How do we remove barriers for women in business? The answer lies close to home
Andonette Wilkinson, Founder of Made by Factory, writes for Northern Soul.
Did you know there are approximately two billion mothers in the world and it’s estimated that only 1 per cent of them are entrepreneurs? I am in that 1 per cent and can’t help wondering why there are so few of us.
It’s not just mothers, though. Women generally are badly under-represented in entrepreneurship. Latest figures show they’re half as likely as men to be involved in starting a business in the UK, despite the Federation of Small Businesses estimating that there are 2.7 million women that want to start one but have been put off by persistent barriers.
It’s hardly surprising then that the Government has launched a review into barriers for women in business. The Treasury has rightly expressed deep concern at the large pool of untapped entrepreneurial potential going to waste and want to do something about it.
But shouldn’t Manchester be doing something about it too? This is, after all, a region built on can-do culture and we’re more than capable of making change happen. With a study earlier this year showing Manchester trailing behind Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool and Bristol in a list of cities with the highest number of female entrepreneurs, perhaps we should be asking why we don’t have a better environment that encourages women to set up businesses?
While government can help with many things such as improving access to alternative forms of finance, childcare and targeted business support, there’s a lot that can be done locally, especially tackling cultural reasons that act as a major barrier.
Certainly, a macho business culture can be off-putting to women. Last year a Northern Powerhouse event in Manchester celebrating the brightest business people and executives was labelled ’embarrassing’ after all 15 advertised speakers were men. The Mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has said our region suffers from a ‘traditional macho culture’ and, from my personal experience, business has yet to improve.
I work in tech and have lost count of the amount of industry events I’ve attended where I’m the only woman in the room. Last year’s annual digital skills audit carried out by Manchester Digital showed that more than half of the businesses surveyed had all male tech teams.
Fostering a more inclusive culture is just the start. We need to celebrate our female success stories harder and strengthen and join up existing business networks to ensure that would be female entrepreneurs know how to easily access support, advice, mentoring and training.
Our region has a big public sector procurement spend and improving the diversity of suppliers would also send an encouraging message. As would establishing better local partnerships to close the gender funding gap. With research showing that 72 per cent of women in Britain can’t identify entrepreneurial women or role models building a business like the one they’d like to start, collectively we all need to do more to create and promote female role models.
So instead of waiting for the Government’s review to conclude, as a region I say we should all be upping our game to reduce barriers and create a better environment for female entrepreneurs to flourish. If we need any further incentive, let’s not forget that Manchester’s adopted symbol is the worker bee – and worker bees are female.
By Andonette Wilkinson, Founder, Made by Factory
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