15/11/2011 18:47 GMT | Updated 15/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Yes to Business Mentors, but Let's Up the Ante

There has been a lot of talk on how to generate much needed growth. Our economy holds on with its fingernails as other global economies face meltdown. So it was good news that the Home Secretary has just announced some significant and practical support to encourage more women into enterprise. The drive to recruit 5000 business mentors, specifically for women, is just the sort of activity that will be effective on the ground: both inspiring and practical.

As a nation, we need totally new ways of thinking and doing business so that we not only survive these challenging times but find growth.

There are now 700,000 female-owned businesses operating in the UK, while women contribute around £70 billion to the UK economy. Accelerating the number of women running businesses will bolster the health and wealth of our economy.

Our recent partnership with the Federation of Small Business on the Real-Life Entrepreneurs campaign to encourage more women into enterprise, highlighted that 150,000 more start-ups would be created per year if women started businesses at the same rate as men, creating considerable increase to the contribution.

Mentors and tailored support are the key ingredients to female advancement in business. As the UK's largest business network for women, we know how important role models and mentors are to the success of our members.

Our work over the last decade has been to challenge and change mindsets in business to increase the number and raise the status of women in the economic community.

Fundamental to that work is encouraging women to reach out to other women and men and build a network of support for themselves. It's not just about having one mentor but acknowledging the role many people play in an individual's development.

Women are natural networkers but we all need to up the ante so that women recognise what they are doing and are able to best leverage the relationships that they form. Building up a posse of mentors and role models provides a rich and supportive environment in which individuals are able to thrive and succeed.

While there has been a lot of necessary focus on getting women to the top, 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.

Specific challenges include: access to finance, building confidence, work life balance and working from home. Women do not lack ability, education or experience but they do have different motivations for starting businesses to men, which is why mentors trained specifically to reflect the needs of women is both the right approach and a valuable resource from which we will all benefit.