Article provided by LJ Silverman, Head of LSE Generate
As someone who works extensively with female entrepreneurs, I’m often asked about the best ways to improve the number of women leaders and founders in business.
Prior to the pandemic, this was a pressing issue, but in the wake of the many challenges we are now facing, it’s even more critical to prioritise, champion and encourage diversity whenever and wherever we can. Although there have been many positive steps forward in recent years, the fact remains that only one in three entrepreneurs in the UK are women and closing this gap could add an additional £250 billion in Gross Value Add to the UK economy, equivalent to four years growth. Following the outbreak of Covid19, there have been further important studies that indicate its potential impact on women in industry. Reports have shown that female staff are the most affected workers by the ongoing crisis and PWC’s latest ‘Women In Work Index’ has warned that due to the pandemic, women’s economic empowerment is expected to decline for the first time in a decade.
It must be recognised therefore, that female founders and teams face unique obstacles, particularly now during these difficult times, so there is a greater need to develop ecosystems and frameworks that understand and cater to their specific needs. At the beginning of this month, International Women’s Day provided an opportunity to not only focus on successes and issues but also how we can move forward and create this type of change for the future. To achieve this, it’s crucial to support women currently in industry, as well as encourage the next generation of female founders, leaders and entrepreneurs – and my advice would include the following:
Strengthen networks and connect with mentors and role models
For every industry or startup business stage, there are support networks and groups available that can prove to be invaluable – so get involved or even create one of your own. At The London School of Economics we’re increasing our already substantial efforts to support and provide mentorship to female students and alumni taking part in – or considering inclusion in – our business accelerator programmes. As a result, 60% of the startups in LSE’s Generate accelerator – an intensive programme designed to help impact-driven ventures to scale up – are female founded. The institution has been named as one of the top universities in the world led by women and has also recently launched a new initiative, Women in Leadership at LSE (WILL), which provides female founders with a global network of resources, speakers and mentors, plus access to bespoke workshops and events.
Be flexible and adaptable to change
During the last year, a number of the accelerator startups we work with have had to rethink or pivot their business idea. For many, this has proved to be a challenging but rewarding and enlightening process. In the wake of the pandemic, one of our female co-founded startups for example, developed a business which sent PPE items to NHS workers. As women in business, we are continually faced with various challenges, so it’s necessary to be flexible and adaptable to change, creating opportunities wherever possible. At LSE we’ve also had to do this, adopting a digitally innovative and founder-first approach, in order to help the businesses in our accelerator cohorts navigate their way through unpredictable circumstances.
Believe in your business goals and purpose
When starting or running a business, it’s important to focus on, not only product and profit, but equally how to embed purpose at the core of the company. A shared purpose that you and your fellow team members believe in will provide the glue that holds a startup together, no matter what the journey brings. Across the cohort of businesses taking part in the Aspect Student Accelerator Programme (ASAP) for example – which runs across 8 universities in the UK – 14 of the UN SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) were contributed to, including reducing inequality, promoting good health and creating sustainable cities and communities. We’ve found that this focus on creating social impact through business, not just in the UK but across the world, has encouraged a more diverse range of candidates to our accelerator programmes – including female and BAME participants. So despite the difficulties that we need to overcome, we see this as a positive indication that improved diversity and social impact can work in tandem to create a better future for all of us.
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