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Call to Action by 200 Business Leaders to Support UK Women Entrepreneurs

By Brian Collett

An investigation into claims that women are being held back in business is to be conducted by the UK government.

It will be the first “serious review” into the funding gap that women believe is stopping them from becoming business leaders in Britain.

The Treasury has committed itself to examine the challenges and will produce a report this year, which it says will be a “call to arms” for the finance industry, making funders “sit up, take notice and act” in sweeping away the barriers encountered by women requiring investment.

The announcement after 200 business leaders, entrepreneurs, MPs and academics – many of them women – issued an open national newspaper letter on International Women’s Day urging the UK government to boost female entrepreneurship.

The signatories included Samantha Cameron, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, who is a consultant with Smythson, the stationery, leather goods and fashion products company; Baroness Brady, better known as Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham United football club; and retail consultant and broadcaster Mary Portas.

They emphasised that better access to funds for women would boost the UK economy.

Two thirds of women bosses told the newspaper’s researchers that investors and banks did not take them seriously, so that nearly three quarters of these female business owners had to start up using their own money.

The Entrepreneurs Network, formed to advise and support UK businesses, said men were 86 per cent more likely than women to be venture capital-funded and 56 per cent more likely to obtain angel investment.

The Federation of Small Businesses reported that Britain was missing out on more than 12 million new businesses because so much of women’s potential remained unused, and Deloitte, the multinational professional services group, calculated that aid for female founders could add £100m ($139m, €113m) to the economy in the next ten years.

One of the 200 signatories, Sarah Akwisombe, who runs a flourishing interior design business, recalled: “A friend of mine is a female founder who has an amazing software platform. She went to get venture capital and all they told her was that she needed to have a male co-founder to be taken seriously.”

By contrast, hope is offered by Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, the department playing a leading role in the review: “The greatest economic opportunity out there today is harnessing the talents of women that are currently untapped.

“This isn’t just a women’s problem. It’s a problem for everyone.”

More hope is offered by the UK broadcaster Sky. The group is introducing a paid programme, under which up to 1,000 women will be trained as engineers.

Photo: Flickr creative commons