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Women in business are high profile after the final of The Apprentice, but there are many barriers to overcome. Juliette Green founded Women’s Wisdom to confront them.
With two women having battled it out in the final of The Apprentice, it appears there has never been a better moment to be a woman in business. But, for many women entrepreneurs, there are all sorts of barriers they must overcome in order to be a success.
The first and most important one, says Juliette Green, founder of Women’s Wisdom, an organisation which supports women in business, is themselves. She says women’s main problem is lack of confidence in their own abilities.
She set up Women’s Wisdom in 2004 after being made redundant from her post as sales manager at a big pharmaceutical company. She was a single parent with three children, having fled from domestic violence, an experience which she says has given her “a crystal clear purpose” and made her passionate about helping people to raise their aspirations.
She had no redundancy payment and wanted to find an alternative way of working. She had dabbled in business, using her management experience to develop a business training dentists. She admits, though, that she really didn’t have a clue. She sat for a year or so saying she was busy and “beating herself up” before realising that the support available for women entrepreneurs was too limited. So she decided to set up Women’s Wisdom. “Some people must have thought I was going off my trolley,” she says. She adds that there was very little research at that stage on how women develop their businesses. “It is very different to how men do it in the early stages,” she says. The main difference, she says, is that women’s businesses take longer to grow, mainly because they are more tentative and lack confidence, because they find accessing finance more difficult and they have problems with childcare.
“A lot of it is about self esteem,” says Juliette, “and about not having the appropriate role models. There are a few big names out there, but women need to see how they got there, the bit before they became successful, the journey to success so they can see how it is achievable.”
She cites examples of women entrepreneurs who almost went bankrupt and struggled for years before making it big. “We need to get those real life stories out there at a more local level,” says Juliette. “This is critical to inspire female enterprise.” She says another difference between female and male entrepreneurs is that women are generally not developing their businesses in order to make money, but to support other people.
Women’s Wisdom is about supporting women entrepreneurs in a personal way, building up their confidence and finding out what is holding them back. The organisation has developed over the years and now not only works with women entrepreneurs but with groups who are underrepresented in business in general, such as people on probation. “Women are not the only ones who suffer these issues, but they do talk about them more,” she says. “They face the same barriers and most are removable.” In Hampshire, she is working with women who had never thought about setting up their own businesses.
She says the first step is to get people together face to face and try to motivate them through networking. Women’s Wisdom offers one to one coaching as well as group work and employes up to 15 people, including a number of outreach workers and keyworkers. It covers an area from Hampshire to Dover.
As well as knowing personally of the kind of confidence problems many women face in starting a business, Juliette is well aware of the childcare issues. She has eight children. Three are from her first marriage, three are her partner’s and she took on her sister-in-law’s two children when she died. Their ages range from 8 to 23. She describes home as “more of a community than a family”, but says it all works. The children have learnt a lot of self-reliance since both their parents work. “They are very able to take responsibility and very confident,” says Juliette. “They are hugely worldly because they have had to be.” Whilst some of the children have moved on now, Juliette says living rooms in the house have been used as bedrooms, several of the children share and there are always things going on. Juliette says she has managed to plan her work life so that she is able to take the children to school and bring them home when they need her. “I work my day to suit everyone,” she says.
She even finds time for fitness and gets up at 6.10am to go to the gym every morning. “I love that time, it’s when I can be creative,” she says. Her husband gets everyone up for school. The downside is that she feels she never has enough time, but she says it is about “managing expectations” and on the plus side “everyone gets what they need”. Her staff understand that she is not generally around after in the office after 3pm. She does her training sessions between 10 and 2pm. However, she does pick up emails and work at home and has a system of placing a cat decoration on her desk to show that she is working if the children come in the room.
Each day she stops at 5pm and the family eat together. The children often cook and they all do their own washing. The older ones do their own ironing. In fact, her message at work and home is much the same. “It is about discipline, empowering people and trust,” she says simply.
Juliette will be joining Working Mums’ panel of experts and she is also writing some opinion pieces on the site in the next few weeks on overcoming the main barriers to business success. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions on business development in the meantime and these will be passed on to Juliette.