Milton Keynes

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Celebrating International Women’s Day

CEO Melanie Beck OBE on how times have changed as a female at the boardroom table.

Today, MyMiltonKeynes joins the global community in celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) and, as the 2023 theme is Embrace Equity, we are taking a look back at the career of our CEO, Melanie Beck MBE.

Throughout her career, Melanie has embraced every opportunity which has come her way while navigating through often male dominated working environments. By her own admission, this has often meant working harder and longer than male counterparts to make herself heard and seen, while managing unsolicited comments: “During my time with the property company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) in the late ‘90’s I vividly recall being called to speak by a Director who announced that I, in my marketing capacity, would be providing an update on ‘the fluffy stuff.’ This has stuck with me, and it certainly sharpened my resolve.”

Notably, it was this drive which saw Melanie, back in 2017, publish a business plan for a BID area to be created within Central Milton Keynes. Historically, there had, until that point, been very little appetite around creating a Business Improvement District within Milton Keynes, in fact a previous attempt had been futile. However, following extensive surveys, consultations, and steering group meetings to understand whether it could work, 82% of businesses voted in favour of the BID.

A resounding success but, as Melanie candidly admits, there were times when she felt her reputation was on the line if the BID failed to succeed: “Throughout my career, I have felt that, as a woman, I have often had to push myself that little bit harder in order to succeed. The early days of my career certainly instilled this within me. Even today, men often naturally command attention around the boardroom table, women often have to speak up a little bit more to be heard, but they should never denigrate themselves by using their sexuality to gain attention. I have, however, been advised in the past that trousers won’t do, and only a skirt or dress will make me stand out!”

This comment came from the sports world where Melanie has also achieved considerable success. Following a childhood passion for diving which later saw her coaching and judging fellow divers in her teen years, she eventually followed in her father’s footsteps and took on the position of Chairman of the British Diving Performance Management Group.

Subsequent Board Director roles, both in diving and business have followed: “Ten years ago, just 12.5% of board positions within top level companies were held by women, today that figure is closer to 40%. It’s a massive achievement and I am proud, in my capacity as a CEO and Director at many boardroom tables, that I have played a role in this. But it’s vital that women continue to challenge the status quo and know that they CAN still make a difference. For instance, the number of female CEO’s and board members in sports is still woefully low and when I joined FINA, the governing body of international swimming and water sports, there was just one other director.

Throughout my career I have seen women work hard for equality, seen them fight to close the gender pay gap, while facing both conscious and unconscious bias. While the dial is moving slightly, there’s still work to do which is why International Women’s Day is so important.

For me, today offers a platform to vocalise and embrace all of the great things about being female, our biological make up, the diversity we bring and the strength and courage we have to achieve great things – often in the face of adversity.

This latter point resonates with me deeply. Over the last year battling to work throughout arduous cancer treatment has been one of the greatest challenges that I have ever had to face. Of course, there are many men out there who are also going through similar battles but for a woman, striving to remain in control and authoritative in a high level position whilst desperately trying to keep hold of your femininity and still be heard can be especially challenging.

Today is also about recognising and celebrating the great women who have gone before us to achieve remarkable feats to get us to where we are today and I hope that, as I prepare to dust off my gardening tools and embrace retirement, I may have just left a mark too for the women of the future.”

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