Inspirational Woman: Jill Pay | First female Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons & Chairman of The Gender Index

Jill Pay

Jill Pay’s background is business management; in advertising, the private medical sector, a 7-year Employment Department project developing technical and vocational education, and in the House of Commons where she worked for 20 years.

During this part of her career she developed effective working relationships with Members and their staff, from newly elected Members, through to Committee Chairmen and Ministers.  She saw her role as facilitating their work in Parliament, rather than ‘policing’ it.

Jill was appointed as the first female Serjeant at Arms in 2008, a formal job with a very formal uniform.  The key responsibilities as Serjeant were security, access and ceremonial and she loved every moment of it until she retired in the spring of 2012.  A quote from her leaving tribute reads:  “Jill has also played a powerful role in mentoring and encouraging other women in the House service to achieve their potential.   The number of women now occupying senior posts in the House Service is some measure of the example she has set.”

Every legislature in the Commonwealth has a Serjeant at Arms and as the UK is seen as the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, the London Serjeant at Arms is the Head of the Commonwealth Association of Serjeants at Arms.    In this role, Jill visited Parliaments in Canada, Australia and Africa by individual invitation to make presentations and she attended national, state and provincial conferences.  She was also invited to parliaments in Europe and Israel to discuss and advise on security arrangements.

During her tenure, Jill hosted newly appointed Serjeants on week-long secondments from many Commonwealth countries who were sent to London to learn about our ceremonial, procedure and security arrangements.

Jill led an international conference at the Palace of Westminster in for delegates from 42 Commonwealth legislatures, with a complementary programme for partners.

Jill’s passion is to help people to develop, grow and succeed, from primary school children who are struggling to learn to read through to entrepreneurs finding their way in business and female senior managers who are seeking to crack that ultimate glass ceiling to join the Board. 

Jill is Chairman of Trustees of the Coram Beanstalk literacy charity that seeks to improve literacy in primary schools across the UK and a Trustee of the Coram group of charities that are all concerned with the well-being of children.  She is a Coram Beanstalk reading helper in a primary school in Battersea where she works with three children encouraging them to love reading and books.

Jill is one of the founding members of Savvitas, a businesswomen’s network affiliated to Parliament that recognises, develops and celebrates women’s unique talents and skills that complement those of their male colleagues.  Jill is Chairman of the Savvitas Senate, the strategic planning group that seeks to drive the organisation forward to benefit women (and men!) across the world.  She led the development of the UK Economic Blueprint for Women, designed to stimulate the growth of women-owned businesses.

Jill is leading The Gender Index, an innovative data driven initiative that aims to help create a more equal future by providing a clear and accurate picture the UK business landscape. With information on eight million companies, it reveals the disparity between male and female led businesses, highlighting the challenges, and identifying the opportunities.

Jill is a qualified business practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming and an experienced coach and mentor.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, but my range of skills and experiences all fed into my first role in the House of Commons, which was Head Office Keeper – Facilities Manager in commercial parlance.  I was the first woman to be appointed to that post too, as well as the first time someone from outside the House was appointed.

You were the first woman to hold the position of Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons – how did you get into that role?  

I had been working in the House of Commons for 14 years so I understood the Parliamentary context, and had worked with MPs and their staff during all that time, as well as being involved in the security of Parliament.    I was encouraged to apply by my colleagues and by a number of female and male MPs.

It was an international competition, with rounds of testing, interviews and presentations.  I understand the final choice was between me and a former Brigadier.   The Speaker recommended me to HM The Queen (it’s a Royal Appointment) and the announcement was made by Buckingham Palace on 31st January 2008.

You’re launching a new project – The Gender Index – can you tell us a bit more about this?

The Gender Index was conceived to establish a benchmark of the current level of activity undertaken by companies, from large to SME to start-up, across the UK which are owned or led by female founders. This is the largest and most comprehensive study of UK female entrepreneurship ever undertaken.   [Comprehensive information attached]

Female-led companies generate on average 58% less turnover than male-led companies

On average, female-led companies generate 58 per cent less turnover than male-led companies, according to new research.

The Gender Index, an online interactive tracking tool of 4.4 million active UK companies, has launched providing the first ever in-depth, freely available picture into the state of female-owned companies across the UK.

Powered by AI data provider mnAI, the Gender Index showed that while there are more females starting companies than ever before – with 145,200 new companies last year – nationally active female-led companies make up 16.8 per cent of all UK companies – three and a half times smaller than the 2.7 million male-led companies.

The Index shows huge disparities between male and female-owned companies – what more can be done to support female entrepreneurs?

Greater investment in female-led companies – currently, less than 1% of venture capital and private equity investment goes to female-led companies.   There are significant opportunities for investors here.  

More local business support hubs and mentors.

Recognition of the challenges of women’s caring responsibilities and policies that will enable women to balance these with starting and growing their own companies. 

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Strongly!   I have had mentors throughout my career and I currently mentor women and men.   I believe the relationship is mutually beneficial and I encourage everyone, whether a student or a CEO, to find a mentor.   This works best when the mentor is outside your sphere of operation.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Equal parental leave, recognising the responsibility is shared.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Believe in yourself – you can do this! 

If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to believe in you?

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Once The Gender Index is launched, my challenge is to ensure it has the impact that’s needed to stimulate the growth of female entrepreneurship and its contribution to the UK economy.

About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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