A new project aimed at upskilling women in digital technology is vital if we are to tackle the low rate of women’s self-employment and business sustainability in the North East, argues wwWomen digital ambassador and public relations consultant Sarah Hall. A new project aims to inspire, engage and enable women’s enterprise in Newcastle, and unlock the capacity of female-led businesses to do business digitally.
Go Digital Newcastle’s wwWomen project tackles the twin issue of low female employment and digital illiteracy in women head-on.
The initiative comes in the nick of time.
Research by Sustainable Enterprise Strategies (SES) and FISCUS has identified that Tyne & Wear has the lowest levels of enterprise, business start-ups and business sustainability for women in England.
You read that right – the lowest rates in the country. Existing business support mechanisms simply aren’t cutting through. That’s just not acceptable.
Women want to work
The Women’s Business Council produced a report in June 2013, that states there are more than 2.4 million women who are not in work but want to be. There are also another 1.3 million who want to work more hours.
SES and FISCUS have identified that if more women were to set up businesses, UK productivity could be boosted by up to £23 billion.
The recent wwWomen launch in Newcastle hosted some of those women and I’ve no doubt that there are potentially hundreds if not thousands more would-be female entrepreneurs dotted around the region.
This makes it all the more staggering that female entrepreneurs have been regularly overlooked, particularly those with ‘kitchen table’ enterprises designed to fit around other commitments such as family and childcare.
If the metric for business success is profit and turnover, it’s understandable why providers of business support have focused on companies with high growth potential.
However that is no longer a sustainable strategy and schemes like wwWomen, which recognize the opportunities stemming from superfast broadband and digital approaches to business, are thankfully implementing much needed change.
Broadband and digital opportunities drive growth
Digital technology lowers entry barriers to global markets and creates a level playing field, from the comfort of a bedroom or the middle of a field, whatever and whenever suits best.
All of a sudden - provided the right skills are in place - growth opportunities are there for the taking.
I speak from personal experience. I discovered I was pregnant the month I launched my PR and marketing business.
Unable to attend networking events to drive business development, I turned to social media to build my profile and online networks and discovered new routes to market. Five years on, the business has enjoyed its best year to date and almost all our current growth is digitally driven.
It’s not just about wealth creation either. The SES and FISCUS report makes it clear that while women-led businesses make a core impact to local economies in the provision of employment and finance, it is in social and community terms where they make the biggest contribution.
Why would we not give our women entrepreneurs the tools and support they need to deliver?
Providing access to mentors and materials
Boosting the knowledge, skills and confidence of female entrepreneurs is one of the key objectives of the wwWomen project.
The long-term goal is to build a self-sustaining peer-to-peer network of digital ambassadors and champions as well as a bank of digital resources and materials that empower women to develop their businesses assisted by digital and superfast broadband.
It will take time but the introduction of wwWomen is a positive move towards equalising start up rates between male and female entrepreneurs.
Helping women-led businesses to grow is a proven way to boost economic growth and prosperity. There is no other option.