November 11, 2011
Business-owners and women’s business groups have welcomed a £2 million scheme to provide 5,000 mentors to woman entrepreneurs over the next three years, writes Simon Wicks.
Announced by Home Secretary Theresa May, the scheme will provide £700,000 a year for three years to recruit and train woman business-owners to become mentors for other women starting and running small businesses.
The Home Secretary said the scheme was devised in response to research showing that women were half as likely to as men to be interested in starting a business. Other research by women’s business group Everywoman has suggested that 150,000 more start-ups a year would be created if women started businesses at the same rate as men.
“Business people tell us that they want to take advice from other business people,” said the Home Secretary. “So the business mentors will be experienced individuals, who can provide tailored support and advice. They will be a huge help to women entrepreneurs.”
She also announced the creation of a Women’s Business Council to influence national policy on women’s participation in business and the workplace. According to a new report by equality group the Fawcett Society, female unemployment is at a 23-year high and women have been disproportionately affected by Government cuts, as two-thirds of local authority jobs cut since early 2010 were held by women.
The Fawcett Society has accused the Government of sabotaging women’s rights. But the Home Secretary was bullish. “For too long we have been overlooking the skills, experience and talents of women,” she said. “Better use of women’s skills could be worth billions of pounds to our economy each year, so that is why this Government is opening up more opportunities. This is real, practical help, at a time when we need to find new ways of boosting enterprise and growth.”
Everywoman chief executive Karen Gill said: “We know how important role models and mentors are to the success of our members. However, it’s not just about having one mentor, but acknowledging the role many people play in an individual’s development.
“Women face specific issues fulfilling their potential in business and a tailored approach is needed to address women’s advancement at every level in business,” she added. “Specific challenges include access to finance, building confidence, work-life balance and working from home. A Women’s Business Council will mean that these issues and challenges will be discussed in the heart of Government.”
Start-up business owner Jo Halstead, of cycle clothing company Vélos & Vagabonds, is currently seeking a mentor. She said the announcements were “very encouraging”.
“You do hear a lot of business women saying ‘it’s harder being a woman and making it in the business world’, because it’s a male-dominated world,” she said. “If I was given a choice between a male or female mentor, I would probably base it more on personality. But I think it probably helps to have someone who has overcome these issues and been tenacious enough to make their business a success.”
A Home Office spokesman said the Government would release further details about the mentoring scheme and the Women’s Business Council shortly.