With thanks to Orla Bance, Director of Alchemy Business UK Group and OB Business Solutions
As part of my business journey, I am lucky enough to meet some inspiring individuals who can give strength and grit that you need to keep going through tough times. Having a small business can be a tough and lonely journey that you constantly question. This week, I was privileged to meet a lady who I will never forget – Baroness May Blood who makes our struggles in business fade into insignificance.
A Lifetime Peer
Baroness Blood is a lifetime peer in the House of Lords and kindly arranged for the Women’s Irish Network (WIN), of which I am member, to attend a question and answer session in the fantastic setting of the House. I have been to the Houses of Parliament many times but have not met someone who is so passionate and proud to be a member of what she truly understands as changing people’s lives.
Baroness Blood began her career in the combative and unsettled environment of Shankill area of Belfast. She became involved in the trade unions of a local linen mill and pushed up through the ranks of the extraordinarily chauvinistic environment of the Unions. Her belief is based around seeing people as people and not merely defined by their religion or gender. Her beliefs back then are still apparent now as she talks about integrated education and equality for all with passion.
Who do you know?
Whatever one’s political or religious belief, it is undeniable that Baroness Blood stood shoulder to shoulder with people who have altered the path of history. Her tales of Mo Mowlam, the Queen, Tony Blair, Martin McGuinness and even the paramilitaries within the Maze Prison are all told with such ease and simplicity that you realise that you are in the presence of greatness, albeit a very humble greatness.
The achievements of her lifetime so far at the sprightly age of 79 are immense and sobering. I found that in the media circus this week of the Henry Weinstein cases and the underlying gender inequality within many industries, her approach is so relevant. We are further along to equality than we were but we are definitely not there yet.
She disagrees with quotas within the board room as do I – I will be there on merit as a person not as a woman.
She pushes back to women to make a difference by voting and supporting each other, not merely moaning about the lack of influential women. She demonstrated this in 1996 as she was a founding member of the Women’s Coalition Party in Northern Ireland.
In one of her first major Trade Union meetings, Reverend Ian Paisley asked her to go to make the tea as she was the only woman there. May describes that he was almost disgusted that she didn’t trot off to make the tea as it was deemed her job. She stood firm and affected change from the consistency of her approach and her dogmatic belief in what was right.
The title of her autobiography sums this struggle up; “Watch my lips, I’m speaking”. This came about as she sat in many meetings with all men and when she spoke, they ignored her. One day, this became too much and she shouted “Watch my lips, I’m speaking”. I found this a great anecdote as a woman in a predominantly male industry – sometimes, you just have to make sure you are heard! Even if it requires banging a table and shouting from the rafters.
Baroness Blood, you are a true inspiration for all people especially women. Thanks for your time and your openness and thanks to the team at WIN for organising. It really felt like you took us on a voyage akin to the start of your time as a peer experiencing both sides of the House of Lords – the Temporal and the Spiritual. It felt like we started to understand your journey with the temporal anecdotes and finished with the spiritual inspirational memories.