By Christie Day
Could 2019 be the most positive year yet for the female working population? There are certainly reasons for cautious optimism, as the barriers that might have previously prevented women from achieving success in business are slowly being addressed. From employment rates and the gender pay gap, to childcare costs and funding for start-ups, the latest statistics suggest there is a definite modicum of hope on the horizon.
According to a recent report by the Women’s Business Council (WBC) there has been a ‘significant shift’ in the experiences of women in the workplace during the last five years. An upward trend can be seen in several key areas. Women in managerial roles increased from 32.8% in 2013 to 35.5% in 2018, the number of females in STEM occupations rose by 175,000 and the percentage of women who are self-employed is up by 2.7 percentage points.
The government appointed the WBC specifically to help maximise women’s contribution to the economy and level the playing field between women and men in the workplace. It’s not just moral pressure motivating the group. Management consultancy firm McKinsey estimates that bridging the gender gap in work would add £150 billion to the UK economy by 2025.
Does that tell us the true state of play for women in business? The trends may demonstrate progression rather than regression, but these are still challenging times for the female working population. If we look at women’s enterprise, this is one area that offers great opportunity. However, it needs stronger development. Unfortunately, there’s been a drop in female entrepreneurial activity in recent years, with the WBC report citing several reasons for the decline. These include a perceived lack of diverse role models, confidence in business skills and problems with access to finance. It exposes a stark reality. Yet these vital issues can be tackled if supportive measures are put in place to encourage women back into business.
For the first time in the UK, there will be an entire exhibition dedicated to helping women in business in 2019. We are organising the inaugural event to recognise the important role that women play as innovators, owners and founders of British business. It is being championed by some of the highest profile female business role models, with Karren Brady and Michelle Mone already confirmed as key speakers at the two day event.
The aim is to support all women looking for business and back to work opportunities and give them the tools, ideas and inspiration to plan their next career move. There will be a strong focus on enterprise, with new business and franchise opportunities from local SMEs and major national brands exhibiting at the event. Currently, 25% of franchise owners in the UK are female, so there is a great deal of scope to encourage women into entrepreneurship and support their business start-ups.
We’ve deliberately chosen to host the Women in Business Expo outside of London, in a brand new exhibition space in Farnborough, Hampshire. As we want to give as many women as possible the opportunity to attend by offering free entry, free parking and a free professionally run crèche to allow mums with children time to focus on their career.
As 2019 beckons, it’s a time of reflection and resolutions for both businesses and individuals. For women considering the next chapter in their career the outlook should be positive. The WBC remains upbeat as it battles to transform workplace culture for women and there are opportunities on the horizon to help women succeed in business. New year, new prospects and, potentially, a career of prosperity.