Why are women being patronised in business?

I love the Investec Summits – no other event for entrepreneurs comes close to being in the same league, for both quality and atmosphere.

One other thing stands out, however, whenever I look around: just how far we are for equality in the business world. Women are few, both as delegates and as speakers.   From the undoubtedly superb list of nearly 40 speakers at the Investec Entrepreneurs’ Summit, there were only six women, led by the redoubtable Julie Meyer, who remains an icon boundary breaker. Not just that, but Julie Meyer is a woman known for her specialist skills in financial acumen. 

Some may find it odd that I underline this. But in recent months I have had a couple of very preliminary discussions with other entrepreneurs about possible partnerships in my business, which I had been considering at the time (no longer!). In one, I outlined quite clearly where I saw my own strengths and weaknesses, the latter being predominately in day to day leadership, HR and administration. 

It was then explained to me that they would bring expert financial knowledge to the table, to get the costs right. I wondered what part of the male brain so automatically assumed that I, as a woman, could not cope with money that they simply did not hear what I said at all? During another of these forays, I was discussing the state of financial play of my business with a male financial advisor. He responded to one of my questions with: “Good girl!” I was surprised not to get a little pat as well.

Meyer is perhaps the ultimate financial business woman of our time. But for all that, there are others of us on a more mundane level who can read a balance sheet. How very terrifying that it was so easy to run into this male point of view.

We had an equal view of the unbalanced female representation in the world of entrepreneurship from the Smart.com diamond Jubilee Poll, where out of 60 greatest entrepreneurs, a paltry 14 were women. Oddly, Meyer was not on the list – or perhaps not as the 60 were established by a general public vote where the financial world does not figure quite so largely.

I do not expect there to be an equal number of women either at the Summits or on such polls, for much the same reasons that I am opposed to enforced quotas in the boardroom. Although I’m pro-equality, it comes down to maths again: a large number of women do drop out of their careers to have children and there are therefore less in the market place.

However, it is very clear that we desperately need women like Investec Entrepreneurs’ Summit speaker Bev Hurley, who campaigns so passionately for women in business and helps an innumerate number of women entrepreneurs and business people in Britain today.  It is equally clear we need to celebrate Meyer and other women for their financial skills until we change the appalling picture of the little woman incapable of managing money. 

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.

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