/ News / Unlocking The Power Of The North’s Women

The LEP’s Chair Debbie Francis OBE was recently invited to attend a special business event focused on the role of women in the North’s economic growth. Organised by the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund (NPIF), as part of their WomanMade campaign, the gathering featured some of our region’s most talented and driven female entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals.

Held at the British Business Bank offices in Sheffield, the event was designed to encourage conversations around the key issues women are facing in the modern business environment. Three central themes drove the discussions: access to finance, holding positions of leadership, and building careers in historically male-dominated industries. As well as identifying the challenges women face in these areas, the session also sought to explore potential solutions.

Access to finance was a key topic. Many female entrepreneurs present described the challenges they had faced to secure funding, especially in the early stages of their businesses (something which is borne out by repeated survey findings about business investment bias in favour of men).

Sophie McCumskey, founder of Practically Family in Cheshire, reinforced this view, highlighting how she had to overcome perceptions about the childcare industry not being seen as a potential growth sector when seeking funding.

The role gender bias plays in holding women back was something our Chair Debbie commented on during the discussion. She pointed out that when it comes to making a decision about who to back, investors will often chose the businessperson who seems most confident.

Debbie explained that in her experience women can come across as more cautious and considered during funding pitches– something which can be misinterpreted as lacking confidence. To help mitigate this, Debbie suggested investors look to move away from assessing a pitch based primarily on personalities, and instead focus on the quality and potential of the business idea itself.

The second theme was around women holding senior leadership positions. From the gender pay gap and the importance of developing a strong personal brand, to a need for women to do more to support each other and seek out female role models as mentors; the issue of how women can succeed in securing and maintaining  senior roles in business was hotly debated.

NPIF also used this topic to reveal the results of a survey conducted prior to the event about the number of high profile female leaders in Northern businesses. Over 70% of respondents reported they felt there was a lack of  such female role models in their organisation.

The third and final theme, building careers in male-dominated industries, was equally thought-provoking. Angela Taylor, from Castings Technology International in Sheffield, stressed the importance of being persistent, confident, and true to oneself when working in a sector like manufacturing. She also stressed that while women need to adopt a more assertive mindset, male attitudes needed to change as well.

And, as with the leadership issue, mentors and role models were highlighted as being vital to women working within traditionally male dominated sector. Seeking out and engaging with sector networks were also seen as a good way to find support and guidance from female peers.

Throughout the day, the NPIF event saw influential women from across the North sharing stories, offering advice, and encouraging each other, and it was great that our Chair Debbie got to play an active role of behalf of women in Lancashire.

You can read more about the event, watch video clips of some of the discussions, and find out about the work of Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, here.

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