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Attendees at WomanMade event

Women from across the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund’s network gathered for an insightful and inspiring event as part of NPIF’s ‘WomanMade’ campaign. The event aimed to bring together women in business from amongst the region’s most talented and driven female entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals to encourage conversation around the key issues women are facing in the modern business environment.

Held at the British Business Bank offices in Sheffield, the event focused on three key themes: access to finance, holding positions of leadership, and building careers in historically male-dominated industries. The aim was to identify the challenges women face in these areas and discuss potential solutions.

The event kicked off with a warm welcome from discussion chair, Keira Shepperson, Director of Regional Funds at the British Business Bank, and an introduction to the three themes. The attendees, who were experts in their respective fields, shared their personal experiences and insights, which set the tone for a lively and engaging discussion.

The first theme, access to finance, was a hot topic, and it quickly became clear that many female entrepreneurs struggle to secure funding, especially in the early stages of their businesses. Sophie McCumskey, founder of Practically Family, a bespoke childcare service to suit the needs of modern life was particularly passionate about this. Sophie highlighted that the childcare industry is not seen as a growth business, and that is reflected in her struggle to gain access to finance.

Businesswomen like Margaret Bradshaw, founder of My Marketing Button, agreed that accessing finance was difficult – especially in the early stages of the business as it is difficult to bring tangible results that justify investment before having the means to get their business up and running.  Challenges in gaining investment is a barrier all entrepreneurs face. However, surveys have repeatedly revealed that women are more adversely affected than their male counterparts, and attendees discussed why this is the case, and methods to combat it.

Both entrepreneurs highlighted the benefit of receiving investment from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, from the positive impact of the funding in supporting and enabling the growth of their businesses to the guidance they received from fund managers.

One of the key aims of NPIF is to help break down the barriers that women face in accessing finance and provide women business leaders with the financial support networks to flourish and enable them to bring innovative ideas to life.

Prior to the event, NPIF conducted a survey to understand what women in business perceived as being some of the most significant challenges they faced in their careers. 42% of participants considered gender bias in hiring and promotion as the most significant challenge for women in the workplace amongst participants.

Debbie Francis OBE, Chair of Lancashire LEP touched on this during the discussion, highlighting the role of gender bias when it comes to making the final decision of which business to invest in. Investors will often turn to the businessperson who seems most confident. Theodora Newman, Policy & Strategy Manager at the British Business Bank supported this point, noting that work needs to be done to encourage investors to fund woman-led businesses. In Debbie’s experience, women are more cautious, considered, and can be misinterpreted as being less confident in comparison to their male counterparts. Debbie summed up her point in a call for investors to move away from assessing a pitch by social constructs like personality traits, but to determine the best pitch by merit alone.

The second theme, holding positions of leadership, sparked a fascinating debate. The attendees acknowledged that women face unique challenges in this area, such as the gender pay gap. However, they also highlighted the importance of women supporting each other, seeking out mentors, and developing a strong personal brand to stand out in a crowded market. Joanne Whitfield from FW Capital, an NPIF fund manager called attention to the importance of role models, commenting “[Mentorship] is important. It’s much easier to be it if you can see it.”

Though 71% of NPIF survey participants did not have numerous female role models in their organisation, they were hopeful in the future, agreeing that the pace of women securing leadership roles is moving quickly, and will become more visible in the future.

The third theme, building careers in historically male-dominated industries, was equally thought-provoking. Angela Taylor, from Castings Technology International which has also received NPIF investment, stressed the importance of being persistent, confident, and true to oneself in order to succeed in male-dominated sectors like manufacturing. She emphasised, however, “It’s not just women that need to make changes – men need to be a part of that too”. The discussion encouraged women to seek out role models and mentors, and to take advantage of networking opportunities to expand their horizons.

Sarah Hex, from Mercia, another NPIF fund manager, spotlighted the progress the business community has made already, highlighting that it has overcome many of the challenges previous generations endured, and that generations to come will face fewer obstacles in their path thanks to the proactive efforts of female business leaders across the region and events like NPIF’s ‘WomanMade’ in bringing them together.

Throughout the event, there was a palpable sense of camaraderie and support among the attendees. Women from across the NPIF network shared their stories and offered advice and encouragement to each other. It was clear that the event achieved its goal of empowering and inspiring women in business, whilst providing food for thought in what actions individuals could take to bring about greater change for women in their industry.

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.

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.

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