too slow.  A higher proportion of female members has been proven to have a positive impact on both the quality & performance of a board.

8.  Who inspires you and why? 

I’m surrounded by inspirational women in my neighbourhood, in parliament but particularly in my own family.

My own grandma, who despite a poor background as the oldest girl of 9 children, always remained a true lady.

My 82 year old Auntie Eileen who still volunteers at Age Concern to help, what she refers to as ‘the old people’

And my mum who juggles running a business, a home, caring for elderly relatives & young grandchildren, bossing us all around & still manages to look younger than me!

9.  Can you celebrate your own success? 

On the inside the champagne corks are definitely popping, but in reality there is usually a child’s sports-kit to wash or a snotty nose to deal with!

10.  Is the question “Can women have it all?” an excellent question, an offensive question or just old hat?

It’s a reasonable question – I guess the answer boils down to balance and priorities – and not putting too much pressure on ourselves to strive for perfection.  I don’t always look like I’ve just stepped out of a salon, that my house isn’t always pristine & that my social life is often on a back-burner – but my priority is that my kids feel loved & secure, my friends & family feel supported & my constituents feel that they are well represented.

11.  What do you feel the role of government is in supporting women who want to succeed in business?

Women tend to perform strongly in university & in the early stages of a professional career, but the attrition rate increases as they progress through an organisation.  For some this will simply be a lifestyle choice, they want to be a full-time mum, there is a lot of merit in that.  But for others it’s because they don’t feel sufficiently supported to follow the path they would like to take.

The Government’s role is to support people though these choices & remove as many of the barriers as possible. The cost of childcare is one of the biggest challenges, we pay more than any other EU country.  That’s why from 2015 we are introducing tax-free childcare, saving a typical family with 2 children up to £2400 per year.  We’ve also introduced plans to ease the adult/child ratios in nursery, which are far higher than our European neighbours, meaning nurseries will be able to employ fewer, better qualified, better paid staff as well as cutting the cost to parents.

Flexible working is also something that the Government is really keen to promote, although this is not just a women’s issue. For many women self-employment is a great option – the Government needs to do all it can to support female entrepreneurs by helping free up access to finance and remove as much  suffocating legislation as possible.

12.  What do you feel the role of government is in supporting corporates who want to attract more women into their business?

I’m a believer in Government encouraging & working with companies rather than compelling or forcing, through any kind of quota systems.  Any business with its head screwed on will realise the inevitable benefits of a better gender balanced work-force.

Clearly the Government has to start by addressing the issue from the very early stages, making sure that girls in school have good access to a diverse range of subjects, access to strong female role-models, that ambition & aspiration is encouraged and that top quality, current & relevant careers advice is available.

Although it’s good news that around 49% of non-executive directorships appointed in the FTSE100 this year have been female, companies must be encouraged not to see this as a short-cut to increasing the number of women on their boards, they must make sure that the ‘pipeline’ for women to progress through the business is as strong & supportive as it can be.

Corporates should also be steered away from the ‘billable hours’ culture, which values the amount of time spent in the office over the quality of the output.

13.   What is the most inspiring act or story you have come across of a woman succeeding in politics?

The one that always stands out is Aung San Suu Kyi – the Burmese politician.  15 years of her life spent under house arrest, separated from her husband and children – it’s almost unimaginable.  She visited our Parliament last summer, a very inspiring lady.