International Women's Day 2019 - #BalanceforBetter

On 4th March 2018, Scottish EDGE CEO Evelyn McDonald, hosted a round table breakfast in Edinburgh, courtesy of Ivy on the Square and supported by Leopold and Frida, with 15 Scottish business leaders. The intention? To bring together a diverse group of businesswomen with the aim to identify actionable measures to address the issues that Scotland, as a nation, needs to address in order to create a #BalanceforBetter.


In attendance, were:
Professor Lynne Cadenhead - Women’s Enterprise Scotland; Darina Garland – Ooni; Kate Polson - The Rock Trust; Alex Feechan - Findra; Jo Bucci - People’s Postcode Lottery; Jo Chidley - Beauty Kitchen; Emma Newlands - The Scotsman Business Reporter; Sydney Chasin - lil’POP; Leah Hutcheon - Appointedd; Vicky Brock - Get Market Fit; Alison Grieve - G-Hold; Ifeyinwa Kanu - Intellidigest; and Shona Craven - The Herald.


 

When women fought for and won the right to vote, it signalled a triumph over centuries of gender inequality and injustice. Yet, now at just over one hundred years since that iconic day, women still don’t have access to equal rights in the workplace and are paid less than their male counterparts in every country in the world.

Unequal pay for the same job has been against the law since 1970, but the gender pay gap is more complex – it is about a woman’s progression and earning power in comparison to her male colleagues as well as equality of opportunity in the workplace.

With the current economic contribution from women-owned businesses being £5bn GVA in Scotland, achieving equality would add a further £7.6bn, so there is an economic imperative as well as a social one.

This International Women’s Day, we look back at the discussion that took place at that roundtable last year and focus on the key thoughts and manageable actions that emerged as a means of bringing about the real change needed to address business gender imbalance.

Become and EmpowerMENTOR

One of the key influences in leadership approach highlighted by our roundtable was that of mentoring. An effective mentor that promotes ideals of equality in their actions can impact significantly on the next generation of business leaders, empowering them with the vision and drive to challenge and phase out archaic workplace attitudes.

This mentorship doesn’t have to involve joining a formal mentoring scheme but can be simply allowing someone to grab one or two hours of your time over coffee. In addition, the table agreed that mentoring young men is just as important in order to provide examples of effective female business leaders in action.

Implement changes from the top down

We need more women on boards, especially in industries which are male dominated. According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, reasons given by executives of the some of the UK’s biggest firms as to why a deficit of women board members exists, include: “I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment”, “Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board”, “All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up”.

Sadly, the guests of our roundtable could relate to these views based on their own experience, acknowledging that whilst sometimes it is hard to ensure a gender balance on event panels, in board rooms and on selection panels, an effort should be made to ensure a more favourable ratio.

As one member pointed out, “about a quarter of the board members of all companies listed on the FTSE-350 stock index are women. Clearly, this has to change”.

If you have the time, join a board and bring, at the very least, one female voice to the table.

Acknowledge that it’s not a level playing field

One of the biggest challenges facing women is raising money. Research published recently by the Unilever Foundry found women businesses owners routinely report that they have had to defy stereotypes and overcome others’ expectations of them; they also cited the lack of female role models in business. In particular, the male-dominated decision makers at leading banks, private equity houses and venture capital investors are much less inclined to invest in female entrepreneurs.

A survey of 750 women business founders conducted by the Daily Telegraph last year found that two-thirds felt they had not been taken seriously by potential investors when raising money for new ventures.

The table highlighted that while there is now an Investing Women syndicate in Scotland and more women joining syndicates, it remains a very male dominated environment which women often struggle in - often, male investors do not realise that they are being subtly misogynistic. Whilst some studies suggest that women-lead businesses may grow more slowly, we need to acknowledge the funding barriers that women face when starting a business in comparison to their male-counterparts.

The value of value-led

There is increasing discussion of the importance and commercial success of values-led businesses and this is an area where women can excel. Trust plays many roles in society, and increasingly in that of the economy. The table recognized that the growth of values-led business will provide some incredible opportunities. A landmark 2017 study, found that more than two-thirds of women CEOs were driven by both a sense of purpose and achieving business results.

A collaborative effort

In addressing the gender imbalance, it is essential that both women and men, especially those in positions of power, work collaboratively to effectively address the root causes of gender imbalance in the workplace and beyond. If you have any suggestions of suitable men who could join WES in an ambassador role, drop WES an email with the details.


And one last thing…

Can we drop the “Women Entrepreneur” label, please? Unanimously, our roundtable members were a little bit tired of being called “women entrepreneurs” or “female CEOs” in casual conversation. In a society where we would never refer to men as “men entrepreneurs” or “male CEOs”, why do we feel the need to make this distinction for women? As one of the table guests eloquently declared, “if anyone calls you a Mumpreneur, you should offer to throw up on their shoes!”.

 

The 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign runs all year long. It doesn't end on International Women's Day. The campaign theme provides a unified direction to guide and galvanize continuous collective action, with #BalanceforBetter activity reinforced and amplified all year. Find out more and get involved at: internationalwomensday.com,