On Tuesday 18 October, female founders, leaders and entrepreneurs from SMEs across Oxfordshire came together for OxLEP Business’ inaugural ‘Oxfordshire Women in Business Gathering’.

Continuing OxLEP Business’ prioritisation of building ‘women in business’ networks and encouraging collaboration amongst like-minded female businesswomen – the event saw the opportunity to celebrate the county’s outstanding female talent, wonderful business relationships forged to date, and the evident appetite for female empowerment across the region.

The event provided the opportunity to network and make valuable connections, alongside hearing from guest speakers on subjects affecting female entrepreneurship, including Women’s Leadership and Empowerment Coach Ela Wassell, who shared insight into how women can ‘strengthen their own foundations’ in order to build a better world.

Andrea Collins, OxLEP Business’ eScalate programme’s very own programme advisor, specialising in support to growing and scaling businesses, offered an overview of the local business climate and the support that is out there to help women in business in Oxfordshire thrive.

Kirsty Van Den Bulk, one of OxLEP Business’ clients and owner of her own self-titled business as a video strategist coaching organisations, small businesses and individuals to maximise their video marketing strategy and ensure effective Video and Social Media Marketing, also shared her experiences as a female entrepreneur.

The event offered the perfect opportunity to celebrate the ambitious and innovative female entrepreneurs here in Oxfordshire – but also to reflect and unpick the challenges that come alongside this. Whilst the UK is often described as the start-up capital of Europe, this is not the case when it comes to businesses founded by women.

Whilst the last decade has seen a sharp increase in female self-employment, the number of women starting, and scaling businesses remains much lower than that of men – with only 1 in 3 of UK entrepreneurs identifying as female, a gender gap equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses. (Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2019).

So, what are the obstacles to female entrepreneurship? While these vary depending on the stage or intention of the business, access to funding and networks, primary care responsibilities, issues entering the market of specific sectors and accessing certain skills are some of the more commonly cited issues from our female entrepreneurs.

It is vital we support our women in business in a heavily clouded landscape and set a precedent for the cultural and economic shifts required to ensure our female entrepreneurs thrive.

Cohort 8 of the eScalate programme’s ‘Women in Business’ Network and Support sessions are currently ongoing, with the sessions exploring topics including how –– to align business and personal goals, set recovery and growth objectives and how to execute these.

With the challenges already apparent within female entrepreneurship heightened by the substantial changes to the business climate, as caused by the pandemic and EU exit, OxLEP Business recognises the importance of this support specifically for women in business and women starting or considering starting a business in Oxfordshire.

Whilst some progress has clearly been made over the last five years in the representation of women in business, with over a third (34.3%) of FTSE 350 board positions now held by women and the number of women on boards increasing by 50% since 2016 (Hampton-Alexander Review (2021)) – it is clear there is still a significant way to go in encouraging female entrepreneurs to start up, and creating the conditions for women in business to thrive.

Alongside the absolute necessity for equal gender opportunities in business and beyond – up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men. Even if the UK were to achieve the same average share of women entrepreneurs as best-in-class peer countries, this would add £200 billion of new value to the UK economy.

Key feedback from our ‘Women in Business’ Gathering has consistently highlighted the value of community for female entrepreneurs, with the event perpetuating the importance of opportunities for women in business to check-in, connect and build our own networks.

Off the back of the success of our Women in Business Gathering and ongoing eScalate Network and Support sessions, the power of learning from similarly ambitious peers is clearly unparalleled and it is vital Oxfordshire’s business support landscape is fit-for-purpose to continue to facilitate these conversations and ‘bridge the gap’, to ensure a diverse – and thus more successful – Oxfordshire business landscape.

Helen Brind
Growth Hub Manager
OxLEP Business

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