Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Chancellor's Winter Economy Plan: Our Reaction

 As we look towards an uncertain Autumn and Winter, it is essential that the self-employed and women-led enterprises are properly supported to protect jobs, incomes and livelihoods.

In today’s (Thursday 24 September) Winter Economy Plan we heard The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announce a further package of financial support measures to protect jobs, but there is still an urgent need to invest in women focused policies and to make sure the previous gaps in support are properly filled in.

Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation

Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation, says: “While the Chancellor’s acknowledgement that we must see parity for the self-employed is of course welcomed, we really must question whether the new schemes outlined today go far enough. Particularly when we consider the scale of the gaps we saw in the earlier Coronavirus business support schemes and the thousands who fell through these, leaving their incomes unprotected and putting businesses, jobs and livelihoods at risk.

“Take, for example, the 40,000+ new mothers who took maternity leave in the last assessment period and were unfairly disadvantaged under the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), and the PAYE and Limited Company Directors who were left without access to an appropriate package of financial support.

“We must also critique the Chancellor’s position that "we cannot safeguard all jobs", based on the theory that if businesses still need to furlough employees now, that these jobs were never viable. This simply is not true. Take those working in the events industry as an example - these jobs would have been viable if there were not a pandemic, and they certainly will be again post-pandemic, but by then it will be too late.”

“There still remains an urgent need to put women focused policies in place. We know that women have been disproportionately and negatively impacted by the pandemic and the support in place must reflect this. What we need to see now is substantial investment to help women to start and grow sustainable businesses, particularly among diverse communities and BAME and disabled women. Further to this, we need to see policy which values women-led sectors, like the beauty and care sectors, which are typically experiencing a slower return to trade. Investing in the UK’s women entrepreneurs will be crucial in re-opening and growing our economy”.

Monday, September 14, 2020

New charity partnership will remove barriers for disadvantaged women across the Liverpool City Region

Two leading charities have come together through a new partnership which will support disadvantaged women across the region.

A national charity has chosen Liverpool-based social enterprise, The Women’s Organisation, to help it reach out to disadvantaged women and improve their chances of finding employment or starting their own businesses.

Smallwood Trust was founded in 1886 to help women overcome financial difficulties and improve their social and emotional wellbeing.

It provides grants and support for women on low incomes who have specific needs and are struggling to make ends meet, or trying to overcome financial problems.

Now, it has teamed up with The Women's Organisation to support women across the Liverpool City Region as part of a three-year partnership.

The Women's Organisation works to support women from wide ranging communities to take a more active role in social and economic life and has supported the ambitions and personal development of more than 60,000 women over the past 24 years.

It helps women in setting up and growing their own businesses, as well as providing personal development training and support to help women grow in confidence and take positive steps towards securing employment.

Smallwood Trust is now supporting The Women’s Organisation to remove barriers for women wanting to access its programmes, or those facing barriers to taking their next steps forward.

The funding from Smallwood Trust will allow The Women’s Organisation to identify women with additional barriers preventing them from realising their ambitions and offer discretionary solutions to meet their needs. 

Through its work, The Women's Organisation can provide the support needed for women to improve their personal situations, either through targeted training courses, or business coaching with the aim of setting up as a small business, or the provision of incubator facilities at its 54 St James Street headquarters in central Liverpool.

The collaboration is timely as the impact that coronavirus has had across the world is felt even more keenly by women, according to The Women’s Organisation.

It has compounded the economic impact, as women and girls tend to work in the industries which have been most heavily impacted by the pandemic, and so they are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty.

With children out of school and nurseries closed in recent months, unpaid care work has increased and heightened the care responsibilities of women, who tend to find themselves as primary caregivers.

Maggie O'Carroll, CEO of The Women's Organisation

Maggie O'Carroll, co-founder and chief executive of The Women's Organisation, said: "The catastrophic effects of COVID-19 have been felt across communities globally, particularly among women who are facing socio-economic crises differently and often disproportionately. Particularly in terms of increasing levels of deprivation, inequality when it comes to balancing care responsibilities, and even abuse as the pandemic forced households into lockdown for several weeks. 

"Now, the need is more acute than ever for us to reach out and offer the support to vulnerable sections of our society and help them to overcome the issues that are holding them back from improving their, and their families' lives.

"We are incredibly grateful to Smallwood Trust for recognising our efforts in providing such support, and joining us to extend that help in such desperate times."

Emma Crump, Head of Evaluation at Smallwood Trust, says: “Smallwood Trust are delighted to partner with The Women’s Organisation to support vulnerable women in Liverpool on their journeys towards financial resilience. 

“The package of support means that women will be able to access vital education and skills whilst overcoming any financial barriers. We look forward to the learning from the partnership and seeing the difference it will make to women’s lives.”

Friday, September 4, 2020

Press Release: Schools have gone back – time to look at the impact of lockdown on female business leaders.

North West female business leaders have spoken of the pressures and challenges of working through lockdown – amid fears of the long-term impact on gender equality in the workplace. 

Members of the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) “Rising Stars” group of female executives have revealed in frank and honest testimonies their experiences of working through lockdown.  The Rising Stars are a network of female directors, executives and professionals from NWBLT companies who have been brought together to support and encourage the careers of women in a bid to increase the gender balance and representation at senior levels in workplaces across the north west.

In the report and interviews the group have spoken of their fears over the long term impact of the pandemic for working women – as well as the effect on gender equality in businesses across the UK.  The pressures of home-schooling, fears over the impending recession and concerns over company measurement of individual performance were all highlighted by members of the panel.  But the professionals have also highlighted some of the positives that can be gained from the unprecedented situation with home working and greater flexibility potentially a boost in the long term for women to advance their careers.

JoĆ«lle Warren, Founder of Warren Partners and NWBLT Board member commented “The NWBLT has long recognised the importance of diversity at the top level of businesses in the North West.  Its “Rising Stars” group was set up to support the aim of increasing gender balance at senior leadership levels across all the members and was starting to have a positive impact.  Covid 19 has increased the challenges facing female executives, particularly those with young children, and we want to highlight this and encourage all businesses to consider the issues raised by this report”.

The NWBLT brings together leaders of national and international businesses with substantial commitments and interests in the North West of England. A unique regional entity, funded entirely by our members, we work to exert our collective influence for the long term good of the region, economically, environmentally, culturally and socially.   

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

North West social enterprise selected as European leader in nurturing inclusive entrepreneurship

The Women’s Organisation has been announced as one of the best in Europe for supporting and nurturing inclusive entrepreneurship.

Selected from over sixty approaches across Europe, the Liverpool-based organisation has been named as one of just three projects which exemplify the very best approaches to supporting women’s entrepreneurship.

The Women's Organisation has supported over 70,000 women
to take a more active role in social and economic life

Initially set up in 1996 to promote business opportunities for women, The Women’s Organisation now delivers a broad range of personal development, education and business support programmes aimed at helping women to become more economically active and personally fulfilled.

The internationally recognised social enterprise has supported over 70,000 women from diverse communities to take a more active role in social and economic life and has helped create more than 4,000 businesses since its inception.

Although its services are predominantly targeted at those in the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester, the organisation works on an international scale to ensure that women's interests are represented across communities, business, and government policy.

Its enterprising qualities have now been recognised in a Europe-wide scheme led by the European Network of Innovation for Inclusion to promote exemplary systems for employability.

The Women’s Organisation was invited to apply as part of the network’s annual call for good practices in the fields of innovation, inclusive employment and entrepreneurship.

It has now been named as one of just three finalists from throughout Europe in the category of ‘supporting women’s entrepreneurship’.

The network judged entries in four areas: Innovation, inspiration, impact, and inclusion.

It looked for evidence of answering new challenges using new methodologies and approaches, a willingness to improve and develop through alliances, the ability to cause changes in people and society, and promote the inclusion of people at risk of social exclusion.

The Women’s Organisation explained how, since it was established, it had targeted women, in particular, who were socially and economically disadvantaged, and provided support services for women and under-represented groups in creating and growing their own businesses.

This is achieved through various programmes including personal development, business planning and business skills training.

Through its 54 St James Street headquarters, which was established as an international centre for women’s economic development – a worldwide first - it also provides business incubation facilities for start-up ventures which are then supported to scale-up.

Another key enabler for the organisation is its ability to work closely with leading academics, thinkers and influencers to inform policy development and improve the wider environment for women entrepreneurs.

Lisa McMullan, Director for Development & Consultancy at The Women’s Organisation
Lisa McMullan, Director for Development & Consultancy
at The Women’s Organisation

Lisa McMullan, the organisation’s Director for Development and Consultancy, said: “It is a hugely significant accolade to be selected as a best practice example of inclusive entrepreneurship at European level and one that we are incredibly proud of. To be hand selected from over sixty approaches from across Europe is testament to our values-driven approach to developing, designing and delivering services.

“Our commitment to inclusion and innovation means that we have been able to make a difference to tens of thousands of individuals over the last twenty four years, supporting them to fulfil their potential and participate more fully in their communities, the labour market and in business.”

And when participants successfully establish their own business ventures or personal goals, she said The Women’s Organisation will seek to highlight their achievements to act as an example, or role model, for others within their communities to follow: “We actively promote women's achievements to raise visibility of the individual and collective potential, and provide opportunities for the women we work with to be role-models for others.”

In naming The Women’s Organisation as a finalist, the network said: “It has been a really hard decision to make, since we have received a total of 64 proposals, but both our technical team, the methodology managers and other members of the evaluation committee have agreed that what The Women’s Organisation is doing provides a very impactful and inclusive response to the challenges women face towards starting a business.”

As part of the process, the finalists will share their winning methods and strategies with a Europe-wide community. For The Women’s Organisation this will include a presentation and tour – physical or virtual – of its headquarters, the opportunity to meet some of the women they have worked with for them to share their stories and discuss the impact of accessing support, and working collaboratively to share examples of successes and challenges, making it easier for similar agencies across the continent to replicate these proven systems and strategies and to work together.

Find out more about the European Network for Inclusion here:


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

New resources set to foster entrepreneurial learning across Europe

Two new EntreComp resources published by The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) this month are set to further enhance entrepreneurial learning across Europe – one of which The Women’s Organisation is proud to have contributed to.

The publications are expected to be a vital resource in developing understanding of EntreComp - The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework - and the ways it can be applied by its international community of users.

EntreComp is a comprehensive, flexible, and multi-purpose framework designed to help individuals and organisations understand what it means to be entrepreneurial and the key enterprising competences needed for personal development, social inclusion, active citizenship, and employment.

The two new publications, ‘EntreComp at Work: The European Entrepreneurship Competence Framework in action in the labour market: a selection of case studies and ‘EntreComp Playbook: Entrepreneurial learning beyond the classroom, are an important next step in the success and development of EntreComp.

Both of these resources build on the work of EntreComp into Action: Get Inspired and Make It Happen’, a practical user guide for the framework which The Women’s Organisation worked in partnership to create last year.

The EntreComp playbook, offers a toolkit of practices, tools and examples which can be used to support the design and delivery of entrepreneurial learning activities for adult learners.

By developing these entrepreneurial competences in adults, the playbook aims to increase their employability by up-skilling the workforce to face the changing needs of the labour market, to support career progression, as well as business start-ups.

EntreComp At Work showcases 10 case studies, including The Women’s Organisation’s own experiences, which highlight the diversity of ways the framework can be used, including: workforce development, design of training, support for start-ups, and personal development plans.

Having started using EntreComp in 2016, it has been an invaluable resource for us at The Women’s Organisation, particularly in the context of creating employment pathways for women across the Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester.

This is achieved through personal development and employability programmes, training and support, as well dedicated programmes for women creating and growing their own businesses, all of which have been mapped against the EntreComp framework.

The Women’s Organisation’s experience of the framework has now been used as a case study in EntreComp At Work.

Lisa McMullan, Director for Development & Consultancy at The Women’s Organisation
Lisa McMullan, Director for Development & Consultancy
at The Women’s Organisation

Lisa McMullan, Director for Development & Consultancy at The Women’s Organisation, says: “The importance of entrepreneurial learning and the competencies which go alongside it cannot be underestimated. This is more apparent than ever as communities, educators, and enterprises across the world face unprecedented challenges, which call for resilience, innovation, and collaboration.

“Here at The Women’s Organisation, we have experienced first-hand how EntreComp inspires and enables these key attributes. From the mapping of our training provision and the creation of new training materials, to the development of our own team and tender development at a strategic level, the framework has been an invaluable tool and has helped shape the development of our organisation and its services.

“As a social enterprise, this means that EntreComp has supported us to deliver transformational services which enable underrepresented and disadvantaged groups to take a more active role in social end economic life.

“We now hope that our experiences and learning will inspire and enable others to uptake the framework and explore how entrepreneurial learning can be fostered within their organisation, or as part of their own personal development.”

The Women’s Organisation’s Enterprise Evolution consultancy team are now working with international partners to support the development of the EntreComp 360 platform, as part of the Erasmus+ programme.

This new project is developing toolkits to further support the learning of those using EntreComp. The EntreComp 360 platform will be a one-stop-shop to provide guidance, collate tools, share practice, learn through online training and connect those working on the practical implementation of EntreComp into learning and work.

To find out more about EntreComp and how you can put the framework to use within your organisation, you can read the user guide: ‘EntreComp into Action: Get Inspired and Make It Happen’.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Ground-breaking new research collaboration is set to shine a light on social enterprises

The Women’s Organisation has announced a national partnership with Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) to commission pioneering research highlighting the role social enterprise can play in economic recovery.

Liverpool-based charity, The Women’s Organisation, will collaborate with ERC, the UK’s leading centre of excellence for research into the growth, innovation and productivity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to deliver new research on social enterprise.

Produced by recognised economic experts across the UK and internationally, the research will offer expert insights into how social enterprises can play a key role in driving economic recovery and support the communities hit hardest by the impact of COVID-19.

Research will be delivered in a special series of five State of the Art (SOTA) reviews, tackling individual key themes in relation to social enterprise, such as employment and skills opportunities, diversity and inclusion, and environmental sustainability. 

Set to be published in Autumn 2020, the SOTA reviews will be launched through an online event and be made readily available for download for policymakers, business-leaders and wider audiences.

SOTA reviews were established by the ERC, which has research bases at both Warwick University Business School and Aston University Business School, in response to a growing demand from policymakers for specialist concise summaries on topical issues within the social economy sector.

The research will draw upon the latest economic evidence, address research gaps, and respond to key policy questions, seeking to provide solutions to the economic, social and environmental problems facing the UK following COVID-19. 

This partnership follows the news that The Women’s Organisation was this year listed in the top 1% of UK Social Enterprises in the SE100 Index, which is the country’s leading source of market intelligence on social enterprise.

Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of The Women’s Organisation, says: “The social economy has long been a stalwart in providing opportunities to disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, a demographic that has been hardest hit by the impact of COVID-19. This ground-breaking research will highlight the key role that social enterprises can play in rebuilding the economy in a financially sustainable way, whilst also supporting individuals and communities who need it most. 

“The Women’s Organisation is committed to supporting a stronger social economy, and we believe now is the time to trust social enterprises to take on the social, economic and environmental challenges currently facing our country. We are delighted to collaborate with the Enterprise Research Centre, a pioneering, internationally renowned research body, on this innovative research that will play a vital role in shaping a fairer, more sustainable and prosperous economy.”

Dr Vicki Belt, Deputy Director of the Enterprise Research Centre at Warwick University Business School, says: “Covid-19 is having a huge impact on businesses and communities across the country. As we look to recovery, social enterprises - which have been a real success story in recent years - have the potential to play a key role. The ERC are delighted to be working in partnership with the Women’s Organisation to produce a new set of ‘State of the Art’ (SOTA) reviews on focusing on social enterprise. We launched our SOTA review series in response to the growing demand from policymakers for concise summaries of knowledge on topical issues in enterprise research. There are now over 40 reviews in the series. This new set of five reviews will fill several important knowledge gaps. 

“Social enterprises generate huge value to the UK, and are often based within some of the most disadvantaged communities, employing some of the most vulnerable people in society. I am looking forward very much to working in partnership with the Women’s Organisation, with its wealth of practical experience in delivering business support and training, to explore critical issues around the role of social enterprise in economic recovery and in building a more a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future.”

Monday, August 10, 2020

Experts forecast “catastrophic economic impact” ahead if Government policy fails to support women’s enterprise


Some of the UK’s leading voices in women’s enterprise have come together in a new report to say that current Government policy has failed to recognise the additional challenges faced by millions of women-led businesses.

As the Government and local authorities across the country launch campaigns to “Build Back Better” and help the UK’s economy recover and grow in a sustainable way post Covid-19, leading voices in business and academia say that more needs to be done to support women’s enterprise and avoid a “catastrophic” social and economic end to 2020.

The Women's Enterprise Policy Group (WEPG) has today (11 August) launched a ‘Framework of Policy Actions to Build Back Better for Women’s Enterprise’ which aims to address the gaps in Covid-19 enterprise support for women.

Evidence from the report indicates that women face a “tsunami” of job losses and business closures, unless the Government develops enterprise policy that is productive and fair for women.

The report outlines how current policies have failed to reflect the extra challenges that women entrepreneurs face - including childcare responsibilities, gender bias and access to finance – and how the Government has failed to introduce measures to facilitate their survival and growth.

The WEPG is a national coalition of leading women entrepreneurs, researchers, business support providers and social entrepreneurs from across the UK. The group develops policy calls based on the latest evidence and years of experience supporting women’s enterprise creation and growth.

The group is now urging the Chancellor to bring them to the policy table to help shape policy that ‘Builds Back Better’ for women entrepreneurs, for the economy, and for society.

Professor Julia Rouse, Co-Chair of the WEPG and
Professor of Entrepreneurship at Manchester Metropolitan University

Professor Julia Rouse, Co-Chair of the WEPG and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Manchester Metropolitan University, says: "As our report shows, women running businesses have faced acute pressures during Covid-19. We know that women tend to trade in sectors that do more face-to-face work - for example, as carers, in hospitality and tourism or as beauticians - and that means their trade is only coming back slowly and is vulnerable to local lockdowns. Add to this school and nursery closures, and the threat of 'bubbles' and consequently support networks bursting when these re-open fully, and you can see the scale of the challenge.

“What is more, many women are excluded from proper income protection due to gaps in current schemes. The Government is facing legal action for disadvantaging self-employed women who took maternity leave in years prior to the pandemic under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. Looking at the picture for women who are directors of small firms, the main form of support they have been offered is through loans, but without any targeted marketing to women business owners who are typically more cautious about risking family security via business loans. 

“The question we now must ask is whether the Chancellor fully understands the extent of these issues and whether he is committed to supporting women’s enterprise? There is already a huge gender gap in entrepreneurship across the UK - only about a third of all small firms are led by women. Equality simply cannot wait until the pandemic passes because Covid-19 is causing further inequality. Now is the time to develop practical policy that supports women business owners: any later could well be too late. That’s why we are calling on Rishi Sunak to bring us to the policy table to avoid the disaster of thousands of failed businesses at Christmas time and catastrophic economic impact." 

Helen Burkinshaw, Programme Lead for the WEPG at The Women’s Organisation

Helen Burkinshaw, Programme Lead for the WEPG at The Women’s Organisation, says: “There is compelling evidence that the UK’s economic recovery will be severely hampered if women’s enterprise development is not reflected in Government policy and investment. There is a real risk of the UK missing out on the immense economic opportunities that female led businesses offer, particularly in terms of new business start-ups and growth, products and service innovation, internationalisation, and new employment creation.

“Now is the time and the opportunity for Government and devolved administrations to recognise the needs of women business owners and their economic potential for the rebuilding of the UK’s economy. It is key that women’s enterprise advocates, like the WEPG, are involved in policy development and have the full support of Government.”

The WEPG have put forward a framework of policy actions to Government which they say will ‘build back better’ for women’s enterprise. These asks are around six key areas:

  1. Finance: Income Protection, including:

-       Extend the eligibility of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for new traders and the part-time self-employed and exclude maternity periods from payment calculations.

-       Compensate Business Directors for lost dividends.


  1. Finance: Grants, Loans & Investment, including:

-       Introduce an Equality Impact Assessment to monitor the equity of all Coronavirus grant and loan funds, looking particularly at gender, ethnicity, disability, and age.

-       Address the causes of likely lower take-up by women: business structure, caution, and gender bias.


  1. Valuing Women-Led Sectors:

-       Give due value to the economic contribution of sectors such as early years/childcare and the beauty and wellbeing industry in lockdown decisions and investment programmes.


  1. Business Support: Time and Space to Enable Women Entrepreneurs to Pivot, including:

-       Ensure that enterprise ecosystems include women’s enterprise support and specialist or inclusive programmes for BAME women.

-       Publicly record and monitor the scale and quality of provision to women and BAME business founders and owners as part of an Equality Impact Assessment and meeting a Gender Equality Duty.


  1. Business Start-Up: Founding Vibrant Women-Led Businesses, including:

-       Invest in innovative approaches to business start-up that will enable women to form team-led enterprises, trade in higher productivity sectors, garner business resources and be enterprising.

-       Respect slower, part-time founding (e.g. extending the exemption period for Universal Credit’s minimum income floor).


  1. Invest in a Care Infrastructure: It Will ‘Build Back Better’ More Productively Than ‘Build, Build, Build’, including:

-       Properly value the keywork of social care businesses and radically expand supply by fixing long-term problems of inadequate commissioning that result in low pay and conditions.

-       Urgently protect social and private early years businesses

-       Investing in expanding the childcare sector to create jobs, close gender employment gaps and support the 600,000 mothers who are self-employed or business owners.


You can download the full ‘Framework of Policy Actions to Build Back Better For Women’s Enterprise’ by following:

Members of the WEPG include representatives from some of the country’s leading academic institutions, including the University of Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Nottingham, the University of Newcastle and the University of South Wales. Alongside international representation from Mohammed Bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship (MBSC) in Saudi Arabia.

Representation from women’s business support comes from The Women’s Organisation, Women’s Enterprise Scotland, Women in Business NI, International Consultants for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise (ICE), GrowBiz and Radiant and Brighter CIC.