HR & Management

No 10 and the glass ceiling: token gestures and hot air

3 min read

16 September 2011

This week a memo, written by officials in Number 10 on how to drum up more support from business women, was leaked. Alas, it contains nothing more than token gestures.

As part of the government’s wider strategy to win back support from female voters, a policy document leaked earlier this week made mention of women in business as a target for government action – but failed to highlight any sensible courses of action to enhance support for women entrepreneurs.

Far from proposing any tangible measures to increase women’s representation as business owners, or provide tailored support to help those who are already in business to unlock their economic potential, the proposal rests on the idea of recognition and celebration, kicking off with a summit at Number 10. 

Call me cynical but, having withdrawn funding for tailored business support for women – whose needs are markedly different from those of men – this sounds like a token gesture from the coalition government. 

If only such a summit would offer a real opportunity for consultation, two-way dialogue and most of all, implementation, it would not come across solely as an image-boosting exercise. Shamefully – it was reduced to just that, having been described as a PR “hook”; one of several actions to enhance the “credit for the good things we have done already”. 

As a UK Ambassador for women’s enterprise and successful serial entrepreneur, I have witnessed the rapid decline of business support that caters for women’s needs. Yes we do juggle countless responsibilities and play a multitude of roles, we are motivated by wider factors than money, but we do have the ambition and potential to grow our companies. A one-size-fits-all approach will not create more successful businesswomen and it won’t create private sector growth and future job creation.

The leaked memo outlines ideas to engage female voters – well, we’re listening, and we’re waiting to be involved in the policy process. 

I hope that underneath the spin are genuine intentions to do more for women in business – to recognise the vast untapped economic potential as opposed to voting potential, to develop policies in consultation with business people who know what works, and to deliver the tangible, practical – and highly cost-effective – measures which need to be put in place to ensure ongoing support. 

Summit or no summit, the coalition is at risk of further alienating the female population if it doesn’t engage in open, transparent dialogue and then implement, fast.

Bev Hurley is the founder of Enterprising Women, a networking community providing comprehensive business support and specialist information to help women start up and grow their businesses. It has 8,000 entrepreneurial women members nationwide.