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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Celebrating Women’s Enterprise

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Speaking at a conference organised by Everywoman to celebrate ‘Women’s Enterprise Day’ Meg gave the following address on the ‘Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise’.


I’m pleased to be here today and celebrating women’s enterprise. It’s an issue I feel is important - important to the country but perhaps most important of all to the thousands of women who don’t get to use their abilities to the full in the area of work.  I recently spoke at a lunch for Women in Business, and talking to the women I was struck by how many of them found it exciting being in the world of work when they were shaping it. The feeling of being in control, of managing your own life - these feelings may not appear on a balance sheet but they have a huge impact on the individual and in the world at large.


The importance of women’s enterprise to the UK economy is often glossed over - some men still find it difficult to accept that women can have a business brain, that women can have the energy and commitment to develop a venture. I pay tribute to all female entrepreneurs, who continue creating wealth and jobs despite all the obstacles placed in their way.


It is striking that, while female entrepreneurship in the US stands at 89 % of the level of male entrepreneurship, in this country that figure is only 46 %. If we had the same rate of female owned start-ups as in the USA, we would have 750,000 more businesses. This would have a major impact on productivity, employment and prosperity.


One reason women are not setting up their own firms is occupational segregation - where women are over-represented in certain types of low-paid jobs, and under-represented in other sectors, such as science or construction. Tackling occupational segregation is crucial in raising UK productivity and reducing the gender pay gap.  Sectors in which women are poorly represented; construction and plumbing for instance, currently have large skill shortages. Encouraging women into higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs would help us to reduce the current skill shortages and ensure that women had the opportunity to reach their potential.


In the UK nearly a million women are self-employed and this number has increased by around 10% over the last four years. The most common reason for starting up in business, accounting for 27% of new businesses, was the desire of the proprietors to be independent - to be their own boss. Interestingly, around 1 in 5 women come into self-employment from unemployment compared with around 1 in 15 for men.


According to the recent Small Business Service (SBS) figures, the percentage of small businesses that are majority-led by women now stands at around 19%, a rise from 15% in 2003. We await the 2005 survey figures to have confirmation of this rise - if corroborated it would be very encouraging. There are positive developments in levels of female graduate entrepreneurship - female students are more likely to be engaged in entrepreneurial activity than male students. At the moment, women-owned businesses contribute about £70 billion to Gross Value Added; about 25% of the UK total, mainly from the growing service sector. 


The Small Business Service and Ministers are consistently working to raise the profile of women's enterprise in as many different fields as possible. In June, we successfully held the women's enterprise online summit, to which more than 5,000 people logged on. The internet does not tell us whether they were men or women, but all are welcome. The summit was designed to motivate more women to start their own businesses and to tap into an exciting community of networking, support, useful resources and targeted services.


It was a good opportunity for women to obtain answers to such questions as, "How can I speak to like-minded women?" "Who can I speak to about my business idea?" "Who can help me to start and grow my business?" and "What resources are available to support me on that journey?" As many of you will appreciate, being able to get such advice and information from someone who is already running their own business is invaluable, particularly when it is another woman who is acting as a positive role model.


The next few months will see the roll-out of phase two of the case for women's enterprise. That initiative will be principally aimed at mainstream business support providers. They may have limited experience of providing targeted services for women and may not previously have considered segmenting their client needs using a gender perspective.


The Government have a strong commitment to increasing the number of women starting and growing businesses and to ensuring that Government-funded business support services are accessible and appropriate to their needs. We are determined to help maximise the skills of women in the economy and improve their chances in the labour market.


I must mention The Case for Women’s Enterprise, a toolkit for those who provide business support for women entrepreneurs in 2004. It was produced in association with Prowess, and is particularly aimed at mainstream providers with limited experience of providing targeted services. The toolkit contains 8 elements covering the key entrepreneurial milestones from pre-start-up to business growth. I really would commend it to you - among other things, it’s full of useful details about organisations and websites - and it has a jargon buster!


There are many individual success stories of women who have ‘set up shop’ on their own account, have made it happen - some sitting in this room. Let me tell you about two.


Hilton Bowers Associates Ltd. is based in Colne, Lancashire. After 10 years as finance director in her family firm, and 20 years experience of growing businesses, Wendy Bowers set up this concern. Most of her work involves a financial management consultancy and training service to companies, such as Barclays Bank. Her business has grown and she now employs 2 full-time and 2 part-time staff. 


We have Starters and Spice in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After completing her MBA and 9 years working for British Gas in senior positions, Maunika Gowardhan decided to make her love of Indian food become her business. She saw a gap in the market - introducing the consumer to a larger variety of Indian cuisine - and has built a successful business. This shows you can make your passion your business. 


There are also encouraging stories from our educational institutions. Sheffield Hallam University runs an enterprise challenge every year for students on their enterprise course. Last month I attended the dinner at which the winner was announced. This year for the first time out of the seven finalists five were women, one was a woman and man team and only one was a man. The overall winner was two women who had manufactured a gluten and lactose free chocolate cake to sell in coffee shops - as we were all able to sample their product it was perhaps not surprising they had won. By the end of that evening they were well on the way to having their first contract!


These stories tell us that women can and are taking the initiative and succeeding in the small business market. For me, it’s not just the big picture, the individual stories from women who have turned their business ideas into reality remain. For all of us, women and men, having the opportunity, encouragement, and support to try and fulfil our potential, well it might sound trite in our cynical age - but its important.


Women are making a real impact today as entrepreneurs. So, thank you, again for inviting me today. Events such as this provide an opportunity to hear from those who have been through the experience of creating a new business. They are an inspiration to others who may be toying with the idea. Perhaps they need the final push from champions here to take their dream and make it a reality. I wish you every success. 



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