Are Business Growth Schemes Being Dominated by the Male Agenda?

5 minute read

A little while ago I saw this quote

“Some women in business behave like a man and some behave like a nice man.”

Then last week I saw a tweet;

“could you be a female entrepreneur?”

These suggest to me that, despite the significant growth of women in business, the business world is still defined in male terms.

If that is the case, I began to wonder if women are being let down in the way the millions of Euros are being spent on business growth support?

I realise that it is predominantly men that write and lecture in business education and according to the RBS Group Women in Enterprise, just 17% of business owners are women, so inevitably the ‘male model’ will be dominant, but we are experiencing a rapid rise of women led businesses.

In 2013 there were almost 1.5 million women self-employed in the UK, which represents an increase of around 300,000 since before the economic downturn.

What business growth managers and business educators have not taken on board is that women coming into business are doing things very differently.

  • Many women start businesses for different reasons from men and this can impact on how and when they are able to benefit from business support:
  • Only 2% of men cite family commitments as a reason for becoming self-employed, compared with 21% of women

See more at: http://www.isbe.org.uk/facts#sthash.kXSVCqH5.dpuf

Most of these women have experienced life as an employee and have chosen self-employment as it suits their creativity and often their family commitments too. Self employment is a great option for many women as it provides the flexibility that isn’t offered by the majority of employers.

That applies to me too. But for this reason many of us have had the people holding the purse strings refer to us as running a ‘life style business’ , which I have to say rather smacks of the old ‘women work for pin money’ sexism.

As a tax paying employee of 20+ years, I don’t think anyone ever referred to me as a ‘lifestyle employee’ ! The term suggests we are not serious about our businesses, that it’s just a hobby to keep us from getting bored while hubby is out bringing in the real money. As a single parent, and therefore the sole bread winner, I’ve got to tell you that frankly, that thinking gets right up my nose! If by Liestyle business you mean a woman working her butt off to ensure her kids are fed and have a roof over their heads, then we should be applauded, not dismissed shouldn’t we?

Also, according to Resources for Entrepreneurs, most self-employed women are in midlife, a life stage that usually brings greater confidence. The growth of women choosing entrepreneurism is about self determination, about no longer waiting for society to catch up with the needs of working mums and so doing it ourselves.

Understanding this means understanding that women are building their own future. They are ambitious and have every intention to grow, take on staff and move into bigger premises – as and when the time is right.

In 2012 I was inspired to start recording the stories of the business women I was meeting as they were juggling roles that just don’t get seen or talked about – and were not being taken seriously. This blog project snowballed and become an e-book The Super Women of Lancashire. which is made up of the stories of 26 ordinary women who chose to do it their own way, and their stories are inspirational.

What is clear is that women business owners are still mostly the ones who look after the kids when they are sick, and many are now also responsible for looking after elderly parents – as well as run a business.

Whilst this is still the case, business growth support and advice has to adapt to these trends and offer what is relevant. Women are setting up businesses differently and differently is not wrong, it’s just different and I will bet you a tenner that we are leading the way in the creation of modern, sustainable businesses.

“You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation” ― Brigham Young

Personally I believe that one of the ways forward is to have more funded female mentors and coaches. I‘ve tried out a few mentors under the business growth schemes and it was pretty hard to find anyone that got me. Whilst I totally respect the experiences of the older men that are being used as mentors, their world is nothing to do with mine. There also needs to be more training delivered by female trainers. We know that role models are important. For example young women say that they could be tempted to train for work in a not traditionally female sector if they see other females making the same choice, and if they are given support and encouragement from other women. See more at: http://www.isbe.org.uk/facts#Use

Our whole socio-economic structure is changing fast, but the support isn’t. Women are saying that the support offered is not relevant to them and thus they are not engaging with it.

I had the pleasure of talking to Catherynn Dunstan, the officer responsible for the Cumbria Rural Women’s Growth Network. She made a decision to put some resources into providing regular training and support for women business owners and concludes that there has been considerable business growth as a result (plus 5 new members joining per day!). Globally it is well recorded that training women is the way forward for economic growth.

In the absence of good support, women are setting up their own informal support networks. I set up the Wobble Club (open to both men and women) where we could talk openly and honestly about the realities of running a business. Today I got this message.

“Jane you are inspiring so many women to get on and achieve their goals, and part of that inspiration comes from you being very honest and real about the downs as well as the highlights, and of the actual challenge of building a business whilst remaining a ‘present’ mother and good friend to people. You are walking the walk and I applaud you.”

This is the element that is missing for so many of us and whilst we put time into supporting each other, we do need to notice that there’s millions of Euros being put into business support where women are still not on the agenda.

Women in business needs to be on the agenda in Lancashire and nationally. Cumbria has invested a small part of their budget into women in business and has seen significant economic growth as a result. Why would we not want to follow suit?

I want to be clear that I am not arguing that women in business are more important than men in business, as the quote goes I want us all to win. Neither am I saying that all women in business have the same needs. What I am saying is business support providers need to catch up with the changing trends and we deserve a piece of this pie too.

This blog is part of ongoing discussion to look at the agenda of business growth funding. I really welcome other people’s good thinking on this.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Are Business Growth Schemes Being Dominated by the Male Agenda?

More Technology & Innovation articles from Business 2 Community: