Lorely Burt, the government’s women in enterprise champion, believes that adding the question to the pre-qualification questionnaire form companies fill in as part of the bid process, would serve two purposes.
It would not only be a simple and low-cost way of gathering information on diversity in business – which is something Burt wants government to do better, but it might help women entrepreneurs by bringing the benefits of quotas without actually imposing them.
Ultimately, she would like to see government procure from a representative percentage of women-led enterprises and other under-represented groups, in the way that it currently aspires to procuring 25% of its goods and services from SMEs.
“Women’s employment levels are now higher than at any other time since records began,” Burt says in her report, Inclusive Support for Women in Enterprise, published yesterday.
“However, as long as just one business in five is owned by a woman there will be untapped talent which could be boosting the economy and creating jobs.”
She argues that, while women’s entrepreneurship is a huge potential growth area, it still needs increased government attention if that untapped talent is to be properly exploited.
In her report she makes a number of other recommendations designed to improve inclusive thinking by government. For example, she wants Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to be encouraged to appoint directors from diverse backgrounds and at all levels of decision-making as well as to develop strategies for engaging diverse businesses.
She would also like the barriers broken down between women entrepreneurs and the services they need by using the My Business Support online tool on the BIS Site, greatbusiness.gov.uk, to link to non-government sources of assistance including mentoring, networking, alternative finance, and do this in collaboration with LEPs.
“These proposals,” she says, “have been carefully chosen to be low cost and easy to deliver. They build on the good work the government is already doing. By putting them into practice the government has a good chance of continuing to raise women’s employment, creating jobs and promoting a stronger, fairer economy.”
“They constitute a first step in a much longer road to achieving a truly diverse and successful business base in the UK.”