Female entrepreneurs lack support and guidance to help grow their businesses, according to a former director of a leading supermarket.
Toni Eastwood, former director of talent and academy at Morrisons, believes that many female-led small businesses have “massive” growth potential but that potential isn’t realised due to the barriers women still face.
Ms Eastwood told The Yorkshire Post: “Quite often they will start something that has massive potential but they don’t necessarily see that.
“If there was support and guidance to help them fulfil that true potential they would be even greater businesses. They would be more likely to grow and employ people.
“There needs to be a better support structure around that. The support isn’t there.”
Women still face barriers when it comes to the world of work, whether they are running their own businesses or looking to progress their way up a firm.
“They are quite often to do with skills, confidence and self-esteem,” Ms Eastwood says.
Women still have the ‘lion’s share’ of care responsibilities, Ms Eastwood added, with the responsibility of looking after children, grandchildren and even parents falling on their shoulders.
The introduction of shared parental leave is creating a more even playing field but that is still something that is not being widely taken up.
Ms Eastwood said: “Entrepreneurship has actually grown. Entrepreneurship amongst females is now much more prevalent. I think females are starting up at least as fast as men.
“But what doesn’t happen is they don’t start up such high growth businesses because of the barriers.” Ms Eastwood now runs a talent development company called Beyond 2030.
The organisation is working with women, from senior executives in professional services to small business owners, to help them identify their career goals and develop a vision for their businesses.
The programme called Visionary Women involves three months of bespoke coaching.
Ms Eastwood says female entrepreneurs are “extremely important” to the British economy.
“Research suggests that 900,000 more British businesses would be created if the UK achieved the same level of female entrepreneurship as in the US, resulting in an additional £23bn gross value added to the UK economy,” she said.
Although attitudes are shifting when it comes to women in work more still needs to be done, says Ms Eastwood. Large corporates having to report on gender pay gaps is a step in the right direction.
“Regulation is holding their feet to the fire but I still think there’s a lot that needs to be done,” she said. Firms also need to consider more flexible work patterns to enable women to return after taking a career break.
“There’s a huge potential talent pool there that gets lost because there aren’t the flexible jobs available to enable women to go back to work,” Ms Eastwood said.
Visionary Women is financed by the EU Social Fund and The Skills Funding Agency through York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership. Ms Eastwood says European funding has played a positive role for businesses in the region.
While there are worries around EU funding disappearing, she believes that the next Government will recognise the importance of investing in skills and small businesses.