This Friday marks International Women’s Day 2013, a global celebration of women past, present and future. Trail-blazing pioneers will be celebrated with events held around the world to commemorate what has been done to promote equal opportunity.Over the course of the last century, a great deal of work has been done to promote equal opportunities for women in British society. Even so, I still find it hard to understand how there was so much opposition to women getting a fair chance in life. In the early 1900s, women had very few rights and largely went without a political voice. At the start of the 20th Century, the majority of women had a very stereotypical role in society. If they were married, they stayed at home to look after their children while their husband worked. Only if they were single might women be expected to be employed, and even then it was usually as a waitress or maid. Fast forward to today and thankfully British society is a very different place. Nowadays, young women quite rightly expect to be able to go to university should they want to, embark on a career of their choice, and decide for themselves whether or not to get married. In 2010, figures published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed that the majority of young women in England are going to university – a far cry from the 1980s when only about one in ten young women went into higher education. While there’s much to celebrate, things are not as healthy in the entrepreneurial world. Only about 30 per cent of the UK’s self-employed are women, with around 15 per cent of British enterprises majority-led by women. On average, men are two-and-a-half times more likely to become entrepreneurs. In Britain, we need to be doing more. Research by Prowess found that women in the US are twice as likely to start their own business than women in the UK – if Britain could achieve something similar, it’s estimated that almost three quarters of a million more businesses would be generated. As a nation, we need to do all we can to help young women get the opportunities they need to start their own ventures. To do this we need to do more than just ensure they can get a job: We need to empower them to create jobs and take on employees of their own. This is something we at the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy recognise as being fundamental to Britain’s economic future, and central to our mission of training and motivating young people to discover their entrepreneurial potential. By teaching our students real hands-on business skills, such as pitching and presenting, negotiating and networking, we help prepare them for an entrepreneurial future. Currently, we have a ratio of 60:40 male-to-female students at our colleges. We’re immensely proud of the impact we’ve had on Britain’s young people, but we want to see a greater uplift in the number of young women coming through our doors. Events like International Women’s Day remind us that while as a society we’ve come a long way, there’s still plenty for us to do to ensure that women are not left behind. Many past initiatives have focussed on what can be done to remove the barriers to women entering the workplace – the glass ceilings and sticky floors. It’s time to look at what more we can do to help young women determine their futures and give them every opportunity to succeed. Alice Barnard is chief executive of the Peter Jones Foundation, the organisation which runs the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy. Join us on May 15 at the London Hilton on Park Lane for the second Women of the Future Summit, which brings together political and business leaders, entrepreneurs and champions of change for a half-day of invigorating debate.
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