How do we remove barriers for women in business? The answer lies closer to home

Posted on 6th November 2018 by Andi Wilkinson

Andi picture in front of Manchester Town Hall

Did you know there are approximately two billion mothers in the world and it’s estimated that only one per cent of them are entrepreneurs? I am in that one per cent and can’t help wondering why there are so few of us.

It’s not just mothers, though. Women generally are badly under-represented in entrepreneurship. Latest figures show they’re half as likely as men to be involved in starting a business in the UK, despite the Federation of Small Businesses estimating that there are 2.7million women that want to start one but have been put off by persistent barriers.

It’s hardly surprising then that Government has recently launched a review into barriers for women in business. The Treasury have rightly expressed deep concern at the large pool of untapped entrepreneurial potential going to waste and want to do something about it.

But shouldn’t Manchester be doing something about it too? This is after all a region built on can-do culture and we’re more than capable of making change happen. With a study earlier this year showing Manchester trailing behind Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool and Bristol in a list of cities with the highest number of female entrepreneurs, perhaps we should be asking why we don’t have a better environment that encourages women to set up businesses?

While Government can help with many things like improving access to alternative forms of finance, childcare and targeted business support, there’s a lot that can be done locally, especially tackling cultural reasons that act as a major barrier.

Certainly a macho business culture can be off-putting to women. Last year a Northern Powerhouse event in Manchester celebrating the brightest businesspeople and executives was labelled “embarrassing” after all 15 advertised speakers were men. The Mayor for Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has said our region suffers from a “traditional macho culture” and from my experience business still has to improve.  

I work in tech and have lost count of the amount of industry events I’ve attended where I’m the only woman in the room. Last year’s annual digital skills audit carried out by Manchester Digital showed that over half of the businesses surveyed had all male tech teams.

Fostering a more inclusive culture is just the start. Amplifying the great work of Northern Power Women and others, we need to celebrate our female success stories harder. And strengthen and join up existing business networks to ensure would be female entrepreneurs know how to easily access support, advice, mentoring and training.

Our region has a very big public sector procurement spend and improving the diversity of suppliers would also send an encouraging message. As would establishing better local partnerships to close the gender funding gap. And with research showing that 72 per cent of women in Britain can’t identify entrepreneurial women or role models building a business like the one they’d like to start, collectively we all need to do more to create and promote female role models.

So instead of waiting for the Government’s review toconclude, as a region I say we should all be upping our game to reduce barriersand create a better environment for female entrepreneurs to flourish. And if weneed any further incentive, let’s not forget that Manchester’s adopted symbolis the worker bee – and worker bees are female.  

Andi Wilkinson is creative director of Factory. This year she was a borough finalist in Business Person of the Year