Business Matters: I spoke to leading female professionals in the North – here’s what they had to say | Blogs

Kiera Shepperson, Director of Regional Funds at the British Business Bank, reflects on the challenges facing women entrepreneurs and professionals and the steps we can take to overcome them.

Just two weeks ago, ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day, I met with women from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF) network for an insightful and inspiring event as part of NPIF’s ‘WomanMade’ campaign. Gathering women in business among the most talented and motivated women entrepreneurs, investors and professionals in the region, we talked about key issues facing women in today’s business environment.

Our discussion focuses on three pertinent challenges facing many female entrepreneurs and professionals today.

Access to finance

Getting access to finance can be a challenge for any business, particularly in the North of England, and has proved to be a hot topic of discussion. According to The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, over the past 12 months, half of female business leaders and entrepreneurs report finding it difficult to access funding and investment, compared to 40% for their male counterparts.

That being said, it is clear that many female entrepreneurs regularly struggle to secure funding, especially in the early stages of their business. Sophie McCumskey, founder of Practically Family, a bespoke childcare service that meets the needs of modern life, was particularly passionate about this. Sophie emphasized that the childcare industry is rarely seen as a growth sector and this is reflected in her struggle to gain access to funding, which can also be influenced by a gendered perception of the success of female-dominated industries.

Challenges in obtaining investment is a barrier that all entrepreneurs face. However, studies have repeatedly revealed that women are more adversely affected than men. Margaret Bradshaw, founder of My Marketing Button, agreed that accessing funding is difficult – especially in the early stages of a business, as it is difficult to deliver tangible results that qualify for investment before they have the funds to launch your business.

Both entrepreneurs highlighted the benefits of securing investment from the NPIF, from the positive impact the funding has had in supporting and enabling the growth of their businesses, to the guidance they have received from fund managers.

One of NPIF’s key goals is to help remove the barriers women face in accessing finance and to provide women business leaders with financial support networks to thrive and enable them to bring innovative ideas to life. All NPIF fund managers are signatories to the Investing in Women Code, a commitment by financial services firms to improve women entrepreneurs’ access to financial services sector tools, resources and funding.

Ahead of the event, NPIF conducted a survey to find out what women in business perceive as some of the most significant challenges they face in their careers. It revealed that 42 percent of respondents considered “gender bias in hiring and promotion” to be the most significant challenge for women in the workplace.

Debbie Francis OBE, chair of Lancashire LEP, touched on this during the discussion, highlighting the role of gender bias when it comes to making a final decision on which business to invest in. Investors often turn to the businessman who seems most confident. Theodora Newman, policy and strategy manager at the British Business Bank, supported this point, noting that work needed to be done to encourage investors to fund businesses led by women. In Debbie’s experience, women are more cautious, thoughtful and can be misconstrued as less confident than their male counterparts. Debbie summed up his point in calling for investors to move away from evaluating performance on social constructs such as personality traits, and instead determine best performance on merit alone.

Occupying management positions

Taking leadership positions has sparked a fascinating debate. Attendees acknowledged that women face unique challenges in the field, such as the gender pay gap. However, they also emphasized the importance of women supporting each other, seeking mentors and developing a strong personal brand to stand out in a crowded market. FW Capital’s Joan Whitfield, fund manager of the NPIF, drew attention to the importance of role models, commenting that “Mentoring is important. It’s a lot easier to be like that if you can see it.”

Although 71% of our survey respondents did not have many female role models in their organization, they are hopeful for the future, agreeing that the pace of women securing leadership roles is moving quickly and will become more visible in future.

Building a career in historically male-dominated industries

The third topic, building a career in historically male-dominated industries, was equally thought-provoking. Angela Taylor of Castings Technology International, who also secured investment in NPIF, emphasized the importance of being persistent, confident and true to yourself to succeed in male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing. However, she emphasized that “it’s not just women who need to make changes – men need to be a part of it too.”

Mercia’s Sarah Hex, another NPIF fund manager, highlighted the progress the business community has already made, stressing that it has overcome many of the challenges that previous generations experienced and that future generations will face fewer obstacles on its way thanks to the proactive efforts of women business leaders in the region and events like NPIF’s ‘WomanMade’ to bring them together.

Throughout the event, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie and support among the women who shared their stories and offered advice and encouragement to one another.

From speaking to the women at the event and others in our network, it is clear that there is a positive outlook for the future of female entrepreneurs and professionals in the UK. What we need to do now is continue to challenge bias when we encounter it, put women in the leadership roles they deserve and continue these types of conversations – only then can we understand the challenges and how we can address them with them.

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is financially supported by the European Union with the help of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the Growth Program of the European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *