Transition Time in UK for Women’s Enterprise

Given the overall political situation in the United Kingdom, it may come as no surprise that women’s enterprise issues are in transition as well. But even though, as the saying goes, there’s nothing as constant as change, two recent “swan song” events there are noteworthy and warrant some observations.

First, the three-year lifespan of the UK’s Women’s Enterprise Task Force came to an end late last month – with a final event on Women’s Enterprise Day on 18 November, the issuance of a final report and recommendations to the government and other stakeholders, and the publication of an official government response. While we at Womenable have heard many comments from womenablers in the UK that the performance of the task force has been – to put it kindly – underwhelming, we’d like to offer up this thought: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In the case of the National Women’s Business Council in the US, after which the WETF in the UK was patterned, it took until 1993, four years after it was first established, for the organization to be restructured into its current form. Prior to that time, like the WETF, there was a strange brew of public and private sector members, and the Council was chaired by whomever was the Administer of the US Small Business Administration. Now, the NWBC governance rules call for a woman business owner chair, and the 14 members are either individual women business owners (8) or representatives of women’s business organizations (6) – a much more impactful structure. We’d advise the same for the UK.

Secondly, a two-year project – the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise – has also come to an end. Housed within Advantage West Midlands, a regional economic development agency, WECOE was founded to take a hard look at business support within the region with an eye to gathering and sharing good practices, conducting research to assess needs and impact, and provide fact-based guidance for all of the stakeholders in the region – and beyond – that wish to increase the effectiveness of their support for women’s enterprise development. It, too, had an “end of remit” gathering, at which several interesting pieces of research were discussed. (Visit the link above to access links to all of them.)

At the event, Womenable was asked to provide observations on trends in women’s enterprise in general, and offer suggestions for the way forward – not only for women’s enterprise development in the West Midlands, but the UK, the US and elsewhere. If you are bored and can tolerate the low-quality audio, here is a link to a SlideShare presentation of the remarks, which is 14:12 in length:

In a nutshell, my observations were:

  • bricks do not a building make,
  • if you build it they may not all come, and
  • many hands can make light work.

In summary, it takes a long-term vision and strategy to make change happen: gathering evidence is like making bricks – necessary but not sufficient for building a sustainable, weather-proof structure of support. It takes much longer than two years to start seeing results.

Secondly, efforts must be inclusive and mindful of the diverse needs and unique styles of learning and leadership among women; one size definitely does not fit all.

And, finally, my wish for the new year: that we all – we enablers of women’s enterprise – start doing a much better job, not only of communication and cooperation, but of but true and deep collaboration amongst ourselves; for we are the ones that need to concentrate our passion and purpose to effect a faster rate of change. I, for one, am growing tired of small steps and incremental change. It’s time for a women’s enterprise revolution. Anyone care to join me?

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