Blog: Empowering female BAME social entrepreneurs

Published: 16 Dec 2020

Author: Jiselle Steele
Blog: Empowering female BAME social entrepreneurs

Last month, Equal Pay Day on 20 November marked the day in the year when women effectively, on average, stop earning relative to men. It’s staggering to think that, according to the World Economic Forum, it will take 257 years to close the economic gender gap. This means that professional women like myself may never know equal pay in our lifetimes.

"Access to the right tailored support and guidance can be transformative when trying to address the key issues affecting women entrepreneurs." - Jiselle Steele, Fellow

The ongoing impact of the pandemic is likely to worsen this situation for women, putting us at an even greater disadvantage. Recent research by the Fawcett Society shows that a third of working women have lost work or hours because of pandemic-related childcare issues, with 44% of black and minority ethnic working mothers being affected compared to 34% of white working mothers.

I am delighted that I have been awarded a Covid-19 Action Fund grant by WCMT, which will be used to help redress the balance of gender and racial inequality in the UK, and to support the women entrepreneurs most affected by the pandemic, in collaboration with _SocialStarters.

In my role at _SocialStarters, I have seen first-hand that entrepreneurship can be a route to greater freedom, both economically and in terms of flexible working for women. However, this can only be realised if the operating environment that female entrepreneurs are working in is fair and offers adequate support. This includes recognising the barriers and prejudice that women face because of their gender, as well as other intersectional factors such as race, ethnicity, social class, disability and sexual orientation.

My Covid-19 Action Fund grant will be used to design and deliver an enterprise support programme for black and minority ethnic female social entrepreneurs who are tackling structural inequality through their work. At a time when radical solutions are needed to overcome the social and economic impact of Covid-19, the programme will aim not just to tackle gender inequality but also to address the root causes of structural inequality. Our ambition will be to provoke lasting systemic change and to equip groups and communities who are most impacted by the pandemic with the tools to lead their own recovery.

Jiselle (far left) with Alice Bastos (second from left), a _SocialStarters volunteer and three female entrepreneurs

Access to the right tailored support and guidance can be transformative when trying to address the key issues affecting women entrepreneurs. Business mentoring can help to boost self-confidence and offer much-needed reassurance to women who are running businesses independently, juggling multiple roles and managing significant workloads. Training can also help female entrepreneurs to manage finances effectively, secure new business and access investment. Our enterprise support programme will initially connect with female social entrepreneurs of colour, to understand what their pain points are and to co-create content that responds to those needs rather than trying to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Female BAME social entrepreneurs often have so much on their plate that the ability to manage all of the demands on their time can be overwhelming, leading to a feeling of isolation. Being able to connect with others in similar situations, as well as identifying opportunities where solutions can be found collaboratively, can help to improve mental health and well-being and to generate new opportunities for partnership.

Lack of access to networks and relatable role models can lead to a feeling of imposter syndrome amongst female entrepreneurs. Our enterprise programme will endeavour to create virtual spaces where female BAME social entrepreneurs can extend their reach, grow their networks and double their efforts to bring about social change.

Creating platforms that provide more visibility for female social entrepreneurs of colour will also be an important facet of the programme. We will develop resources that participants can use to share their experiences and learnings within their communities. This approach will help us to reach more female entrepreneurs and empower participants to become role models and trainers themselves. This network will then be able to provide their beneficiaries with the tools to start their own enterprises or to gain new skills and knowledge.

The experiences from my WCMT Fellowship to Brazil in 2014, where I explored how youth-led social projects in Brazil had the potential to transform marginalised communities, has offered a great deal of inspiration for the development of this project. My Fellowship, supported by the Rank Foundation, highlighted the importance of giving greater support to entrepreneurs who are overlooked and face significant discrimination. I am very excited about the opportunity to collaborate with _SocialStarters to design a female BAME social entrepreneur support programme that will build capacity and networks within the community. I also hope to create a model that can be replicated to help further the impact of female social entrepreneurs striving to tackle structural inequality across the UK.

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