Do we need another “day”?

I only ask as today (Wednesday, November 15) was apparently designated National Women’s Enterprise Day.

It may have passed you by that such a day had been organised, along with all the other spurious “days” that seem to get added to our calendar each year. Personally I’ve decided to file National Women’s Enterprise Day alongside National Thrush Awareness Week (the infection, not the bird), National Impotence Day and National Take Your Daughter’s Pet Hamster Bobby to Work Month.

I made that last one up, in case you are wondering.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about attempts to encourage more women entrepreneurs. Far from it in fact.

I’m just a little weary about the need to organise a “day”, a “week” or a “month” to drum up enthusiasm for a particular cause or issue. Call my cynical, but I’m not entirely convinced that such days, weeks or months actually do help to raise awareness. Far better to spread such campaigns throughout an entire year, I think, and look to target your audience more effectively.

Anyway, I digress a little.

National Women’s Enterprise Day won government backing, as it should.

Indeed, Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary minister, really seemed to warm to his subject as he claimed that if UK women were as entrepreneurial as their US counterparts, the UK would have 750,000 more businesses (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6146542.stm).

That’s the way to do it, Alan, motivate people by showing them how rubbish they are compared with other countries. That ought to work.

There is a serious point here. Women do still face barriers when attempting to further their careers and those looking to venture out on their own do struggle to be taken seriously.

But there are successes and there is also current research to suggest that it is the women of Britain who are more likely to drum up the finance required to start a business. The study by Dr Jonathan Scott at Aston Business School in Birmingham looks at the barriers small and medium enterprises in raising finance from banks (http://www.abs.aston.ac.uk/newweb/research/publications).

In particular, Dr Scott looks at the influence of personal characteristics such as ethnicity, gender and education. There are some results which might be predicted, such as the difficulties some ethnic groups experience in raising finance. But Dr Scott also finds that women find it easier to raise finance than women.

Many of the points raised during National Women’s Enterprise Day are valid and anything that helps bridge the gender gap should be applauded.

But it is also important to point out that many of the issues highlighted do not just impact on women. The lack of a mentor, poor education background, little or no access to training opportunities and start-up funding do create similar obstacles for large sections of the male population and ethnic minorities.

There is a pressing need to rethink business support, from top to bottom. It needs to be a simplified, flexible service that is better equipped to meet the requirements of those it is seeking to help rather than create more red tape and regulation – as is often the case at present.

More importantly, it needs to be readily available to all would-be entrepreneurs whatever their gender, qualifications and social or ethnic background.

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