Not Just Another Women’s Network

I’ve always had entrepreneurial leanings. My Mum & Dad are self employed and I’m drawn to and admire people who are doing their own thing and making a living from it. Since my early 20’s I’ve dabbled in countless activities that earn me extra cash but I’ve always stopped short of taking any of my ventures to the next level. This self-imposed limitation causes me huge frustration but the long and short of it is, I find the reality of going it alone pretty overwhelming. I’ve never felt brave enough or confident enough to give up my day job and take the plunge.

One thing I can tell you. The times I’ve felt most confident in my mini-entrepreneurial adventures have been times when I’ve been involved in some form of collaboration and have felt truly supported and believed in by those around me. The power of the peer support network!

I often fantasise that if 20 years ago I’d known people I know now, my working life might look quite different. I might be running my own business or at least working for myself in some shape or form. Why? Because I believe that when we surround ourselves with people who “get us” and really want us to succeed, we’re much more likely to reach our potential.

My day job with UnLtd sees me working with social entrepreneurs to launch all manner of ventures. This isn’t an easy career path, and one of the most common things I hear is “it’s really isolating”. A few years back, we carried out some research in Scotland to find out what our award winners value about our programme and the overwhelming top answer was “the network”. Friendships, opportunities to collaborate, informal support, access to a wide range of skills and experience and social contact – these are the things people said were most important to them.

So, it seems clear that the ability to tap into peer support and opportunities to pool resources are important factors in the success of any venture but why do we need yet another women’s network?

If you Google “women’s networks” in the UK, there’s no shortage of them – women in business, city women, rural women, women in technology – there’s something for most people who define themselves as a businesswoman or entrepreneur. What I haven’t come across is anything for the aspiring entrepreneur or the woman who has a passion to contribute to the success of her community or neighbourhood but simply lacks the skills, and confidence to get started.

Neither do I know of any networks for people who have ideas and loads of enthusiasm but no access to expert input to fill the gaps in their own skills. Through conversations with women from business and grass roots community backgrounds, it appears that opportunities for community activists and first-time social entrepreneurs to connect with experienced entrepreneurs and business people outside their own immediate circles are limited, which means loads of missed opportunities.

Women’s lives are multi layered through involvement in family, running a home and earning a living – all things that can create barriers if you’re thinking of setting up a business. For this reason it feels appropriate for women to have a space to connect with others who are working through the same issues as themselves. It’s not about excluding men.

My area of interest is women and social entrepreneurship and it appears that any formal research into this subject is limited. I could tell you many a story about female social entrepreneurs I’ve met who are struggling to get their ideas off the ground due to lack of time, childcare limitations and expense, lack of support from partners and low levels of confidence due to a career break. So, what better way to be kicking off a new year than to be part of a diverse team who are going to address these issues.

We’ll create a forum where women from all walks of life can share their skills and experience, harness their talents and drive and find the support they need to release their inner entrepreneur, or community leader. So, watch this space, or even better, come and join us!

And remember, surround yourself with the dreamers and doers, the believers and thinkers; but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness in you, even if you don’t see it yourself. It works!

About the author.

Eileen Inglis works for UnLtd supporting social entrepreneurs to make their dreams a reality. With ten years experience in the sector in Scotland, she has a wide network of contacts and has supported hundreds of individuals to get new social ventures and enterprises off the ground.


4 Comments on Not Just Another Women’s Network

  1. I found this interesting Eileen because my reaction was that there are already plenty of networks around. However, in thinking about it, I suspect that there are lots of women who are excluded and marginalised for all the reasons you articulated above. It is exactly those women that we should be trying to reach and support. It is a bone of contention for me, that there has been so much emphasis in recent times on the Davies Report, but not enough notice being given to the many more obstacles that ordinary working women face, in their working lives, never mind trying to get to board level appointments.

  2. Heather Alexander // January 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm // Reply

    Mmm, I have to say that I remain unconvinced about the need for yet another network. The struggle you refer to (time, childcare, confidence, etc) is not limited to social entrepreneurs but is shared by many women setting up their own businesses of whatever kind.

    You can call me biased (and I am) but I think some of the existing networks provide exactly the kind of friendly, supportive and business-like environment you describe, including both formal and informal networking, and training events.

    Glasgow-based Scottish Women in Business (SWIB) is just such a network – my bias comes from the fact that I am a long-standing member of SWIB. SWIB is also a not-for-profit organisation, being run by members for the members, which means that it is eminently affordable as no-one has to make a living out of running it 🙂

  3. I found the article interesting and look forward to hearing more as things progress.

    I work as a self-employed consultant and trainer and can certainly empathise with the issues raised in the article.

    I also work for the WEA as the co-ordinator of a women’s network in Argyll and Bute, one of the big gaps, in addition to childcare, transport in rural areas etc for women thinking about starting up in business is lack of confidence as well as easy access to the sources of support and information that are already out there. Anything that could help to improve that would be great,

  4. Great article Eileen. I’ll confess to a bias too but, unlike Heather, I don’t think that current networks do reach into the community, I don’t think that they reach the many women who don’t even consider business to be a realistic option for them and I don’t think that they cater well for those who want to put values above profit. Where I do agree with Heather though, is that I am unsure of the need for another network. It would be great if all of the existing networks were able to look and think differently and welcome all women but lots of networks have been established for several decades and are stuck in old ways of “keynote speaker plus a meal” style events. Three invitations to just such meetings came into my mail just this morning, so I see no real signs of willingness to embrace a different dynamic. Also, worryingly, I see more and more groups rushing to defend their position rather than looking to engage in a wider debate. I’m a big supporter of small local groups, (SWIBs membership model is a great example) as the more businesses and their support systems can be embedded in the local community the better, but a bigger picture view is also needed if we are to find a way of representing all women across all sections of the community across the whole of the UK.

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