Unleashing the full potential of women in the business world could help to bridge the West Midlands’ productivity gap, according to one of the region’s leading enterprise figures.
Angela Maxwell, the former driving force behind cappuccino machine maker Fracino and now director of Acuwomen, made the call at a major European Commission event on breaking gender stereotypes.
The current member of the Advantage West Midlands Enterprise Board pointed to the fact that if women started businesses at the same rate as men we would see 15,000 more starts-ups each year, which could equate to more than 50,000 jobs and billions being poured into the region’s economy.
While she admits that there is a general need for women to show more self-confidence, she is equally adamant that gender stereotyping, unequal pay and prejudice in the workplace have held females back in senior blue-chip organisations, the public sector and when considering becoming their own boss.
“The West Midlands has a fantastic opportunity to tackle this issue before any area in the UK and it is up to everyone in the region to get involved, from local authorities and business support services to multi-national businesses and our SMEs,” said Ms Maxwell.
“In an era when competitiveness is absolutely crucial, it is unforgivable not to make the most of the talent readily available to us and to achieve this we need to combat gender stereotypes and strive for equality at all levels.”
The three-day European Commission event – held at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham – attracted more than 50 delegates and provided keynote speeches, interactive seminars and workshops from expert trainers.
It also provided a platform to announce latest statistics on women in business, with many companies unaware that nearly 60 per cent of all new university graduates and about 80 per cent of students in business administration are women, that females are in charge of more than 70 per cent of purchasing decisions and actions that support gender equality have a positive impact on employees’ motivation, creativity and productivity.
“I am delighted that the West Midlands attracted this major event, which is running concurrently across 27 different EU States,” she said.
“This puts us ahead of the game and, through our ability to attract policy makers, business support professionals and companies, we have started a movement which will hopefully overcome the problems and provide a level playing field in terms of opportunity and salary.
“There is an undeniably strong economic case to break the gender divide in enterprise, when you consider women starting their own firms provide a more immediate contribution to the economy and one in five women comes into self-employment from unemployment.”
Women, along with minority ethnic, social enterprise and young people, continue to be a key client group for Advantage West Midlands’ Enterprise Board and this was reflected in the launch of the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise last year.
WECOE, which works closely with the Women’s Business Development Agency (WBDA) and other strategic partners, supports the growth of female business ownership through the development of women-friendly business support policies, infrastructure and enterprise culture across the region.
It achieves this by raising awareness, providing capacity building to support organisations which provide enterprise support services and by fulfilling a ‘critical-friend’ role to Business Link – ensuring advice and guidance is fit for purpose.
In addition, the specialist body also provides two bursaries; the Business Adviser Development Fund to create SFEDI-accredited experts and support towards securing the Flagship Award, a national best practice quality standard for women’s enterprise providers and networks.
Jackie Brierton, director of WECOE, said: “At the moment only 14 per cent of businesses in the West Midlands are majority-owned by women – encouraging and enabling more women into business is not only good for the economy and the vibrancy of the regional business culture, it’s good for its communities and social infrastructure too.
“Events like this one will help to raise awareness of this issue and will support our work in identifying missing gaps in support and where the potential lies for real growth.”