The government plans to recruit 5,000 business mentors for female entrepreneurs, equalities minister Theresa May will announce later this morning.
May will reveal the initiative in a speech at the Royal Commonwealth Club as part of the government’s aim to increase women’s contribution to the recovery of the economy, according to the Financial Times.
“As a government, we want the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business, and for the next decade to be the most entrepreneurial and dynamic in Britain’s history – women can be at the heart of that,” May will say.
May’s announcement will reveal the government’s plans to provide resources for 5,000 mentors to be trained to help women set up their own businesses, in addition to the government’s ongoing work to boost flexible working and improve the parental leave system.
Increasing the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK to match the level in the US would add an extra £42 billion to the economy each year, she will say.
Wendy Tan-White, founder of website solutions company Moonfruit and entrepreneur of the year at this year's Everywoman in Technology awards, welcomed the announcement.
'It's a positive step forward. Women-led business is one of the fastest growing entrepreneur sectors globally. It's an opportunity the UK does not want to miss, given 51% of UK GDP is driven by small business.
"I've certainly been supported by mentors throughout my career. Richard Duvall who launched Egg was first my boss then supported my move into setting up Moonfruit, through regular coaching and seed capital. Today I have a set of female peer mentors and a phenomenal coach who was originally an entrepreneur herself. They provide perspective and experience that have often led to business and life-changing decisions," she said.
However, the Fawcett Society, the equalities campaigner, does not believe that the government is doing enough to help working women.
It believes that the government’s approach, so far, to reducing the country’s deficit goes as far as “turning back time” on women’s equality.
In a report published today, ‘A Life Raft for Women’s Equality’, it recommends, for example, a restoration of support for childcare costs for low-income families to pre-April 2011 levels, and the ring-fencing of funding for Sure Start children’s centres to help women going back into employment.
“Women have not faced a greater threat to their financial security and rights in living memory. Decades of steady, albeit slow, progress on equality for women is being dismantled, as cuts to women’s jobs and the benefits and services they rely on turn back time on women’s equality,” said Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society.
“Fewer women working; a widening gap in pay between women and men; entrenchment of outdated gender roles at work and at home and women being forced into a position where they must increasingly rely on a main breadwinner or the state for financial subsidy – this is the picture that emerges when the many policies of economic austerity are stitched together.”
But Bird hopes that May’s speech will indicate a turnaround.
“There are signs of hope that the government realises its economic strategy isn’t working for women, and we hope today’s speech signals a willingness to change course,” she added.