Why do we need a focus on women’s enterprise?

SoniaThe Coalition government seem to be going backwards in regards to the women’s enterprise agenda as they try to force a mainstream business support and services strategy.

The Women’s Business Council and the IPPR review led by the Deputy Prime Minister, that looked at lending discrimination against women from banks, was a good start but its not groundbreaking stuff that get women rushing to start and grow much needed businesses.

There has been a strong focus on supporting growth businesses at the expense of start-ups yet the Ministers for Women continually talk about the 150,000+ new businesses that would be started if we opened businesses at the same rate as men. In my humble opinion, what they should be talking about is the financial loss to the economy by not improving the environment in which women start their business. We need to get back to the economic case for the women in business especially as the economy has more or less flat lined.

If we could start more businesses or sole traders could employ one more person in the business, then not only would this create much needed jobs but it would contribute to the economy’s much needed recovery.

Women contribute to the taxes of this country so why are their views and interests not represented in the services they receive.

With women living longer and the traditional institute of families changing, more and more women are heading up single households and/or are the sole breadwinner in the home. In addition to this, the working environment is changing and public sector reforms are having a disproportionate effect on women in terms of redundancies and potential job opportunities. That means for many women, self-employment is the only option for their long-term financial stability and well being.

Women are not homogenous and will approach entrepreneurship very differently from men. Those coming from high powered roles or from a background of enterprise find the transition from corporate to a male-dominated business environment quite seamless. But those women coming from further down the corporate ladder or from a background where no one is in business, they will require more hand holding in the earlier stages of development. They will have to be carefully navigated through the different business life cycles especially if their business is operating around caring duties and family responsibilities.

Based on this, I believe support is not just about talent and qualifications; cultural and gender issues have a serious impact on the confidence and capabilities of the business owner and ultimately the long term sustainability and viability of the business.

Therefore, if the government recognises that we are living in a diverse world then we need robust and diverse policies and services to match these different needs. Government support agencies should stop labelling lifestyle business as second-rate and dismissing female led service businesses because many fall into this category, as they are cheaper to set up and are more conducive to their family commitments. This attitude means without an enforced mandate, services and support for women become fragmented and often outdated.

Only when we have a fair and level playing field for ALL women in business can we say tailored support is not needed going forward.

I am hoping for the Women’s Enterprise Scotland conference that women come from all sections of the country (and world) to influence policy; develop the first steps of a national strategy and continue to promote the benefits of starting female led enterprises across a wide range of sectors.

We need to better support the LEPs so that they see race and gender as a strategic priority and benefit to both the local (vital) and national agenda and not seen as a burden to long term enterprise strategy and support.

Sonia Brown MBE is a business communicator, coach, trainer and writer, with over 20 years in marketing, branding and life skills development. She is an authority on many areas of business, leadership, sales and marketing, as well as supporting individuals to achieve success in all areas of life.

She founded the National Black Women’s Network; Let’s Talk Business Networking Forum and Sistatalk the UK’s leading online forum for women looking to connect with leading companies, decision makers and industry peers. More recently she launched the Inspirational Women’s Super Summit and designed EVOLVE; a six step business growth programme aimed at solo and micro entrepreneurs.

Sonia has successfully worked with the who’s who in business and is endorsed by government departments and ministers, leading banks and financial institutions including top FTSE companies as well as working with a number of high profile champions.

She is the Business Editor for the Voice Newspaper, the UKs leading paper for the Black British community and contributes to a number of radio shows, magazines and newspapers on women, diversity and enterprise issues. For further information visit www.nbwn.org

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