Tipping the balance in business
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this month (8 March), it’s a great opportunity to champion women in business and explore the role of female networking in helping to create #BalanceForBetter.
Clearly, there’s still a long way to go to tackle issues such as the gender pay gap, under-representation of women in leadership roles, and a lack of financial backing for female businesses. But at the Women in Business Network (WIBN), we are fortunate to be part of a thriving community where we are seeing huge growth in the number and diversity of female-led businesses, and positive signs that women in business are tipping the balance.
Female-led businesses contribute £105bn to the UK economy each year. Self-employment in the UK is at its highest level for 40 years, with women being responsible for much of that growth. And research shows more gender equal organisations have higher financial performance, greater creativity and stronger innovation.
The case for change is not only a moral one, it’s good for the bottom line.
The value of targeted networking
There’s been a massive rise in the number of business networking opportunities in recent years. From ad-hoc sessions and mixed groups, to structured formats and all-women options, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to building business connections. But female networks are more popular than ever. WIBN alone has experienced huge growth over the past decade, with more than 120 active groups across the UK and Ireland.
So, why are all-women groups in such high demand? In my experience, it’s not generally because women have an issue with mixed groups. More often than not, it’s about a different level of connection when networking with like-minded business women.
When we ask our members what they value most about WIBN, there is one thing that stands out beyond anything else. It’s the support. That sense of community where people feel free to share their challenges and successes. Where they help each other to grow their confidence and skills, as well as their businesses (in fact they often go hand in hand). It’s one of the reasons, many members have renewed year after year since we first started out – the support is hugely valuable to them.
Unsurprisingly, targeted female-focused business support is important beyond networking too.
- According to the National Council of Graduate Enterprise, 98% of women chose to participate in their Women’s Flying Start Programme because it was women-only. And numbers increased by 800% when a women-only option was introduced.
- Similarly, 98% of women involved in the Institute of Director’s Enterprising Women initiative said women-specific support was either important or very important to them.*
It’s fantastic to be part of movement to bolster women in business and to witness such growth in female entrepreneurship. Yet we know there is still huge untapped potential out there. For example:
- A third of the female population would start a business if it wasn’t for the fear of failure
- Boosting female entrepreneurship could deliver approximately £60bn extra to the UK economy
- Women in the USA are twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active as women in the UK
- Women-owned businesses win less than 5% of corporate and public sector contracts*
So, there is a continued need for targeted initiatives to support women in business if we are to create a more gender balanced business landscape – whether it’s networking, training, or mentoring, or better access to finance, affordable childcare, and promotion opportunities. Even simple actions can make a big difference, such as showing support on social media, attending events, and making introductions. We can all play our part in tipping the balance in the right direction.