By Holly Sutton on 5th May 2016
Five important business headlines that ‘never were’ last week
A shorter and slicker version of this piece is now in PR Week.
1. “Female-led firms outperform those led by men”
2. “Britain loses £23 billion from trail in female entrepreneurship vs US”
3. “More women cite “personal reasons” vs. men’s “business failure” when winding down companies – why?”
4. “Women business owners set on growth at least as successful as male owners”
5. “UK rates of female to male entrepreneurship in bottom quartile globally”
The headlines that never were.
Instead, and I won’t blame you if you missed it, the Federation of Small Business (FSB) report on Women in Enterprise, the untapped potential, which could have had any of the above headlines, ran as:
A press release with this headline was given the Sunday Mail after the report launched, which led to a led to a piece saying “We must do more for women entrepreneurs, says motorcycle boss who’s heading a new taskforce”. It briefly mentioned that women business bosses would do better if they had a bit more confidence and could better balance family life.
The motorcycle boss mentioned is Helen Walbey, a woman I was fortunate enough to meet at the inaugural meeting of the Women in Enterprise UK meeting at RBS a few weeks back. She is in fact the first female to publish a report for the FSB as portfolio chair, that’s a story in itself.
On contacting the FSB press office to get the story behind this lack of story, a press officer said they couldn’t go with the most newsworthy angle as it wouldn’t meet the policy and public affairs aims it had set.
We work for a lot of membership organisations that are hand in glove with government to drive forward much needed change on complex issues, so I get this point. But I think there’s still a lot more they could have done with the report on the day of its launch and wonder why this opportunity was missed? What’s the point of writing a report if you’re not going to try and get your targeted audience of influential people to read it? Ministers and other key influencers mostly read headlines. Less, detailed reports. Otherwise they’d get little done.
I would like to better understand why the FSB believes the impact of this report, for its members, would be lessened if one of the headlines I listed above was read out on the Today programme, bought to life graphically by the FT or featured in the business sections of the Telegraph or Times.
Indeed, the FSB, which as a phenomenal testament to their lobbying power had a hand on almost every amendment affecting SMEs in the recent budget, knows far better than me how to influence Government on this issue. So I’m left puzzled.
On analysing the FSB’s more recent headlines such a ‘low-key approach’ is atypical to the its standard media relations style. A read of their last headlines on other reports the past week shows: “FSB warns of self-employment savings time bomb” and “FSB concerned over sluggish economic growth”, these are both equally important and divisive issues that will require cohesive policy and public affairs efforts. So why do they get punchier headlines and as a result, terabytes more airtime on earned media? It’s common knowledge that ‘launches taskforce’ is tantamount to spike bait even on the driest August news day.
What is it about the horny issue of female entrepreneurship that has made the FSB go weak at the knees?
Well I’m interested in finding out, so I’m joining Helen Walbey on her taskforce @FSB_women to find out. You have to be in it to win it.
As the sole female owner of a UK PR business that has a specialism in enterprise for almost seven years, and a former economics reporter and media adviser to the European Parliament’s Women’s and Gender Equalities committee, I’m no stranger to these issues. But in this report’s analytical rip through the limited data sets that are available to analyse the state of women owned businesses in the UK, and drawing up some recommendations to improve it, I found a lot to be commended. Findings that I chimed with, sought to challenge and most importantly, as a business owner, inspired me.
Did you know that there is no evidence to suggest that “women entrepreneurs who aim to grow will be any less successful than male business owners” and “when firm characteristics, including sector and business age…are taken into consideration women-owned firms outperform those owned by men”. I didn’t before reading this report. If that’s not a rallying call to government to do more to access a £23 billion pot of gross value, if the state of UK female enterprise caught up to that of women in the US, I don’t know what else is.
We need to recognise that we have a problem with enterprise for women in this country. Successive governments have pulled apart the infrastructure that supports it, renamed it , reshaped it and made something that absolutely needs to be simple into something incredibly complex. I know, I’ve tried to access it and one could lose your business in the time it times to find a gem of support in the quagmire of broken links and funding pots.
As a result, it’s thin up top for women’s businesses. In 2014 I was fortunate enough to be selected for an excellent Goldman Sachs funded growth programme called 10,000 Small Businesses Programme. It chose companies on their potential for growth. It, like many of the other previous cohorts, had only 20% female entrepreneurs on it. This I was told, reflected the percentage of applicants to the course. Why and what can we all do differently to improve this state of affairs?
This report has some answers to this question. That’s why I’m confused and somewhat dismayed as to why the FSB hasn’t given this report a stronger centre stage in its campaigns. There wasn’t even a social media campaign capturing commentary on the report, not a video or social campaigning call to arms for entrepreneurs in sight. But by getting men and women on board with this report’s important messages and taking action themselves, we could together release immediate ‘Untapped Potential’ for UKplc as named in this report.
I for one am going to continue pushing this excellent report out to more people to read, I’m also going to raise my own ambition and push myself forward as a visible role model for women business owners. Continue to lobby for better data collection on business ownership and do the best to aggregate and share the stories of the available data we have.