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The value of gender equality in business

As Brexit approaches, gender equality is critically important, says Luke Davis, CEO and founder of private investment firm IW Capital

Theresa May’s reign has become synonymous with the great Brexit debate – a period of intense political upheaval and the subsequent impact on the UK economy.

As an investment firm focused on progressing the entrepreneurial economy, the UK’s political and economic landscape bears significant influence on exactly how this is engineered, steered heavily in current times by the daily events that Brexit yields.

Equally, ensuring the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit is not impeded by recent Brexit rhetoric, and instead, encouraged by the opportunities that post-Brexit enterprise may bring, the focus heavily shifts onto the individuals who will lead the charge for SME growth in the coming years and beyond.

With much focus on gender equality across the finance sector specifically, one of the catalysts has been provided by a number of FTSE 100 companies, who pledged to follow the Women in Finance Charter, inspiring a movement for change in the private sector.

Despite this shift influencing big businesses towards greater enterprise-based equality for women in business, it is still unclear whether or not this has so far translated to the SME arena, and more importantly, to the nation’s vital community of entrepreneurs.

Financial services contributed £119 billion to the UK’s economy in 2017 and looking in a wider sense, SMEs who are not covered by the Women in Finance Charter, represent 98% of private sector business in the UK.

This sector provides £1.9 trillion to the economy and accounts for around 16 million jobs. Not only does it provide so many jobs but it is also creating jobs at a rate that is three times higher than that for big corporations.

Growing talent pool

As the SME arena continues to grow its success will be dependent on the quality of the people who drive it forward. Clearly drawing from a larger pool of talent means that the sector’s standards are higher throughout.

With this in mind, it is going to be imperative moving forward that the Government provides adequate support for women trying to get into business, both in founding start-ups and in taking on leadership roles.

For years it has been clear that at board levels and the highest levels of business, there exists a stark inequality with a huge amount of the jobs taken up by men.

Often the problem is not only that companies are refusing to hire women but also there is a lack of women applicants at this level, further perpetuating the problem.

Encouraging aspiration to reach these upper echelons of business is key to ensuring that business and the SME sector continues to grow and bolster the UK economy. This really comes down to ensuring that the right opportunities exist at grass-roots level in business for women.

The only way that this problem is going to be addressed effectively in the near future is through proactive changes to the legislative and business landscapes. Public attitudes and the ambition of talented women will go some way to providing greater equality but not at the rate that is required.

This applies not only in an ethical sense of delivering equality but also in supporting the economy of which neither can be left up to chance. By ignoring the problem of gender inequality, the Government risks not getting the most out of 50% of the talent, ideas and passion that make UK finance, business and SMEs such a world player.

The investment and alternative finance communities need to reflect the diversity they represent in the private sector and the Government should be using landmark announcements such as the Budget to further its work in the Women in Finance Charter.

With Brexit around the corner, it is imperative to ensure that everyone is adequately supported to reach their potential and support the UK on the international stage. Without this, the UK economy could struggle to keep up with the global economy in the years post-Brexit.

As coverage continues to focus on the deal or no-deal situation we find ourselves in, it’s important that these key issues are not forgotten about or lost in the noise of headlines and politics. Our foreign policy, of course, is not irrelevant in the path to economic security but neither should domestic focus seem irrelevant to the public or policy makers.

It is easy to see that the EU divorce might have a huge impact on the economy and jobs, but whatever happens in March is almost by the by in this context of arriving at equality and supporting SMEs.

The future of what is the backbone of the UK economy will undoubtedly be affected by the lack of action that we have seen so far this year throughout the Autumn Budget announcements and around this period of great uncertainty and upheaval.

Ultimately it is up to the Government to ensure that business changes and that it doesn’t neglect the crucial issue of gender equality.

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