The future’s not female, it seems, if you live in Norfolk. Following a campaign to identify the ‘Future 50’ businesses by regional Daily newspaper, the EDP, only two of the businesses to watch have any degree of female leadership.
This just doesn’t add up, either with enterprise statistics or my local knowledge. So what went wrong and how could the EDP and others improve their marketing to women in business?
Here are some tips from my experience of gender sensitive marketing and Awards schemes for women:
1. Segment your marketing. Run the campaign in phases targeting specific sectors, such as hospitality and services, where women’s businesses are more dominant. This helps overcome a sense that ‘it isn’t aimed at me’.
2. Target women. It just works and will attract a higher response from women. The Flying Start programme, aimed at graduates, increased its take up by women by 800% with this kind of targeting.
3. Diverse judges. It’s often said that people recruit in their own image and perhaps the Future 50 result had something to do with the fact that 8 out of 9 of the judging panel were white men.
4. Language can be loaded. The top criteria was ‘potential for rapid growth’. Pace of growth is one of the things that distinguishes many female businesses. Most women want to grow steadily, not rapidly, and few are interested in scaling to sell-out and make a packet. They want to build successful, sustainable and worthwhile businesses above all. The EDP’s language implies the Future 50 isn’t for them.
5. Broaden success criteria. The Future 50 success criteria seems a bit, well, macho. I can’t see any indication that success is measured other than financially. What about supporting other businesses, contribution to the community etc? That’s not to say that finance isn’t a key indicator, but on its own it can suggest a kind of Del Boy enterprise that many female and creative entrepreneurs reject.
This is not to take away from the first tranche of Future 50 entrepreneurs, who are awe inspiring. Awards like the Future 50 can stun you with just how much innovative talent is right under your nose. Like Takeover Entertainment, an international, chart-topping music promoter, run by a couple of young men my son has known since nursery school! Next time I’d just like to see them joined by some women I know too.