Opinion

The rise of David Cameron’s business power women

5 min read

14 August 2015

Former editor

With lingerie entrepreneur Michelle Mone becoming the latest high-powered business woman to be given a government position – joining the likes of Karren Brady and Martha Lane Fox – is it just an ongoing move by David Cameron to boost his appeal with women?

Dating back to when Carol Vorderman was appointed to a task force charged with improving maths education, Cameron seems to favour women as the right candidates for niche promotion roles.

Ultimo founder Michelle Mone is the latest to take up a government position after the Scottish business woman was asked to identify ways to break down barriers to entrepreneurship faced by those in disadvantaged areas.

Mone built her multi-million pound lingerie business up having left school with no qualifications, and went on to sell an 80 per cent stake in the company in 2014. She will now commence an unpaid ten-month review that will involve touring the country.

While women have rarely been given high-ranking positions within Cameron’s cabinet, save for Theresa May, Amber Rudd and Anna Soubry, Mone’s appointment is a continuation of a trend of plumping for females when it comes to “tsar” roles.

In 2010, Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane Fox was asked to sit on the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Board, building on her work as UK digital champion and expert on getting more people online.

Also in Cameron’s power woman troupe is Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon (a global trade ambassador), cosmetics entrepreneur Jo Malone, (Business is GREAT Britain ambassador), Kelly Hoppen (Business is GREAT Britain ambassador) and Mary Portas (government retail guru).

Perhaps the most significant and interesting appointment by Cameron was football executive and The Apprentice co-presenter Karren Brady. As an ambassador for small businesses, dating back to 2013, she has joined the prime minister on trade missions and made speeches at Conservative party conferences.

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It makes perfect sense for Cameron to be bringing onboard personnel with specific knowledge and experience, helping plug the gap in what has always been a cabinet dominated by politics-only careers. However, the question does have to be asked, are they actually bringing anything to the table results wise? The success of the Mary Portas high street pilots (rejuvenating tired shopping designations) has been minimal. A large proportion of high streets ended up having more vacant lots, while Portas was accused of actually making TV money from the exercise and just using it to further her career.

Fox’s role as UK digital champion lasted only three years and one of her key contributions, the new gov.uk website, hasn’t exactly been universally popular.

What will be interesting is to see how well Brady and Soubry, the new minister for small business, collaborate going forward. Soubry has been forthright and vocal during her first three months in the job, while Brady seems keen to use her role as a way of not only promoting smaller firms but also encouraging more women to get into business.

It is also great to see Britain’s outstanding population of female entrepreneurs given some extra exposure, hopefully serving as role models for those not only entering education but also currently picking up A Level results and thinking about future careers.

These kind of positions, although unpaid, do need to produce some kind of results. We need to hear from Cameron and his government about what kind of impact has been made, otherwise it will be all to easy to declare them vote-winning PR exercises.

As for Cameron’s next high profile female appointment? Well he did reveal that US celebrity and “business woman” Kim Kardashian was his 13th cousin in March!