Theresa May, the Home Secretary and Equalities minister, recently announced a new mentoring initiative during a speech to the Royal Commonwealth Club. She committed the government to recruiting 5,000 new business mentors to help, guide and inspire female entrepreneurs. The government has subsequently pledged to provide the necessary resources to fund the training of these 5,000 business mentors to help women set up and run their own businesses. This additional funding will come on top of the government’s funding of on-going work to improve the parental leave system and boost flexible working. It has been argued that if Britain were to increase the level of female entrepreneurs to match the numbers in the US, then an extra £42 billion pounds would be added to the economy every year. Speaking at the launch, Ms May outlined the government’s thinking on the issue and gave a clear indication of the strategy it intended to follow:
“As a government, we want the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business, and we want the next decade to be the most entrepreneurial and dynamic in Britain’s history – women can be at the heart of that.”
There are probably a raft of other political issues and imperatives that have influenced this decision to a degree or other, but what can’t be disputed is the fact that the government has finally recognised the importance of business mentoring for women and, moreover, is now committed to doing something about it. There have previously been many reports across the media which expressed concerns about the lack of funding of such schemes. According to a survey from women’s magazine Marie Claire, 66 percent of women polled expressed the opinion that mentoring and networking events are crucial for furthering their careers.
The new initiative has received the backing of some of Britain’s female highflyers. They recognise the need for business mentoring services and feel confident that the scheme will be successful. Jennifer Hyman, co-founder of Rent the Highway, maintained that building a network of mentors is essential for any budding business. Wendy Tan, entrepreneur of the year at this year’s Everywoman in Technology awards, and founder of the website solutions company, Moonfruit, agreed that the move is long overdue:
“It’s a positive step forward. Women-led business is one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial sectors globally. It’s an opportunity the UK does not want to miss, given 51 percent of UK GDP is driven by small business.”