This may seem like a strange topic for a blog, but hear me out on this one! We spend a great deal of time discussing equality and diversity when it comes to gaining employment and promotion, and how as a society we can make things fairer and easier for women in the workplace. However, not so much attention has been paid to us as consumers and the businesses we actually buy from each and every day. Do you ever think about who you are buying from when making purchases? Do you even know who is behind your beloved brands or stores?
Statistics tell us that women make up only 17% of UK business owners - why might this be? Several studies and censuses have looked at the patterns of female-led business, and identified social issues that can be the spanner in the business works. Carla Harris, chair of the National Women's Business Council, discussed the issues women face in business with Forbes, and said that although female-led companies are on the rise, there are still obstacles being faced that keep women from achieving their potential in business.
The Government Equalities Office suggested that around 10% of women would like to start up a business, but feel something is holding them back. Whether it's lack of time or finances, feeling guilty about spending even less time with the kids or simply not having the self-esteem to get something up and running, more needs to be done to break down these barriers and allow women to live their business dreams.
There are a number of well-known female entrepreneurs and business owners who have achieved great things in a patriarchal industry, Baronesses Karren Brady and Michelle Mone to name a couple, the Huff Post's very own Ariana Huffington to name another. Despite the mainstream successes of women such as Anita Roddick with The Body Shop and Jacqueline Gold with Ann Summers, the general perception of a businessperson is still a man in a suit.
According to Harris, women often have a much harder time gaining investment than their male counterparts and will often face extra pressure when trying to financially support themselves and their families while getting a business off of the ground, due to unequal pay. Women of ethnic minorities were found to have a particularly hard time. In addition to this, RBS's Women in Enterprise study discovered that female-led businesses are more likely to wind down due to personal circumstances than financial issues. This suggests that a key factor to success for women in business is increased support from society.
Some businesses have built themselves on missions of female empowerment, such as brother-and-sister worldwide cosmetic brand Younique, whose recruitment and party sales techniques help other women to grow their own local business. By providing opportunities for a stable career that require no qualifications, experience or big start-up costs, companies such as Younique give chances to vulnerable people in need of new lives.
Last week I attended the annual conference and trade fair of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which has been promoting and supporting women in business for nearly 20 years. Among the traders and speakers, the cause being championed this year was Buy16in16 - an initiative that has been devised to increase public awareness of women-owned businesses and encourage trading with such companies.
In order to direct support and encouragement at prospective entrepreneurs, the WBENC and WEConnect International work at tackling the societal issues that prevent women from going into business, and spreading awareness of the female-led market. Their partnership with professional Boards and Governmental Departments make them the go-to organisations for support in business. The WBENC's latest campaign #Buy16for16 is one of many ongoing efforts to champion women in business. In a nutshell - people are challenged to purchase 16 products or services from women-led companies in 2016, and spread the word about their buys. By exploring the female-led market and sharing their experiences, customers everywhere will get a refreshed insight of the realities and potential of women in business today.
As a hard-working director in my woman-owned businesses, I have a vested interest in helping women-owned businesses thrive, but I would do it anyway because it's the right thing to do!
There is still a way to go before anything approaching a level playing field is accessible to men and women alike in the business world. That is why the efforts of organisations such as WBENC are essential to building support networks and a society that is more receptive of female-led companies.