Why we need a new programme to help female founders scale up

workingmums.co.uk speaks to Jill Pay from the Gender Index about her support for a new programme to help female founders scale their businesses rapidly.



Next week sees the launch of the Female Founders Growth programme. Set up by Karen Holden, founder of A City Law Firm and a regular workingmums.co.uk columnist, it aims to help women founders who are looking for investment of 250K pounds or more or to rapidly scale their business. Set against a background where only 0.8% of venture capitalist investment went to female-led businesses, according to the Gender Index, it gives women founders practical advice, drafted documents, investment and infrastructure through workshops, pitching opportunities, one-to-one consultations, weekly peer meetings and office space.

workingmums.co.uk is delighted to support the programme. The launch event takes place from 11.30am on 6th February at the Guildhall in London. For more information and to book, click here. We spoke to one of the keynote panellists Jill Pay, founder of the Gender Index – a live, interactive tool that maps every single active UK company (totalling 4.4 million) in every country, region, LEP and local authority in real-time – and the first female Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons.

workingmums.co.uk: Did you face a lot of bias being the first female Serjeant at Arms in the Commons?

Jill Pay: Occasionally, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated.

WMs: What do you think are the most effective strategies for dealing with bias?

JP:  Call it out straight away, don’t let it fester; this can diffuse the situation and make it clear the behaviour is unacceptable
 Hold your ground and be your authentic self
 Identify allies (men and women) who will support you and speak up on your behalf
 Talk about the incident(s) with your mentor(s)
 Seek outside support if you aren’t getting what you need within organisation.

WMs: How can data – better, more in-depth data – help to ensure women don’t get held back?

JP: Real-time, comprehensive, reliable data in The Gender Index gives a true picture of the UK business landscape and the disparity between female and male-led companies. The level of UK investment in female entrepreneurs is pitiful,
particularly from Venture Capitalists and Private Equity – less than 1%.

The Gender Index clearly identifies the opportunities for investment by area, sector and in fast growth women-led companies.

WMs: Do you feel employers are making the most of the data that is available to them?

JP: Some employers recognise that data-driven decision making helps them to improve their operations and gain a competitive advantage. Others lag behind. I’m an optimist and I’m delighted to see there is a growing trend to use data to inform decisions and improve business performance.

WMs: Are enough, for instance, monitoring career progress for flexible workers?

JP: This is tricky to assess – I acknowledge that it’s challenging for employers to monitor the development of people who work flexibly without investing in new strategies and systems. Obviously, I advocate this course of action because women who work remotely deserve equal opportunities to progress their careers with support from their organisation.

WMs: What do you think has been most effective in driving forward gender diversity at work? 

JP: It’s a combination of strategies that drives gender diversity in organisations:

 Setting clear and measurable diversity goals; this makes companies accountable and progress can be transparently tracked
 Implementing flexible working arrangements; this supports women who have caring responsibilities and improves job satisfaction and retention
 Providing unconscious bias training; this raises awareness of how unconscious bias can impact decision-making and leads to a more inclusive culture in the organisation
 Encouraging mentorship to give women role models and a safe space to share their aspirations and fears
 Developing more women to succeed in leadership roles.

WMs: Has Covid had a positive or negative impact on gender diversity?

JP: It’s difficult to give a definitive answer. On the positive side, we know from the data that more women have incorporated new businesses during and after the pandemic. But in sectors like hospitality and retail, and with home schooling and remote working, there has clearly been some negative impact.

WMs: Why do you think the Female Founders Growth programme is needed?

JP: Women need all the support they can get when starting and growing businesses yet there is clearly a lack of funding and resources available to them. Despite the fact that women-led businesses are growing at a faster rate than those led by men, there are huge challenges for women in this competitive landscape. This programme brings together a rich combination of opportunities, access to resources and support for female entrepreneurs.

WMs: What do you think it offers that will be most useful to women?

JP: The programme provides access to funding and investment opportunities; mentoring and coaching; networking with investors, industry leaders and other female founders; a variety of workshops and training in the skills that are essential to grow a business. All great learning opportunities.


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