In 2000 Etta Cohen founded Forward Ladies, which began as a small group of professional women meeting and sharing experiences and which has grown to become the North of England’s largest women’s networking and business support organisations supporting over 13,500 women throughout Yorkshire, the Humber, Isle of Man, Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside.
Although initially backed by Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, to encourage enterprise among women, it has grown into one of the fastest-growing business support organisations for women.
Forward Ladies now runs more than 300 events a year from training and development workshops, to a programme of inspirational speakers, business breaks, social and networking events. Forward Ladies has also taken trade missions to Hong Kong, Brussels and Latvia.
Forward Ladies is now spreading across the UK and this seemed like the perfect time to chat with Etta.
“I started my professional life as a teacher before joining the former Training and Enterprise Council as education manager. As a teacher I worked in inner city Leeds, where lots of young people had been written off. I left teaching as it was not moving in the direction I felt it should be. There was a lack of respect for teachers which has only now started to return to our schools. In addition, there was a huge chasm between schools and businesses, with teachers not really understanding enterprise or the needs of business.”
“I decided that it would be best to leave education and joined Yorkshire Forward, one of the former Regional Development Agencies, as a business relationship manager. While there we created Forward Ladies to help women in the region start their own businesses, access the suppooirt services available to them within the agency and to meet other women in business.”
“Just a few women attended the first event and it is grown steadlily. It was, and still is, very much member driven. Women told us that they wanted networking, training and business seminars so we set about offering those services from within Yorkshire Forward. The organisation became stand-alone in 2006, and the company has continued to grow across the north and has expanded into the midlands and south of England and recently moved into Scotland. Forward Ladies is also taking on licensees to run the company in towns and cities throughout the rest of the country.”
“I am passionate about creating opportunities for women. The network is very inclusive and open to all professional women, from any sector, any age and any stage in their career. Events are non-threatening, welcoming and supportive. We are expanding because we believe that we have a positive contribution to make to support women in business – particularly in these challenging economic times. Women want support, business contacts and value for money, and that’s what we hope we give them.”