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Santander launches mentoring for women in business

Three female entrepreneurs on how a similar scheme provided a crucial boost to their ventures

A quarter of the UK's high-growth companies have a female founder but just 9 per cent of the money invested into businesses in 2019 went to female-founded firms, according to a recent report. 

Moreover, this number has declined from 15 per cent in 2015 and 2016 - which the report, Female Entrepreneurs by data company Beauhurst, claims is largely due to the increasing number of mega-deals secured by all-male teams. 

However, the Investing in Women Code, which was launched last July, is on a mission to change that by improving female entrepreneurs' access to tools, resources and finances. And mentoring schemes are considered one of the key requirements to tackle these issues.

Such schemes designed to promote women's career opportunities are on the rise as more firms pledge to support female entrepreneurship and boost gender equality as part of their commitment to the code.

Social impact organisation Women Ahead says 'effective mentoring is not only turning the gender dial, but is paving the way for a more inclusive, connected and diverse workforce and society'.

The group is powering Santander UK's new Women Business Leaders mentoring programme, which will see 90 female business owners paired up with a mentor from March to November this year. 

The scheme is designed for the 'next generation of fast-growth female entrepreneurs' who will be matched with someone from a different sector, who can support them as they consider the next stage of their business and professional growth. 

Louise Robinson of Santander said mentoring is especially important for female small business owners as one of the strongest determinants for success is about being able to take considered risks, be resilient and learn quickly when things go wrong. 

She said: 'Working through issues, discussing opportunities, developing links and a support network with other entrepreneurs can be hugely valuable. 

'It’s important that these budding female entrepreneurs have access to regular guidance from business professionals who have tried and tested methods of running an enterprise.

'Mentoring is about providing a catalyst to change which may be small or large; it helps you to see and explore a destination but doesn’t give you a detailed map of how to get there. 

'It provides an opportunity for both mentor and mentee, something that can make a great difference to your life and your career.' 

'There has been some headway on breaking the barriers for women in business, but there is still a long way to go before we see gender parity.' 

Liz Dimmock of Women Ahead added: ' I’m delighted to see mentoring evolve, taking its rightful place as a powerful tool for creating positive change for individuals and organisations.'

'The power of mentoring in the context of developing gender diversity is something I have a real passion for and belief in, and I’m seeing an increasing emphasis on mentoring as a solution to the gender balance challenge. 

'Many organisations are investing time and effort into mentoring programmes as they strive to develop the pipeline and parity of women in leadership roles.' 

Barriers for female entrepreneurs  

The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship which came out early last year and said the disparity between female and male entrepreneurs was 'unacceptable and holding the UK back' also highlighted the importance of mentoring.

It found three separate but reinforcing cultural barriers that affect women at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. 

The first two - that women have higher risk-awareness and are more cautious about starting or scaling a business, and that women are less likely to believe they possess entrepreneurial skills - were highlighted as particular concerns for women yet to start a business. 

The third was that women are less likely than men to know other entrepreneurs or have access to sponsors, mentors or professional support networks. 

While 31 per cent of women surveyed highlighted the importance of networking as a business skill, compared to 21 per cent of men, only 30 per cent of women said they already knew an entrepreneur versus 38 per cent for men. 

It also found that traditional networking methods were a challenge and a lack of professional networks was perceived as a particularly important barrier by newer female entrepreneurs.

Shared experiences

However, new schemes are changing that.  

Sky has offered mentorships alongside financial support for women developing technology projects for its Women in Technology Scholars initiative since 2017.

Rachel Clancy, Olga Kravchenko and Mary Murphy were three of the five winners of the scholarship in 2019 and each received £25,000 and mentoring to develop their ideas.

Clancy, co-founder of Tea Creature Designs, which developed the game A Hero's Guide To Gardening, said mentoring can make a huge difference if you don't come from a business background.

'There are some things you’d only know from experience and having someone whose been there and done it all already can save you from mistakes and help you think about opportunities you might not have been aware of,' she said.

' I’ve been given really valuable advice about different channels to think about for marketing and how to get ready for launching. 

'At one point I was trying to make a decision about hiring a contractor and having a mentor to talk to made me feel confident that I was making the choice from an informed position.'

Furthermore, Kravchenko, who founded Musemio, an education virtual reality service for children, said mentors are good for getting tailored advice as getting too much generic advice can be overwhelming.

She added: 'A mentor can not only give you more tailored advice, but they can push you towards knowing the right questions to ask when an opportunity arrives. 

'In our experience, we wasted a huge amount of time on generic advice in our first half a year, particularly with legal and finance queries - but this was all part of our learning process and is a natural journey for most starting a small business.

'Mentors provide support and a network of people who are ready to push you out of your comfort zone, to make you a better entrepreneur, and to become more resilient to new challenges.' 

Meanwhile, Mary Murphy, who founded her business at just 15 said having a mentor helped her face the challenges associated with being a young woman in the male-dominated agriculture sector.

Her business Make a Mark designs and manufactures sheep marking guns and is currently moving into the agri-tech industry.

'It’s been incredibly helpful to have a mentor especially as we’re trying to grow the business,' she said.

'They can help you tackle those key business decisions you’re unsure about, make you aware of any regulations or guidelines you should be addressing, but they also invest their time in you so you have that dedicated one-to-one time where you can openly talk about the challenges you are facing. 

'In turn, they can share their own experiences with you. It’s nice to know you have experienced the same barriers and hear how they have overcome them or helped others address the situation.'

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