8 March 2017
Inspiration, advice and hopes for the future: #InternationalWomensDay #BeBoldforChange
6 impact ventures, lead by inspiring female entrepreneurs, share the changes they would like to see in 2017 and what advice they would offer other women thinking about starting a business. Here’s what they had to say:
The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldforChange. What bold change would you like to see in 2017?
AmaElla – www.amaella.com
We’d like to see an increase in consciousness and curiosity around fashion, and for the government to engage in creating change. The fashion industry’s contribution to inequality and exploitation is huge. 85% of sweatshop workers are women. The lowest paid model in London Fashion Week was paid £150 per hour. The average wage of a garment manufacturer is £25 per month, working in poor conditions, and even that income is not guaranteed.
We want to inform the public, to empower them to make ethical choices that can drive change and force conditions to improve.
Repositive – repositive.io
I would like to see more companies be bold enough to move to full transparency of gender parity on the team and visibility at events, be bold enough to ask for women applicants to participate and send their resume. Be bold enough to commit to always invite 50/50 women/men for panel discussions and for speaker slots at events. Be bold to state out loud if you do not know where to find a female applicant/participant/speaker – there are plenty of men and women out there who are keen to help out by providing suggestions!
GAP Learning – gaplearning.co.uk/wp/
More women on steering groups and boards to ensure women’s voices are heard. More emphasis on father’s taking parental responsibility during early years. Caring professions such as teaching and nursing are valued just as highly as banking or tech and this is reflected in terms of wages.
Ginibee – www.ginibee.com
For Ginibee, I’d like to see companies communicating their experiences and belief in job-sharing. For it not to be seen as a favour for candidates but as the benefit for businesses that it actually is.
Personally, I think it’s time we stepped out of the debate and started taking actions towards diversity, seeing the impact and not just talking about it. The research is there, we know flexible working practices encourage diversity in the workplace. We know 30% of women who leave their jobs cite ‘work-life balance’ as the reason. We know failure to address this turnover costs businesses
Monthlies – monthlies.co.uk
For me, gender parity begins with education. We need to give boys and girls equal access to education but I also think we need to check the way in which we teach boys and girls about their place in the world, we should be empowering all young people to take roles of leadership.
A living wage is key to reducing the gender pay gap sooner, and more transparency from big businesses about how they pay men and women, to allow employees to demand what they are worth.
I think there’s also a really big need to support men to take on more family responsibility, so we can build a society where it’s considered normal for families to have shared responsibility for work and child-care, as I think this is the point at which a lot of women stop progressing their career.
Cambridge Community Arts – www.camcommarts.org.uk
Ban high heels and ties. Neither are necessary and shouldn’t be linked to power or success in the workplace.
Why do you think women are less likely to start their own businesses?
Cambridge Community Arts
I have three children and have always juggled working around them, but it wasn’t until they were older that I felt that I could put all the energy required into running a business.
I think there’s still some gender bias around traditional partnerships – would I ever have done this if I was still married? At the time I was supporting my partner with his business, but I never considered that I would be the one to start up on my own.
I also think the language we use around families has an impact on maintaining those roles, there’s a negativity that really knocks women’s confidence in their skills, and you question what you have to contribute. Terms like ‘maternity leave’, ‘Career break’ and ‘Baby Brain’; they all have the connotation that you’re not doing anything that can positively impact or contribute to your career while you’re raising a family, it’s just not true.
When you have a child your capacity for learning is huge. You learn new skills at the same rate as your baby; from basic caring skills (feeding, bathing, changing, carrying) to reading facial and emotional queues, negotiating as they grow older, closing a deal, training, resourcing – choosing a school, a doctor, and so on!
I could talk about this for hours. I think that women (on the whole) face more social conditioning which teaches them to put others ahead of themselves. In general men who want things are freer to go and get them, with less worry about letting others down.
I think there’s also a difference in the way men and women are conditioned to think about risk. Risk is spoken about in very masculine terms a lot of the time, while stability and comfort are portrayed as feminine. This gendering of ideals has a huge but often sub-conscious impact on the way we understand our place in the world and how we make decisions, so I think men find it easier to make high risk decisions, like quitting a job and starting their own business.
Finally, I think role-models are so important, there are just so many fewer female entrepreneurs in the spotlight, especially young women, or women of colour. It’s so hard to be the first to do something, if you can look at someone who you can emulate, who actually looks a bit like you, it makes the journey that much less intimidating.
I do not know why, but there may be an aspect of not wanting to take on extra responsibility on top of daily responsibility for home and children (although working mothers have a track record of very successful entrepreneurs). Or there may be an aspect of not thinking that starting a business is “something an ordinary person can do” – whereas in fact anyone can start a business. And the people who persevere in innovating and dedicated to learning and improving every day are the ones that are most likely to build a successful business. I think that visible role models are an important part of changing the perception of who can or cannot be an entrepreneur.
In our experience women tend to be less confident in their abilities, especially when it comes to starting a business. It might also have something to do with work-life balance, starting business takes a lot of time and energy away from other parts of your life, and from experience women in general tend to feel more responsibility towards family etc. so that could be off putting.
Time. And the added responsibility. As a woman, especially one with a family, it may be that running a business is just too much after ensuring that her children/parents and home are okay.
I was single for many years and there is no way – with the amount of pressure a business can be – that I would have been able to do it. Much better to know what hours you’ll be working and for how much money. The instability of a start-up can be daunting – will I make enough sales to pay the bills this month?
And there is the added responsibility if you employ people who are counting on you to pay them. It’s tough and not everyone, especially women who may be the carer/organiser/planner in their world, has the energy to give to running a business.
Finally, what advice would you give other women who want to make an impact by starting a business?
Take the support on offer. Cambridge has so many networks and support systems, I feel so much more plugged it, like part of a community, than I did before, the help and support is all here, you just have to go out, look for it, and accept it when it’s offered to you.
A lot of people, not just women but more generally, worry that being an entrepreneur can be a bit isolating and lonely. As a woman particularly, I found that my in earlier career, employed in relatively male dominated industries, usually managing and with little to no mentoring, I was far more isolated than I am now.
Cambridge Community Arts
Go for it! Have confidence that if you think you know the way or a better way, you probably do and if you don’t give it a go – you’ll never find out.
And only if you persevere when people tell you not to do it, then you have the persistence required to make it happen. Focus on the long-term outcomes, build your network and always ask for feedback.
Ensure you have a strong support behind you. We are lucky that we are sisters and support each other and our respective families believe in what we are trying to achieve. Our husbands and older children help with childcare and understand when the stress of running your own business takes you over. Having a mentor at home is a must.
It’s also incredibly hard work, and for us, and for many entrepreneurs we’ve spoken to, money should not be the prime motivator in a social business. But if you have the foundations the work is incredible – changing people’s lives is an amazing privilege and that brings its own rewards.
Just start something and learn as you go. It’s so easy to put things off, to worry about competition, to thing you don’t know how to do it all yet but until you start, you won’t know. It’s not always easy so certainly don’t start a business if you’re looking for an easier career or a quick way to make loads of money, but if you want the fulfilment and pride of making something happen, then it’s definitely worth it. Just start.
Do as much research and networking as you can, especially market research – make sure there is a market for the product or service you want to provide.
Move quickly, experience quickly, prototype quickly. The idea of ‘perfection’ can really hold you back. If we’d waited for the prototype to be perfect we would never have launched.
Get as much advice as you can, but be picky about which opportunities you follow. Everyone will have something to say, it’s really important to stay focused and to filter out the noise.
Neither of us is an expert in this field, there was a steep learning curve, but we’re passionate about the business, and we work with experts; it’s really important to find the right people with the right skills at the right time to help build your venture.
Feeling inspired? Do you have an idea for a venture that could make a positive impact on people, planet or place?
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Each of the amazing ventures above are part of the Allia Future Business Centre community. Find out more about the space and how to get involved through events, workspace or enterprise support here.
Want to know more about the ventures? See what inspired them to #bebold and start their impact ventures on the Serious Impact blog now.