Supporting women in enterprise...we know what's needed

For the second time, I was lucky enough this week to attend a Cross Party Group meeting at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, on Women in Enterprise. A lot of really good discussions were had around gender aware and gender specific support for women led businesses: both established and start-ups.

Convened by Gillian Martin MSP, there were three other MSP's in attendance, representatives from Business Support agencies including banks, representatives of Women's Enterprise Scotland, several fellow women business owners and myself as business owner and WES Ambassador. The purpose of this session was to get a clear picture of the business support available to women in business in Scotland, in particular reporting of the experiences of support that some women business owners have had to date; how this has felt to them, and any impact it has made on their business - good or bad. Also, the Group wanted to understand any gaps are in current provision, and look to begin formulating a plan to address those gaps going forward. Both the Royal Bank of Scotland and Business Gateway gave overviews of their current support provision for women-led businesses. We business owners talked about our experiences of business support to date, and what our thoughts and feelings were around any gaps and potential future initiatives.

It was a very interesting meeting, and a lot of common themes emerged from the discussion- - The definite need and desire for gender specific support. - The areas in which it felt this was most needed, in particular around confidence/feelings of capability, performance markers traditionally being solely around turnover and number of employees, scaling a business, mentoring, relatable role models and networking. - The perceived lack of data available to illustrate the gaps of provision to date and generally show what is working well and what could be done better. - A key strategy being to project forward to the economic impact of more woman led businesses, rather than to look back at the lack that there has been to date. - Feelings of frustration that it had taken so long to get to this stage, with these issues being addressed at Government level. Research has continued to show the challenges for women-led businesses over the years, but action to address those issues has mostly been lagging. There was a general feeling from the business owners that while they felt there was a wealth of support available, and there has never been a better time for anyone to be starting a business in Scotland with the current support landscape, there were definite stumbling blocks around some of the gaps. For me personally, being at the meeting alongside Gail Bryden from JustBeBotanicals, and Mandy Bailey of Plant-n-Grow, felt very special. I first met these two fantastic business women during my time in business accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark two years ago. We became friends and what is relevant here, is that we have been a huge support to each other in many different ways throughout the building of our businesses and moving beyond the start-up phase. It was a great experience to be talking at a cross party group alongside them, and highlighted for me the importance of this particular kind of support being available, encouraged and accessible for other women in business, as it is such a valuable asset.

There was a real appetite amongst those present to once and for all get to the bottom of this issue and provide business support which acknowledges and meets the needs of women. I sincerely hope that the result of this Cross Party Group session is to create real change, that will help many other women in business to start or grow their businesses in Scotland, with the resulting economic impact that this will create.

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