Businesses which are majority-owned by women contribute £8.8billion to the Scottish economy each year and account for over 231,000 jobs - around 24% of the private sector total in Scotland. These figures have significantly increased in recent years, but the added challenges of lockdown threaten to put those gains into reverse.
This was the motivation behind the recent Business Accelerator programme for female entrepreneurs, with intensive support provided through Glasgow City Council's Business Growth Programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by LESL.
13 female business leaders of established companies within the Greater Glasgow area took part in an intensive programme lasting four months which finished at the end of April 2021. The content was specifically designed to help female business leaders navigate an altered business landscape, during and after the pandemic.
Of those who participated, immediate business challenges range from food production and distribution, to delivering face-to-face language training to overseas students unable to travel. The female entrepreneurs who took part also faced challenges including updating family businesses for the digital age, and delivering a range of face-to-face services through social distancing.
Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council and Convener for Inclusive Economic Growth at Glasgow City Council, said: "The Women-Led Accelerator programme was specifically designed to offer intensive assistance for extremely busy professionals, delivering information and advice, personalised for each business and sector, and this was delivered remotely by individual specialists from a range of core disciplines. Sometimes all-women training is seen as unnecessary by some but until there is more of a level playing field, the additional challenges faced by female entrepreneurs is something we continue to explore."
Liz McCutcheon, CEO of LESL, commented: "We are passionate about helping SMEs not just to bounce back, but bounce forward and thrive. Given the contribution that female-led businesses make to the economies of Glasgow and Scotland, programmes like these are hugely important."
A participant in the programme, Jenny McCreary, Director of SEW Confident, said: "This programme was a bit of a lifeline for me in uncertain times. I had gone back to doing everything myself, with my two staff in furlough. My time on the Women-Led Accelerator provided a much-needed reminder that, although I was back on the tools, so to speak, it was temporary and my role was still ultimately to drive growth. Despite the toughness of the last year, I've realised I have to keep investing in myself as a business leader. I have also found ways to expand my income streams online and target my marketing resources much more effectively."
Another course participant, Michelle Smith, Director of ValueAdd Business Solutions, said, "As a result of the course, I've revisited my corporate brand and taken a deeper look internally at how we work as a business. I've also re-evaluated where I personally sit within the business and the course helped me realise that I need a side shift; not just to come out of lockdown but to thrive on the other side."
Carolyn Currie, CEO of Women's Enterprise Scotland, argues strongly that female entrepreneurs deserve all the encouragement they can get, adding: "Providing women-owned businesses with the resources they need to grow, including skills development, is vital for the future of our economy. As businesses re-open and we set out on the path to economic recovery, we must capitalise on the full spectrum of our business talent. This means creating an environment where innovation thrives, where women can unlock their economic potential and contribute fully to our national productivity."
Lorna Trainer, director of Glasgow-based business L&G Learning and leading member of the FSB's Scotland Policy Unit, said: "Glasgow's recovery from the covid crisis is dependent upon a thriving local and independent business community. But official statistics show that we still have too few businesses led by women. That's why we need to encourage more women to start-up and do all we can to help these firms succeed."
Councillor Susan Aitken added: "It has always been tough to be a business leader, even before the pandemic but female entrepreneurs can face additional barriers. All-female teams typically attract far less investment than their male counterparts; as little as a penny in each pound of venture capital investment made UK-wide, so the Scottish Government's recent commitment to invest £50million in the creation of a Women's Business Centre is very welcome."