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Aldermore panel debate uncovers key challenges for women in business

POSTED: 7th March 2014
IN: Business news
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To mark Saturday's International Women's Day, last week Aldermore brought together a group of prominent female entrepreneurs for a live panel debate on the challenges for women in business.

The discussion, available to view here, gave a nuanced view of the current situation, with most of the panel agreeing the environment is improving, though some discrimination remains.

"When we first started a restaurant 23 years ago there were a few frowns about how three twenty-something women could open a restaurant," admits Sweet Mandarin co-founder Lisa Tse.

undefinedAldermore's Group Marketing Director Sharon Mandeville tells a similar story, particularly given the importance of contacts in the banking industry at the beginning of her career.

"There was a lot of the sort of the old boy's network. I think that's breaking down, it's far less now," comments Mandeville, adding, "That's why it's exciting to work for a challenger bank. We don't have that here, we're gender indifferent."

Despite these challenges, Shoot Cut Go Director Nancy Dykins feels it is somewhat patronising to presume female entrepreneurs need additional support, stating it never occurred to her that her gender would be a problem.

 

As Tse sees it, the relative impact of discrimination can be much less for entrepreneurs than for women in a corporate culture. In Tse's own words:

"When it's your own business you just work in your own bubble. It's your own world, so unless you put that glass ceiling on yourself, that's the only person that's going to put that barrier on you."

Versity Clothing founder Charlotte Walsh also feels it is important for female entrepreneurs to support each other through sharing knowledge, helping to bridge the gaps in each other's experience.

"You do have to wear many hats when you run your own business so I think it's important to go out there and speak to other local women in business," relates Walsh.

undefinedThis collaborative mind-set is of particular significance since, as Dykins points out, a recent survey found 27 per cent of women have been discriminated against by other women.

With this in mind, Tse admits as a successful female business owner, she feels a responsibility to set a good example for other women, commenting, "We don't actually go and say change the world, that sort of motto, but a lot of people do see us as role models and we have to live up to that now."

As a whole, the entrepreneurs felt finding balance between work and home life is one of the hardest challenges for women in business, and can often require a level of sacrifice.

Dykins also mentions that from her perspective as an employer, the legal frameworks in place to protect women's rights in this area can often backfire.

"Ironically it can be the fear of the legislation that's now in place to protect women that can be quite off-putting for an employer to employ women," shares Dykins.

For Mandeville, flexibility to allow employees to manage their personal and professional commitments is a key to overcoming this hurdle, for both male and female staff. "Because you're willing to be flexible, they'll be flexible back," Mandeville reports, affirming, "Your family has got to come first."

undefinedAldermore would like to invite other individuals to share their experiences on whether women remain at a disadvantage in the world of business.

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