Belfast Telegraph

Breaking moulds and shattering the myths

By Margaret Canning

A new generation of more confident female entrepreneurs is emerging on the Northern Ireland business scene, according to the head of the region’s leading networking organisation.

Roseann Kelly, the chief executive of Women in Business, said the work of the organisation had encouraged a new breed of female entrepreneurs who had learned from the experiences of their predecessors.

“There are more women coming forward and they are more confident. I think it’s a result of what the network has done and the role models which have emerged from it,” said Mrs Kelly.

“The role models include the speakers we have had — people like Mary Davis, who set up the Special Olympics. We are each other’s role models, too.”

She said the organisation had evolved since it was set up eight years ago.

“Over the years the number of members and the type of member has changed. We’ve grown from 40 members to over 250.

“We formerly had predominantly business owners — now we have 60:40 business owners and senior managers in a corporate environment.

“It’s important that we have that mix so that there are opportunities for people to network.”

This week is International Women’s Week, which will see the organisation launch a new website with a forum for members to exchange articles and comments.

“We very much promote members’ businesses in our website. Our key focus is to help women grow their business and of course the issues that women in business will have are the same as men. All we are doing is supporting and encouraging women during our events and through speakers, who are sometimes motivational speakers,” says Mrs Kelly.

The number of women in business has improved a lot in recent years, she believes.

“Formerly one key issue would have been financing from the banks. The historical attitude from banks about a woman’s business — that this is just a hobby — is gone. Formerly women wouldn’t have gone to banks because women were seen by banks as risk-averse, so women went to |family and friends when it came to raising funds for |business instead.

“But as Angela Knight, chief executive of the British Bankers Association indicated, the image of women as more risk averse is now seen as a virtue.”

Mrs Kelly highlights that women network in a different way to men, hence the need for WIB.

“Business networks are traditionally male dominated and that is the key issue as women network in a more friendly way.

“Ideally we would like to see a stage where there is no need for this type of organisation, where women are confident and men can understand women’s style of networking is not always their high powered-sales style,” she says.

The organisation will meet the Chamber of Commerce on March 25 and that night, will also sponsor an award at the 2010 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards.

The WIB chief said: “We have become involved in the Business Awards because we have previously fallen between two stools — women’s organisations say we are a business group and business groups say we are a women’s organisation. But we see ourselves as very much part of a business community, which is why we were keen to sponsor an award.

“We were pleased to see that the young business person was still available because we see that as looking towards the future. If it turns out that the winner is a woman, then all the better — but it doesn’t have to be!”

The future looks bright, with the much-dreaded glass ceiling not necessarily interrupting the ascent of their members, adds Mrs Kelly.

“When you’re running your own business there is no glass ceiling — there is only the ceiling that you put on it yourself.

“But within the corporate environment there is. There is no doubt about that. The pay gap remains — in fact, some research recently found the pay gap starts when we are children as little boys get more pocket money than little girls.”

Belfast Telegraph