Why has the FSB lost its media mettle on female entrepreneurship?

Last month could have a been a great one for UK businesswomen, rallied by such headlines as 'Female-led firms outperform those run by men' or 'Ambitious women entrepreneurs match or beat male peers at business success'.

The FSB is hiding its light under a bushel, but why? asks Holly Sutton
The FSB is hiding its light under a bushel, but why? asks Holly Sutton
Instead, the Federation of Small Business report Women in Enterprise, The Untapped Potential ran the press release headline 'FSB to launch Women in Enterprise Taskforce'; a headline tantamount to spike-bait on even the driest August news day.

The only mainstream piece ran in the Mail on Sunday as 'We must do more for women entrepreneurs, says motorcycle boss who’s heading a new taskforce'.  

The motorcycle boss is Helen Walbey, the first female to publish a report for the FSB as portfolio chair - a story in itself.

Why bother writing such a seminal report if you’re going to bury it with a dowdy headline? 

When I asked, the FSB said it couldn’t go with the most newsworthy angle as it wouldn’t meet the policy and public affairs aims it had set. But such a low-key style is atypical of the FSB. 

Just the week before it ran: 'FSB warns of self-employment savings time bomb' and 'FSB concerned over sluggish economic growth'. 

Both of these are equally divisive issues that require cohesive policy and public affairs efforts.

So what is it about the thorny issue of female entrepreneurship that has made the FSB go weak at the knees?

Kicking about are rumours that not everyone in the membership of the UK’s largest small business interest group is as pro-women as one might hope.

Well, its treatment of this report has done little to assuage such fears. In fact, this is a massive double comms fail for the FSB. 

It has missed a trick in representing its current female members and attracting new ones by proudly touting this report’s strengths. 

And in hiding this issue under a bushel, publicity-wise, it has sent out a signal that, unlike other issues such as business rates or red tape, the low level of UK female entrepreneurship is an issue that needs to be tiptoed around carefully. 

As the female owner of a seven-year-old PR business – that I started aged 27 – I know something of the difficulties that come with starting up on your own. 

Indeed, despite being a fairly clued-up economics journalist prior to starting, I struggled to find solid business advice. 

My business would have grown quicker had I been better supported from the start-up stage – particularly if that support and inspiration had come from other female entrepreneurs.

We need to recognise that we have a problem supporting enterprise for women in this country. 

Even in PR where historically there are twice as many women in the industry as men, a PR board director is 50 per cent more likely to be male.

As identified in the report through comparisons with the US, women in business need specific support to grow their businesses. 

Organisations like the FSB, which claim to represent a diverse membership, ought to be clearly showing they are on the side of female business leaders, not tempering their messages for fear of putting noses out of joint.

Holly Sutton is founder and chief executive of Journalista

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