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Simone Roche

How has the pandemic affected female business leaders over the last year – and how can we truly build back better?

We asked Simone Roche, CEO and Founder of Northern Power Women.

In your view, what impact have female-led businesses had on the North as a whole – particularly over the last year?

“I’ve worked with many inspirational businesses over the last year, particularly as part of Peer Network groups. The first group started in February last year and was initially focused on scaling-up, but once the first lockdown started, we had to jump straight into resilience mode very quickly. While it was a really challenging time, it has been fantastic to hear from the businesses that are making an impact globally, scaling up and learning from each other.

“Businesses have been focused on finding opportunity in the challenge, and the resilience and agility shown across sectors has been phenomenal. It’s also been great to see a focus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic-owned businesses, and intentional moves  – particularly in Greater Manchester, through organisations such as the Black United Representation Network – that are focused on earmarking funds for these businesses and supporting greater diversity.”

What can be done to encourage more women to seek investment and financial support – such as the funding options offered by NPIF – to help their businesses thrive? 

“Education is key – business leaders need to be aware of what is out there. In our first Peer Networks group, this was one of the things that we focused on. We brought different people to the table to talk to businesses about investment, and the automatic response was one of caution.

“Sam White, a fantastic entrepreneur, then said – ‘Most of you have got a mortgage, haven’t you? Well, that’s debt.’ We need to change the mindset around investment and financial support. The Alison Rose Review shows how we need to increase access to support, advice and scholarships. Let’s not keep this support hidden away – let’s be really obvious and proactive.”

What advice would you give to a female entrepreneur looking to start a business or scale up in the current climate – both within and outside exploring investment options?

Ask for help – you are not the first person to have gone down this path. Seek inspiration from other people, and build and invest in your network.

“In terms of scaling up your business, don’t be afraid to look into investment options, and make sure that you are speaking to other people that have been on the same path. It is well trodden, and they could help you avoid some common hurdles.”

How do you think the pandemic has affected female business leaders over the last year – and how can we help to ‘build back better’?

“We’re very much focused on building a better future. We’re clearly not going to go back to the way things were, so this is an opportunity to take the best bits and move forward into a new way of working. Female, Black, Asian and minority ethnic-led businesses have been most impacted by this pandemic, and we must make sure that there is more visibility over the opportunities for business leaders.

“As part of our Levelling Up by Powering On Report, we looked at the new traits of leadership, and empathy is one of these winning traits. We don’t want to go back into a world of presenteeism, and we need to realise that there’s not one set way of working or leading a business.

“It’s also really important to have more seats at the table. We need less groupthink and more diverse voices, and to invest in our future talent.”

 The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

Editors Notes

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