Girls need more role models of women in business


It’s Friday and a bank holiday weekend, but for most adults Monday is a day of dread. We commute to work, not necessarily anticipating a good week ahead. Maybe we dream about starting our own business, becoming our own boss, an entrepreneur, so to speak. It’s a pretty common thought for people stuck in the drudgery of day-to-day life to want more for themselves. In 2008, 10 percent of the female population had thought about/were thinking of starting up their own business, according to the Government Equalities Office. It’s a number that is growing.

Many women leave careers because they start a family. It wasn’t so long ago that they would leave the workplace and couldn’t go back once they became pregnant. Many women still face discrimination for being pregnant and feel returning to work isn’t an option, despite the 2010 Equality Act. Being in such a unique position makes women think differently from their male counterparts. They are forced to think outside of the box and this has shown a rise in the number of women starting their own businesses. In fact between 2008 and 2011 the Office for National Stastics reported that women accounted for 80% of the new self employed in Britain.

There is a long list of reasons women consider self-employment as a viable alternative. They achieve freedom, in that they can work under their own terms and conditions, offering a way to successfully juggle their work/life balance. Women were nearly five times as likely to cite family reasons for becoming self employed as men in the 2007 Women in Business report. They can achieve gender equality by closing their own pay gap, meaning they no longer have to work the same job for less money than their male peers.

Everything from affordable childcare to trying to juggle it all can put many families, women in particular, in a difficult situation. Lots of women use this time to start considering their options and for many a business is the way forward. They leave behind the safety net of a regular pay cheque and full-time employment and can sometimes risk a lot. But is there any need to risk it at all?

Amanda Shayle [pictured], founder and CEO of Acuregen Limited, went through all the processes when deciding to set up her cosmetic acupuncture business. Starting from a personal passion, she had previously spent 20 years in sales and advertising, being a very high achiever, but always for the gain of someone else. She felt the time had come to put some of that potential back into herself.

“Focus on your goals and instinct,” says Shayle. “If you are passionate about something, you will succeed. Find your own mentors and specialists in each of the areas you need support, advice and help.”

The big picture
When it comes to obstacles and overcoming them, Shayle remains optimistic and believes you shouldn’t let potential problems hold you back.

“People told me I was doing too much. I always saw the big picture. Finding money to achieve short-term cash flow crisis [was an obstacle]. People around you can often help. It’s all about inspiring support and I have had the support of long-term colleagues, both emotionally and financially.”

Money can always be a problem when thinking about working for yourself. It puts many people off of the idea because they believe that you have to risk it all. Shayle took a very different approach to finding her funding.

“I have always been nervous about business investors and banks are useless [in] my experience,” she says. “A good personal connection was my route to additional funding and I gave a good interest rate and kept all my shares.”

Having worked during the 80’s in marketing, Shayle is well aware of the gender inequalities in the world of business. “I was one of the early females to break the mould and was promoted from a secretarial role into sales,” she says. It still hasn’t changed in some areas now, as Shayle explains: “My current issues are more in other countries, such as Asia. In Japan, for instance, a grey-haired man is perceived to be the senior executive and I have actually had to use a colleague in this capacity in order to be taken seriously.”

A unique time
Women are making waves in the world of business. Shayle is one of the many entrepreneurs helping to pave the way for other, younger, women in business. “Women have it all to do,” she says. “Finding a supportive partner is a challenge for women, as is being taken seriously by the financial world. I believe this is a unique time for women. We are creative, hard working and can multi-task. Sadly, we still need men around us for many significant aspects moving forward.”

Young women need to see role models, not just occasionally, but all the time. Role models go beyond television and the catwalk. They need to see women represented in ways that don’t involve them being told how they should look or behave. Looking around and copying those around us is human nature. Younger generations should have more to aspire to and not just see the business world as a place for men only.

The top ranks in politics, law and academia are dominated by men, with only 20% of those at a top level being female. There is still a need for massive changes in equal representation. Women like Shayle need to be showcased as the normal rather than the exception.

Role models
Going out alone is a scary prospect in itself, but if women saw other women above them in an organised work environment, they may be less scared to aim higher or even breakaway. Studies have shown, for instance, that another female business owner is much more likely to be an inspiration to other women deciding to start a business in Science, engineering and technology.

Starting at grassroots level is the way forward. All subjects in school show role models throughout history, but these are usually men. Making a simple shift for an equal amount of women to men would change the way boys and girls see everything. From scientists to leaders, girls would see role models in early life and it would have an impact on how they see themselves in the world.

Women will start companies that are different and stand out. They solve problems differently and are distinctive. We can change the world if we give everyone the opportunity.

*Steph Mann is a freelance journalist who writes about a huge variety of issues from feminism to fitness.

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