Women entrepreneurs are still rare. Men are twice as likely to set up on their own. And when it comes to asking for business finance, women typically ask for one-third less cash.
Women’s Enterprise Day was celebrated last week but only 15% of businesses in Britain are majority owned by females compared with 30% in the US. Yet is this all about to change?
NEW BREED: Alison Newton is a partner at law firm McGrigors and says initiatives for businesswomen are vital
Insurance giant Liverpool Victoria says that within 20 years women will control 60% of UK wealth. Slowly but surely, banks and investment companies are launching services aimed at encouraging women to shine in business.
Lisa Tobias is one of a growing number of women who are prepared to go it alone and set up their own business.
Seven years ago, Lisa was a lowly branch trainee at pizza company Domino’s. But today she owns franchises for three of the company’s branches in Scotland and has ambitions to expand her business.
‘I started at Domino’s when I was 18,’ says Lisa, 25, from Glasgow. ‘Within a year I was shop manager and I soon won the company’s manager of the year award. ‘I then began to get the idea that I wanted to do this for myself. I realised I was good at what I was doing and I was keen to be my own boss.’
With a little financial help from her family and start-up finance from Bank of Scotland, Lisa paid £70,000 for her own Domino’s franchise in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.
Today, helped by her husband, Graeme, 26, she runs two additional outlets, in Ayr and Clydebank, Lanarkshire.
‘I’ve thoroughly enjoyed starting my own business,’ says Lisa. ‘It is high pressure at times because the buck stops with you and along the way you make some awful mistakes. But you learn from them and when things go well it is incredibly rewarding.’
Since taking the plunge, Lisa has received invaluable advice from Bank of Scotland. ‘It can be difficult as a young woman to start a business,’ she says. ‘But my business manager has been excellent and I have valued the advice and help I have received.’
Like most High Street banks, Bank of Scotland recognises the importance of women entrepreneurs. Three years ago, it set up a Women in Business Unit to cater specifically for the growing number of female customers.
Today, the unit employs three full-time female staff who provide financial and banking advice. It encourages businesswomen to meet and exchange ideas and experiences. The unit also offers a mentoring service and produces a biannual magazine, Big Fish.
The bank is a member of the Global Banking Alliance set up six years ago with the aim of encouraging more women to set up businesses and to improve their access to financial services. Earlier this month, GBA held its fifth annual summit in Glasgow. Clare Logie has been director of the Women in Business Unit since its formation. ‘Banks are increasingly looking at the commercial impact women have as consumers and businesswomen in driving the economy,’ she says.
PIZZA THE ACTION: Lisa Tobias controls three Scottish Domino’s Pizza franchises
This was the initial reasoning behind setting up the unit. We are not about positive discrimination or putting women in an exclusive box. Put simply, our aim is to encourage, support and give advice to women in business so that they can help themselves progress.’
In addition to traditional banking services, most High Street banks now provide a range of facilities tailored to women. Lloyds TSB offers financial support for its female business customers to go on personal development courses. It also organises regular networking events and encourages women from ethnic backgrounds to enter business, sponsoring the Black Women in Business Awards and the Asian Women of Achievement Awards.
Meanwhile, HSBC supports Aurora, the women’s business network, and is a partner of support organisation WiRE - Women in Rural Enterprise. Barclays runs 500 free seminars each year for women, or men, who want to start their own business while NatWest sponsors the Everywoman awards for women in business.
NatWest also provides online business advice and organises nationwide conferences for female entrepreneurs. Its parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland, is working with development agency Scottish Enterprise on ways to encourage more women into business.
Alison Newton, 43, from Glasgow, is a partner at law firm McGrigors in the city. She believes the opportunities offered by initiatives such as Bank of Scotland’s Women in Business Unit are invaluable. ‘It is good for women to share their career experiences,’ she says. ‘Companies and employers should also listen more to their female staff. Small changes, such as flexible working or offering car parking spaces close to the workplace, can make a huge difference for working mothers, for example.
‘Female networks are no longer seen as niche or embarrassing. They fill an important role and help many women to progress based on their own merits.’
Bank of Scotland’s Logie says that though great strides have been made to cater for women in business, there is still a long way to go. Earlier this month, research by Cranfield University School of Management in Bedford found that the number of women appointed to boardroom positions in FTSE 100 companies was falling. A quarter of boards do not have females while only one in eight new positions go to women.
KEY ROLE: Bank of Scotland women in business director Clare Logie
Women make up less than half of the total of those successfully running their own small business. ‘We’re just scratching the surface at the moment,’ says Logie. ‘Events such as the recent Global Banking Alliance are invaluable because people come from the US, Canada and Australia, countries which are all light years ahead of the UK in terms of the inroads women have made into the business arena.’
Dinah Bennett, a member of the Women Into The Network programme at the Business School of Durham University, agrees. ‘There is a policy vacuum in Government when it comes to helping women in business,’ she says. ‘In the US and Canada, for example, there have been taskforce-style initiatives in place for the past 15 years to help women in business. The UK’s Taskforce for Women’s Enterprise was announced a year ago, yet it has still to get off the ground.’
City stars who let talent shine
Two well-known female faces in the City - fund managers Nicola Horlick and Gita Patel - predict financial services companies will increasingly target women.
Horlick, 46, set up Bramdean Asset Management last year after more than 20 years in investment banking and fund management. Bramdean, based in Knightsbridge, central London, is a wealth management and investment service focused on affluent to high net worth female clients. Its Bramdiva service offers advice for women with at least £200,000 of liquid assets.
‘Women are instigators in chief of purchasing decisions and they increasingly have more control of the nation’s wealth,’ says Horlick. ‘But in the past there has been inertia among women, who are often inclined to sit on large cash sums in the bank rather than invest. Many women also find male advisers patronising. It was with all these issues in mind that I set up Bramdean.’
CITY STAR: Gita Patel, Stargate Capital Investment director
Patel, director of Londonbased investment house StarGate Capital Investment Group, is founder of the UK’s first investment fund to help women-led businesses. These include a web-based health club, an online villa booking service and a high-end fashion label and clothes store. The venture capital fund, Trapezia, which closed last month, pulled in £5m of investors’ money which will be poured into such businesses. StarGate will open a second fund early next year.
‘I didn’t focus on the female market out of altruism or as a gimmick, but because I see real untapped potential in this area,’ says Patel. ‘Gender parity has been achieved in education so it is only a matter of time before UK female entrepreneurs catch up with their male counterparts.’