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People, Skills & Talent

Why do we still need dedicated business support for women?

Janine Smith, Head of Specialist 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 49 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. 

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 and scaling 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.

Today’s release of the Rose Review states that the advancement of female entrepreneurs is a £250bn opportunity for the UK economy particularly in underrepresented areas such as manufacturing, IT, financial and transportation.  It also recommends increasing funding for women who want to start their own business and providing greater family care support so more women can reach their goals.

Janine Smith, Head of Specialist Services, Business Growth Hub

At GC Business Growth Hub, we will be using the contents of this this review to help us inform the development of our startup and scaleup support and will be launching female focused programmes later in the year to encourage more women to start and scale their own businesses.

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. 

Last year for IWD18 we supported the #Womanchester initiative which culminated in a female speed-mentoring event which was hosted by Tech Manchester, NatWest and GC Business Growth Hub which brought the greatest concentration of female expertise together for aspiring female founders across any industry.  As a result of this we had more females become mentors for our own mentoring programme but we still need more.

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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Janine Smith

Janine Smith, Director of Business Growth

In 2021, Janine became the first female director to lead the GC Business Growth Hub, having successfully led a range of multi-million-pound contracts and programmes in the public and private sectors.

Janine is adept at designing services that answer specific challenges within business. In 2017 she developed the Mentoring for Growth programme with the small business champions Be the Business. Initially run as an unfunded pilot across Manchester and Birmingham, Janine helped secure a two-year funded contract for the Growth Company to run the scheme nationally.

Janine has also been instrumental in managing the Hub’s involvement with the Manufacturing Growth Fund, which over the past six years has provided the engineering and manufacturing sectors in the North West with access to funding and specialist expertise.

She has also secured funding and delivered programmes such as Digital Cheshire, which offers SMEs the opportunity to bring a new level of digital connectivity to their operations, and Recipe for Success Lancashire, which has specifically helped connect the region’s food and drinks businesses with buyers.