Role – the journey begins
This year has been amazing. Yes there’s been some difficult and heartbreaking times supporting my elderly mum, but let’s concentrate on the amazing journey we have had launching Role.
Last February, as the first crocuses pushed through, we completed the business plan and successfully applied for a Government Start up loan to invest alongside our own capital. Thank you School for Startups for supporting us.
This, of course isn’t the first business we have built, far from it, but it’s always sensible to match your own capital with third party investment.
As Spring advanced and the lambs bounced about the fields at the back of our cottage, I started my weekly training in earnest for the West Highland Way, planned for the end of July and I used the time on these long walks to take stock of business progress and plan my priorities for the weeks ahead.
We were fast outgrowing the office in the spare room and luckily in April found some superb office space just 5 mins drive from home and right next to the local supermarket (always useful for a working wife and mum). With the office rented, I was able to increase Jo’s (office manager) hours and get out and about chairing diversity debate across the UK, working in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce in my role as Director and UK representative for Female Enterprise. This year, I have chaired 12 debates with over 800 business leaders and educators on issues ranging from ‘The prohibitive cost of Childcare’ to ‘Careers advice in Education’ and also presented at 6 Women’s Business conferences from Aberdeen to Norwich. The Alfa Romeo (red of course!) now has 45000 miles on the clock and is 18 months old!
Many of the leaders I have met have kindly agreed to become Role Ambassadors and by the Summer 2014, we had 30 ambassadors signed and ready to mentor women taking our Role Chartered Management Institute qualifications, so we could start delivering in earnest.
In June 2015, with the trees and fields now vibrant green, Blackburn College hosted our launch event – a combination of debate and training enjoyed by all. Sunny July saw the successful launch of our ‘Women on the Ladder’ events with delegates being challenged to push boundaries and refocus on their goals. Rewardingly, at the end of July, I pushed my own boundaries by completing the West Highland Way with my eldest daughter Laura.
So….. all the training paid off for me with my 100 mile challenge and all our planning has paid off too with Role. Here we are, one year since our launch and celebrating the support we have been given this year by the many colleagues and friends who have recommended us, introduced us to potential ambassadors, helped us raise our profile and become our valued clients.
Our Role team is expanding and we now have 4 fabulous trainers and 14 experienced business coaches. Our Ambassador network has reached 65 incredible men and women.
Now, as we launch our exciting new website, we are able to promote our Role membership which offers a wide range of resources to aspiring leaders. Our Chartered Management level 5 qualifications, which give women globally recognized leadership qualifications, one to one coaching and executive level mentoring are providing feedback beyond our expectations. The four years of research and piloting have definitely paid off.
We are so excited about year 2, with 2 x July Women on the Ladder events, 2 Diversity debates and 3 Conference presentations already in the diary for the summer.
As our 2nd year dawns, we hope you will join us on our journey, become a Role member, take part in our debates, challenge yourself on our training courses and benefit from the funding we can access to support yours own Leadership journey.
The words of the 1969 Blue Mink hit ‘what we need is a great big melting pot’ were meant to be a beautiful dream of racial harmony, but today, in a world connected by the internet, we need a ‘melting pot’ of employees and business leaders so that both firms and our nation can be globally competitive.
While the issue of representation of women in the workplace is not a new one, it remains just as important today. Statistics show that engagement and advancement of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries are still appalling with only 6% of engineers and 18% of computing degree students at UK universities being female.
For more than 10 years I have championed diversity in the workplace through various non executive roles and in my own business. I was honoured when Nora Senior, President of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), asked me to be the BCC board representative for Women’s Enterprise.
Diversity is at the heart of the BCC’s work – it’s seen through the huge range of industries, regions and people that they and the whole Chamber network represents. And it’s been recognised through the partnerships that the BCC has developed with the Government Equalities Office (GEO).
In 2012 Chambers across the UK and GEO officers together delivered workshops to help SMEs understand their legal obligations around equality, and explain the benefits of diversity in the workplace. In May 2013, Jo Swinson, the then Minister for Business, Women and Equalities, launched the resulting BCC report in the form of a booklet, Business is Good for Equality.
Through my role as the representative for Women’s Enterprise I have chaired numerous debates with more than 500 business leaders and FE and HE providers across the UK. No matter the topic, the conversation always steers towards changing social perceptions of the female role, as well as the importance of good careers advice. I have also spoken at women’s conferences and challenged politicians across all parties to get more women into enterprise.
There are many conclusive reports from McKinsey and Co, CMI, Credit Suisse, which highlight again and again the business benefits of diversity. Having a board with more than 30% female members brings some staggering improvements to profit and share value. The Lord Davies report in 2011 recognised this and some three years on and not without some persuasion, all our FTSE 100 companies have at least one female board member.
But what about ensuring gender diversity throughout the talent pipeline? And what if we set targets to improve ratios of recruits in construction, research, I.T and retaining women in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and other male dominated industries, as they advance in their careers?
Recently the BCC joined up with the GEO to deliver a pilot of activity across five individual Chambers across the UK, to form better links between schools and businesses, so that we can encourage more women to consider STEM based careers in the first place.
Based on the debates I chaired throughout 2014, I am working with the BCC to build a network of 500 Diversity Ambassadors who will voluntarily provide 6 hours of Skype mentoring to young female managers and business owners across the UK. We have 60 incredible men and women signed so far, many of whom volunteered following a Chamber debate.
During 2015, we aim to examine the feedback from all the debates which can be used to help the government on current diversity practice in SMEs and offer practical solutions to increase gender diversity across multiple non traditional sectors.
I will continue to represent the BCC at seminars and conferences and together we will challenge government and industry leaders, as the changes necessary to attract and retain many more women into leadership roles need to be driven from the top and cascaded throughout all sectors.
All views expressed in guest blogs are that of the authors, and not of the British Chambers of Commerce.
This blog was originally posted by the British Chambers of Commerce.
If you enjoy my blogs, you can read more of my work in my book available here www.amazon.co.uk/Words-Walks-Wisdom-Wendy-Bowers/dp/1671172353