May reveals £2m opportunity for female entrepreneurs

Mentoring scheme unveiled amid fears of gender separation


The home secretary Theresa May has unveiled a package of support for female entrepreneurs, after it was revealed that female unemployment is at a 23 year high.

Speaking at the Royal Commonwealth Society on Friday, May – who is also the minister for women and equality – outlined a £2m scheme, under which successful businesswomen will be asked to train as one of 5,000 volunteer mentors to provide role models for women wanting to start their own enterprises.

Female entrepreneurs with established businesses will also benefit, with mentoring on business growth among the proposals. Furthermore May announced that the government will form a women’s business council to help businesswomen “fulfil their potential”.

The new initiatives followed the publication of the A Life Raft for Women’s Equality report by The Fawcett Society, which laid out recommendations to support female entrepreneurship in the difficult contemporary economy.

The report claimed that women have been pushed out of the workforce and been forced to accept reduced incomes as a result of government cuts. Two thirds of the local authority jobs which were cut by local councils from the beginning of 2010 were previously held by women.

May responded to accusations that women’s human rights and financial security are under attack by increasing flexible working and flexible parental leave – stating that she wanted to help all women, not just the highest earners and stressing that it “isn’t just a question of fairness but to economic strength”. She said:

“Too many women who are working part-time don’t feel they can go full-time, or those with a great business idea do not feel able to strike out…and start their own company. This means that too many women do not fulfil their true potential. The policies I have talked about…will make a real difference.”

She added: “For too long, as a country, we have failed to make the most of the skills, experience and talents of women and despite the difficult decisions that need to be taken, there is much we can do to make sure that our economy emerges stronger and fairer, and operates in the interest of the working majority.

“Business people tell us that they want to take advice from other business people, so the business mentors will be experienced individuals, who can provide tailored support and advice. They will be a huge help to women entrepreneurs.”

Emma Sinclair, chief executive of Target Parking and a 2011 Growing Business Young Gun, said: “I know from personal experience that there is a rich and dynamic seam of female entrepreneurs who support and mentor women in their spare time throughout the United Kingdom. People relate to each other differently and in my experience, many women find the prospect of a female mentor more appealing than a man. “The resource and publicity surrounding this initiative will benefit of thousands of women around the country, and indeed the wider economy. Entrepreneurs are critical to ensuring we revitalise Britain and supporting women and start ups at grassroots levels can only bring benefits.”

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