The real issues for women in business

Helen Jamieson talks to Workingmums.co.uk about women entrepreneurs.

Helen Jamieson is taking a bold step to promote women entrepreneurship next month when she holds a mother and daughter workshop for female entrepreneurs next month. The idea is to bring two generations together and to see how they interact and what their different attitudes are to entrepreneurship. The three-hour workshop takes place at a Reading grammar school on 4th February and came about after Jamieson gave a keynote speech at the school’s careers day a couple of months ago.

Jamieson has also just published a book, My Business, My Success, which started as a practical guide to entrepreneurship and has morphed into a study of how women think and behave in business. She has had some great feedback, particularly from men. One financial investor bought six copies for his managing directors as they deal with female entrepreneurs. “They want to understand how women in business think,” says Jamieson. “For years women have been expected to act like men in business and we have been shoehorning women into roles created for men. We like to think we are all equal now which makes it hard to talk about the real issues  of women in business.”

Jamieson, who has been running her own HR consultancy business Jaluch for over 17 years, is a female entrepreneurship ambassador for the European Union. She says that women tend to have more robust businesses because they primarily rely on their own funding and have smaller businesses which grow more slowly. “The EU is interested in promoting more robust businesses,” says Jamieson, “and women entrepreneurs tend to put huge amounts of their profits into their local communities and tend to employ more people.”

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Jamieson has always done lots of voluntary work, but has been focusing increasingly on women in business. She says her role in HR has highlighted the way women are self-effacing in business and the difficulties they have with self promotion. She says a lot of information for women in business focuses on things like writing business plans and fails to address the complexities of women running businesses, how society values women and how women value themselves. She adds, for instance, that a lot of women set up businesses during their maternity leave when their confidence may be low. Research shows that with each week off work confidence ebbs, she says. “Often men set up businesses at the pinnacle of their career when they are the top of their confidence levels, but no one talks about the difference for women. These are the real issues for women in business,” she states. 

Setting up

When she set up her business – because her employer felt she should stay at home with her children – there were few women running businesses, particularly with children. She had a baby who was a few months old at the time and it was important to keep her costs down so she had to cut corners. In fact, she says she may have jeopardised her business by cutting too many corners. The lack of a good network of other women in business was also an issue. She says that the lack of women running substantial businesses means there are not many women to network with. “A network is critical to moving on to the next stage,” says Jamieson. “Being isolated does not help you to progress.”

The problem is that women often don’t have very much time to network, she says. Jamieson tried to minimise the impact of her business on her family by working in the time she was not with her family. She spent many nights working until the small hours. “Over the years you burn out. You can do it for a few years, but not your whole career. You need a long-term strategy.”

She adds that “what goes on in your head” as a businesswoman is important. If you have small ambitions you are more likely to see your business as a hobby in due course, she says. Even if you do aim high, others may regard your business as a side issue.  It was when she decided to move her business into Saudi Arabia that her husband realised her business was more than a hobby.  By then she was employing 18 people and had three offices, but he hadn’t noticed. The move to Saudi Arabia caused ructions and eventually she divorced.

Jamieson’s children are now aged 14, 17 and 19. While she was starting her business she was pursuing a tribunal against the employer she left after having her first child. When she had her third child she trained up someone to cover her maternity leave, but she resigned two weeks before her third child was born. It has clearly not been easy – in fact she says she has done everything “the hard way” – but she says the impact on her children has been positive. They like the fact she runs her own business and she feels it has made them more independent. She hopes her mother and daughter workshop will open up more of a conversation about female entrepreneurs and make women feel less isolated.

Her next project is a book on young entrepreneurs. In April she begins interviews with young entrepreneurs for her next book. Anyone interested in contributing should contact her via www.mybusinessmysuccess.com.





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