I’ve spent a great morning conducting short customer interviews with participants of the Worcestershire Women2Web project, run jointly by Sue Fry and Jill Hall of MRE and the local Chamber of Commerce. All those I spoke with were enthusiastic about their new businesses and working with increasing confidence in the digital world, thanks both to specialist training sessions and a new peer to peer mentoring system. Many had also come along to the WiRE (Women in Rural Business) networking events.
The good news locally is that this program is to be extended so that more women or ‘femtrepreneurs’ can take centre stage here in Worcestershire, and I know that neighbouring counties are also promoting similar support networks. Having a female support network and seeing other successful businesswomen role-models are important factors in encouraging more to take the plunge.
So what’s in it for us women?
Those of us who have ‘been there and got the T Shirt’ running a small business know that starting a business can be very hard work. In the UK(1) only 9% of women ran their own business compared to 19 % of men. It seems that, for those that succeed, the rewards include being happier, getting more enjoyment out of their work and having a better work-life balance than our employed peers(2). This is especially relevant for those women who have to balance family commitments to children and their own parents with earning their living. Having more choice and flexibility with my own working hours has certainly had huge advantages for me, although it cannot be said that it’s an entirely a stress–free experience.
Whatever your views about the EU, their statisticians agree – the female sex is hugely under-represented not only here in the UK, but across the continent. Again, only one third of new business start-ups are headed up by women. The research goes on to cite various barriers that get in our way including established stereotyping of women, lack of confidence and difficulties accessing the needs of a growing business for finance. Sometimes it’s simply a lack of supportive business networks. For some women, collaboration and the freedom to establish a community interest company may be more attractive. These businesses often fulfil a much needed service in local neighbourhoods and, for some, this can be more motivating than simply owning a business for profit.
Whilst we cannot set the world to rights overnight, there is support and encouragement out there at the moment and I urge many more ladies come along to a female support network and see the possibilities for themselves!