Research on women’s enterprise in the West Midlands

Woman walking through offices at Pump House ShrewsburyIn December 2009, the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise (WECOE) held a dissemination event marking the end of their project on women’s enterprise.

The event gave a platform to a large range of speakers, from ministers of parliament to academic researchers.

Rosie Winterton MP reviewed the progress of government policy in the sphere of women’s enterprise, and indicated future policy directions.

Professor Mark Hart spoke of his work (Women and entrepreneurial activity in the West Midlands: evidence from GEM 2002-08, pdf, 287kb) with data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor which indicates that the primary factor hampering the development of women’s enterprise in the West Midlands is their disproportionate fear of failure. This is an important finding which suggests a clear direction for policy makers to take.

Dr Rebecca Harding also gave presentations on work she had prepared for WECOE based upon her surveys of business owners.

Professor Monder Ram (Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship) discussed the broader topic of ensuring diversity in enterprise. He stressed the importance of recognising that the issues surrounding women’s enterprise cannot, and should not, be considered in isolation from other diversity issues. Monder concluded that a forward-thinking approach to enterprise diversity would adopt a more holistic view, recognising the common problems shared by all alongside the need for solutions tailored to individual needs.

Other speakers at the event included:

Julie Weeks (President and CEO, Womenable) drew the event to a close with an inspirational address calling for the international revolution in women’s enterprise to begin in the West Midlands, the homeland of the industrial revolution.

This large number of speakers, compèred by Sonia Brown (founder and director of the National Black Women’s Network), held a range of views on the key challenges facing women’s enterprise and the best policies to tackle them.

However, all speakers were united in recognising the crucial economic contribution that could be made by closing the enterprise gap between the genders, and unleashing the untapped pool of entrepreneurial talent it represents.

Research on women’s enterprise

The WECOE project has been summarised in a policy recommendations document (pdf, 125kb), supported by four policy briefings:

These briefings highlight the importance of attitudes towards business growth amongst women entrepreneurs. For example, women’s businesses are less likely to be growth-oriented than men’s, as their reasons for establishing enterprises tend to be different, as well as the sectors they operate in.

The WECOE research indicates a need to develop business support strategies that can assist businesses throughout their whole life cycle, rather than focusing primarily on start-ups.

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