Wishful thinking: Vision Scotland asked a dozen women who have made their mark in business for one thing they would change to help female entrepreneurs
Founder, West Brewery, Glasgow
To me, the answer is simple. Women are far too often forced to make the choice between family and work. My son and my company, WEST Brewery, are roughly the same age – Noah is ten and WEST has its ten-year anniversary in March.
I have been fortunate enough to create a successful business while also being a single mother, but many are not so lucky. What we need, more than anything else, is better childcare. A woman should never have to sacrifice the opportunity to start a family in order to follow a dream of starting a business. Flexible childcare is currently virtually non-existent – it is impossible to have a child minded at late or odd hours without the help of a nanny, which is of course very expensive.
And in the early stages of starting a business leaving work behind at 5pm is just unfathomable – I know I had to work day and night to get WEST off the ground. Affordable and accessible childcare would make all the difference for female entrepreneurs.
Chief executive, Women’s Enterprise Scotland
Funders, advisers and business support organisations need to tailor their help for women. At Women’s Enterprise Scotland, we have the privilege of working with women from all over the country.
Some are at the “thinking about it” stage, others may be in the first few years of trading and many have real ambitions to grow and develop their business, both at home and internationally. However it is important to say that research has shown that men are still almost twice as likely to start businesses as women, yet equal numbers of male/female businesses would equate to a 32 per cent increase in the business base.
So why is it not happening? There are various reasons but a quick look at the marketing materials or the online presence of some business support organisations or funders show they are often using language, images or case studies that don’t engage women or even feature a woman-led business.
Similarly, some advisers are not recognising that women approach business in a very different way to men and may gain more value from a tailored approach.
Founder, Soapurity, Airdrie
Government-funded incubators, workshops and other support programmes need to be honest about what support they can and can’t provide.
While starting my business, I took part in several such schemes. Some of the training was exceptional, and I gained valuable information. However, one common thread that ran through all of these projects was that they promised more than they delivered.
Before beginning any of the training programmes, I was invariably told that they would help me make contacts within my chosen industry, find funding, find and fund staffing, and help me find suitable premises.
Unfortunately, none of this support ever materialised. Once I had started, however, these subjects were never really brought up in training.
If I asked about any of these topics, it seemed that the conversation was steered in a different direction.
So, if there is one thing I would change, it would be that those in charge of running the programmes were honest about what they could and could not provide.
Managing director, KCP, Ayrshire
If it were as simple as fixing one thing to allow more women to maximise their entrepreneurial skills then it would have to be the availability of high speed broadband everywhere in the British Isles.
This would allow women to develop ideas, source funding and business development support as well as creating a strong international presence through the worldwide web, all from their own homes, enabling them to create a substantial business without having to worry about childcare which we all know is not universally available or affordable.
The added advantage of a reliable broadband service is that it allows business owners to cross time zones and reach customers at any time of the day or night, to join in on international discussions and to take advantage of networking opportunities both locally and on a wider scale maximising the potential for business-to-business exchanges and mentoring.
Founder, TotSeat, Edinburgh
I would ban the F words – “fail” and “failure” – from business vocabulary. To try – and not succeed, for whatever myriad of reasons – is not failure… it’s a lesson learnt, possibly many lessons learnt and often the hard way.
Anyone battling with the need to try something else, or simply pivot, needs encouragement, useful contacts and ideas, and to know they are respected and admired for having achieved so much – possibly against the odds. How inspirational to have even tried. Most folks don’t even do that.
The US is infinitely better than Scotland at embracing “learning experiences” – good and bad – indeed, it’s almost a badge of honour to have tried more than a few ideas out before rattling along the road to success.
So the next time you hear of someone who is regrouping their thoughts, priorities, finances and 24-hour day, congratulate them on what they achieved, and perhaps also on recognising the need to (now) do something else.
That, in itself, is an accomplishment.
Co-founder, executive vice-president of marketing, FanDuel, Edinburgh
I would teach women to be braver and bolder. There’s a tendency for females to be more cautious and less daring than their male counterparts – in both life and business.
Unfortunately, this approach is one of the obstacles that can limit women’s careers and stop them from becoming entrepreneurs.
From an early age, girls should be encouraged to make their opinions heard, to take risks and take the lead.
Assertiveness shouldn’t be confused with aggressiveness; it’s a great trait to have in business and commands respect and authority.
About 95 per cent of entrepreneurship is about selling – and that includes selling yourself.
Investors, partners and employees have to believe in you as much as they believe in your product and I don’t think this is realised enough by entrepreneurs – both male and female – when they start out.
Confidence in yourself and what you are doing is key to succeeding.
Founder, Eteaket Tea, Edinburgh
If I could change one thing about women (including myself) to make them better entrepreneurs, it would be confidence.
Children (particularly girls) from nursery right through to high school and further and higher education need to have the confidence to dream big and not be limited by the status quo.
The Scottish Government has done a lot of ground work on this but from my experience there’s much practical application yet to be done.
I met recently the head of entrepreneurship at the Scottish Government and now I’m going to take a workshop into my local school with the aim of getting the children interested in the world of business and perhaps even inspiring a couple of them to figure out what their passion is and how they could make that work for them.
I then plan to work with the relevant bodies and other entrepreneurs to do more in other schools.
Chief executive, Bio ID Security; chairman, Women’s Enterprise Scotland
Learn to sell. Sales is at the heart of any business – without it there is no business – yet I am astounded by the number of people who do not know how to sell. Far too few people understand even the basic building blocks of selling: the differences between features and benefits; open and closed questions; how to close the sale. As an entrepreneur you are the face of your business and you are always selling – your product, your ideas, your self. Basic selling skills also help you cope with inevitable rejections, which some female entrepreneurs find difficult to handle. It takes skill and intuition to uncover and meet a person’s desires, but it’s a skill that can be learnt… and when you truly understand that sales is something you do “for” people, not “to” people, you will forevermore sell with courage and conviction. Please… learn to sell.
Founder, Genius Gluten Free, Edinburgh
Motherhood sparks creativity and great business ideas which often do not develop beyond a first attempt at a business plan. Many women find the significant challenge of implementing their idea around their young families simply too difficult and exhausting. The quality of care they expect for their children is often too expensive to provide them with sufficient head space and the time required to turn an idea into reality. The introduction of affordable, high-quality child care for all, through salary weighting, as per the system in France, would provide a solution to this very real problem for female entrepreneurs.
President, Scottish Women in Business
A cultural shift in attitude is required. If women started businesses in Scotland at the rate of men, our economy would be growing at 5.3 per cent per annum. So where’s the block? It’s not just one thing; there’s a myriad of complex reasons. The culture and attitudes towards women in Scotland still require a seismic shift.
Whether it’s the ease of accessing start-up finance, the flexibility of working arrangements to accommodate women who often carry a dual role of primary carer (children, elderly relatives) or simply accessing the support required to start a business, a cultural shift in attitude is required to help encourage more women to reach their potential. Women tend to have a more collaborative approach in the workplace and in their own businesses. Supportive networks such as Scottish Women In Business help women to develop their voices.
Chief executive, Investing Women Angels; organiser, the Ambition & Growth conference
Scotland doesn’t lack entrepreneurial women with great ideas. What we need is a shift in mindset. So this is our one change at Investing Women; more women angels who believe in the talent and potential of Scotland’s amazing women entrepreneurs. In the US, one in four business angels are female. In Scotland, it’s one in 20 at best.
Why does this matter? Well it’s about way more than the money. It’s about the human capital, talent, expertise and networks that come with these women; many of whom are entrepreneurs who understand and love to help other founders, women in particular.
We know from the US that growth in the female angel community has directly correlated with an increase in women-led companies seeking growth equity.
What’s important here is that it gives women confidence that they can succeed. There’s nothing like people believing in you to make you believe in yourself.
Managing director, Whisky Ambassador, Glasgow
Cultural beliefs about roles and responsibilities do not change quickly, but they need to change for more women to become entrepreneurs. Although a lot has changed since I took the leap and became my own boss, much more can still be done.
I own, or I’m a partner in, three companies and have come across many barriers to building a successful business in Scotland. But these barriers exist not only because I’m a woman, but because it is difficult to start and maintain a business in Scotland.
Ironically, even although women are in a minority when it comes to being entrepreneurs, it might be the only place they can ensure an equal status.
They pay their own salaries, so a lack of equal pay is a thing of the past, and there is no glass ceiling.
Maybe one day women won’t need to worry about equal pay and lack of promotion as they will have all realised the only way to equality in our lifetime is to become an entrepreneur and start your own company.