Role models and mentors: doing more for women in business

With International Women’s Day done and dusted, a new report from the FSB reveals what can be done to boost female entrepreneurship

Role models and mentors: doing more for women in business

International Women’s Day, seemed bigger than ever this year. From trains being stopped in Spain as female workers went on the country’s first feminist strike to women marching across India’s biggest cities, a lot certainly happened on March 8.

But, when all was said and done, behind the protests and flying flags, the message was clear. So much more needs to be done for women in business. 

Research from the Women’s Business Council has shown that the UK economy, alone, is missing out on over £1.2m worth of new enterprises, due to the untapped potential of women in business. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has put together a report, Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential, which explores the importance of female entrepreneurship to UK economy and the challenges women face.

Research for the 2016 report included both focus groups and a survey of over 1,900 female business owners. It addressed many areas and a series of recommendations, all with the aim of boosting women entrepreneurship across the UK. This ranged from recommending access to finance to providing better awareness of training. But it also addressed other areas that women want to see, including having more role models and mentors for women in business.

Providing relatable role models

In its report, FSB states that female role models have an important role to play because they can inspire young women to follow in their footsteps. They can demonstrate entrepreneurship as a career option and encourage them to explore business opportunities. They also understand the skills needed to succeed.

At a European level, there is a range of support networks for women involving potential role models. This includes the WES European Network to Promote Women’s Entrepreneurship, which provides advice, information and key business contacts. Membership of the network consists of national government reps of institutions across 31 European countries.

Another plus is that the start of such networks show a move towards providing more female role models for women. However, the FSB report states there should also be local solutions at a grass-root level. This includes small businesses across a range of sectors, which represent diversity across business communities.

The results from FSB’s focus groups showed that women want just that – role models who are like them from a range of business sectors. Comments included the need for relatable women who are not superwomen. Feedback also showed that many women believe the existing role models in the public domain don’t adequately represent the majority of women in small UK businesses.

Mentors to build confidence

In addition to helping grow vital business skills and provide guidance to business owners to grow their company, the report states that mentoring could play a key role in building a woman’s self-confidence and challenging their skills and capabilities.

The Women’s Business Council suggests that a key explanation for the gender gap in entrepreneurship might be linked to a lack of self-confidence, rather than a lack of skills. And this was reflected in FSB’s focus groups and survey, which both showed that self-confidence is an issue for many women.

In the focus groups, over 40 female business owners were asked about their insights and experiences of starting their companies. On the issue of self-confidence, some women said they had a confidence crisis and fear of failure when starting their business. Other women also asked for access to high-quality mentoring from successful female entrepreneurs, who’ve set up businesses on their own. Meanwhile, 22% of women in the survey stated that a lack of confidence was one of the most significant challenges when starting their business.

The importance of increasing the visibility of female role models in business was key to FSB’s campaign for International Women’s Day this year, 100 FSB Women. To commemorate 2018 being the 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote, the campaign involved digitally showcasing 100 females, who are all business owners and FSB members. FSB was delighted at the enthusiasm of members to take part and to have our campaign focusing on 100 inspirational female members – McDonald’s and the Royal Navy – quite an achievement.
The campaign adds to the organisation’s Women in Enterprise Taskforce, which was launched in 2016. This presented successful women from all walks of business life, who can help advice and guide others on moving forward. So all this a good start, but there’s still some way to go.

Looking ahead, come International Women’s Day a decade from now, let’s hope that some of the women that fill the world’s TV screens that day are inspirational and successful business women who have tapped into the £1.2m worth of potential new UK enterprises. And women who have been inspired by female role models and mentors, just like them, who have given them the guidance and the confidence to succeed.

This article comes courtesy of The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the UK business organisation representing small and medium-sized businesses


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