Call to ‘tear down barriers’ facing women in business

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A PACKAGE of measures to help women “fulfil their potential” in business was announced by the Home Secretary yesterday.

Theresa May stressed the importance of role models for women as she outlined a scheme that will see 5,000 volunteer mentors trained by September 2012.

She said the training and support material used by the new business mentors, to help those wanting to set up or expand their own business, will reflect the specific needs of women.

“Business people tell us that they want to take advice from other business people,” said Mrs May. “So the business mentors will be experienced individuals, who can provide tailored support and advice. They will be a huge help to women entrepreneurs.”

Mrs May, who is also Women and Equalities Minister, told businesswomen at the Royal Commonwealth Society in London that the Government was to introduce a Women’s Business Council to advise the Government.

She said: “For too long, as a country, we have failed to make the most of the skills, experience and talents of women. And despite the difficult decisions that need to be taken, there is much we can do to make sure that our economy emerges stronger and fairer, and operates in the interests of the working majority.

“Change will not be easy and it will not be quick. It will take a comprehensive effort to tear down the barriers women tell us they face.”

The speech comes after a report warned that women’s rights are under unprecedented attack amid growing evidence that the Government’s austerity measures are “turning back time” on equality.

The Home Secretary said she wanted to help all women, not just the highest earners, by increasing flexible working and flexible parental leave.

She stressed that it “isn’t just a question of fairness, it’s also one of economic strength”.

She said: “Too many women who are working part-time don’t feel they can go full-time, or those with a great business idea do not feel able to strike out on their own and start their own company.

“This means that too many women do not fulfil their true potential. The policies I have talked about today, like flexible working and flexible parental leave, will help. They will make a real practical difference.”

Mrs May called for parents to have the right to choose who worked and who looked after children, and also called for flexible working to be made available to all.

She added: “If we fully used the skills and qualifications of women who are currently out of work, it could deliver economic benefits of £15bn to £21bn per year. If women started businesses at the same rate as men, there would be an additional 150,000 extra start-ups each year in the UK.

“And if the UK had the same level of female entrepreneurship as the United States, there would be approximately 600,000 extra women-owned businesses, contributing an extra £42bn to the economy.”

She also said she wanted a society where young girls aspire to be politicians or businesswomen, rather than glamour models.

Mrs May said: “We need to tackle the sexualisation of childhood, which means that too many young girls grow up aspiring, not to become successful female athletes, politicians or business people, but glamour models or reality TV stars. We need to improve body confidence, so young women realise their future will be defined by their abilities, not by what they look like.”

She said of the new policies: “The prize – a more competitive economy, a more equal society and personal prosperity – is worth fighting for.”

“That’s why I am determined to do everything in my power to put women at the heart of our economic future.”