Janine Smith, head of growth services at Business Growth Hub, is proud of the progress that’s been made to advance gender equality in the workplace, but warns there’s still some way to go.
Nearly 48 years ago, the Equal Pay Act was passed, prohibiting unequal pay and working conditions between men and women. Half a decade later, women in the UK have more opportunities than ever to start, grow and lead a business. In the last 12 months alone, I’ve worked with lots of female business owners, mentors and mentees. A cursory glance over the modern UK workplace might suggest that we have achieved gender equality.
However, just the briefest scratch of the surface reveals that there is still a huge amount to be done. This International Women’s Day (8 March) the headlines and messages still call for equal pay, equal rights and equal opportunities. There’s still a long way to go.
A recent report by PwC indicates that the UK has been ‘sluggish’ in empowering women in the workplace, trailing behind countries like Poland, Sweden and Norway. Although progress is being made to support women in the UK, it’s frustrating to see that we’re not moving as quickly as other countries.
This lack of empowerment also appears to be stopping many women from pursuing their dream of owning their own business. Facebook’s research to inform its #SheMeansBusiness programme revealed that a lack of confidence and role models is still holding back female entrepreneurs. Eight out of ten of the would-be female entrepreneurs surveyed said having a relatable role model would inspire them to start a business - but only a third could think of a business role model that inspires them.
This means that there are so many potential female-led businesses that are never becoming more than a dream. No wonder the vast majority of UK businesses are majority male owned.
The Hub’s mentoring work is bucking this trend. While just 15% of UK businesses are female majority owned (60% being male majority owned), a quarter of the Hub’s mentors are female. We’ve seen huge appetite for female-specific mentoring, not just from women looking for role models to help get their business off the ground.
We’ve also been heartened to see just how many amazing female business owners genuinely want to support other women, sharing their experiences and knowledge to make the path to success just a little smoother for the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
We’re proud to be supporting the #Womanchester initiative this week, culminating in a female speed-mentoring event on Friday to bring the greatest concentration of female expertise together for aspiring female founders across any industry.
Ultimately, having a more diverse workforce (and this goes beyond gender) is a good thing for businesses. It offers a competitive advantage, allowing organisations to understand the needs of a wide range of customers, and more varied approaches to problem solving and creativity.
Organisations must continue to provide support dedicated to supporting women in business, to ensure that we accelerate female entrepreneurship and grow our economy in a more sustainable, fairer way for all.
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This article originally featured on BQ Live