Women making their mark
PUBLISHED: 12:14 17 December 2010 | UPDATED: 14:45 20 February 2013
While there is much discussion about the glass ceiling, the pay differential and lack of options for working parents, women have, in fact, been making quiet inroads into the business world.
Women are at the forefront of business success in the Cotswolds, an area that offers them good communications and easy access to the major towns and cities, as well as an excellent quality of family life.
Whether taking over existing businesses or starting their own from scratch, there are many women making their mark as business success stories in the Cotswolds. So are there any particular pluses or minuses to being a woman in business these days, or have the old perceived barriers to achievement in business been swept away?
Sarah Crocker, who took over as proprietor of the Stonehouse Court Hotel two years ago, says that playing to her core strengths - her background in marketing - and completing an MBA helped her case considerably.
"It was tough at first, so I had to prove I was serious, credible and confident," she says. "I did that by helping to raise the finance by re-mortgaging my flat in London, taking my business plan to various banks and being persistent. Having the MBA showed that I had a brain and compensated for any lack of experience in the hotel sector. It was quite funny that there were people who assumed that it must be a husband or father who owned the hotel.
"In the end, nothing counts as much as being in there and getting on with it. I knew what I wanted to achieve and I am not doing it alone. The key is getting the right staff, as you are only as strong as your weakest link and we have some great people in place, and to trust your intuition and instincts. I also wanted to concentrate on the core business and highlight its easy links to the M5.
"It has been a fantastic experience, with a high satisfaction rating for the hotel and two rosettes for the restaurant. Being a woman, and certainly being young, may have mattered in the early days but it does not matter any more, because I have shown my own capabilities and what I, and a good team, can achieve."
Anne Hopkins, who joined the company her father founded, Beckford Silk, 16 years ago and is now director, says that in recent years many of the key people with whom she regularly does business are women who have worked their way up to positions of seniority.
"At Beckford Silk, we produce many items for the museum and heritage industry, as well as fashion pieces, and most of the people I deal with are women, often having started as junior buyers who are now heading departments. If it was less easy for women to progress in the past, I don't think that is the case now.
"Partly there is a predominance of women in our industry because of its nature, where design and customer service are very importance elements, but it's also true that increasingly those lead the banking and financial side are also women, suggesting there are many women succeeding in business in all areas.
"The most important aspects in business are people skills, building relationships and nurturing them, and knowing when to delegate and call on the talents and abilities of others."
Frances Fenwick, who established award-winning florist Flowercube after a career as a floristry lecturer, says that women's networking organisations such as Women Entrepreneurs in Business (WEB) and Women in Management (WIM) have proved very helpful.
"I found talking about our various experiences in business with other women that I met through WEB and WIM was very useful, particularly in the early days. I had worked as a floristry lecturer part-time in London, although living in the Cotswolds, so it was a case of switching my focus two years ago when I set up a company providing flowers for weddings, balls and more.
"I found it was a great starting point to learn about the experiences of other women who had set up their own companies or who ran larger businesses, and there was a great camaraderie. The industry I am in is particularly female-orientated, so such networking organisations did seem like a logical starting point.
"Other groups proved useful on such things are where to go for possible funding and business advice, such as Business Link Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire Enterprise. Being given support, and being directed to good sources of help, was very useful to me, especially in the start-up phase."
Maria Yates, whose company Ruff Tuff Stuff imports special "running bikes" for toddlers and supplies companies including Harrods and John Lewis, says that it was her own experience as a mother that gave her the idea to start her company.
"It's always difficult juggling work with small children, but running your own company allows your to set your own working practices and is much more flexible. I worked for Vodafone for many years, which gave me great business experience but was a very male environment and a lot less flexible than working for myself and setting my own hours of business.
"I first saw the Joey Running Bikes in Germany, where they are hugely popular, and bought one for my son, who absolutely loved it and used it all the time. It was then that I thought it could prove to be a great business idea, and I think the combination of my own corporate experience and having identified a gap in the market that enabled me to take it forward.
"There are many skilled and intelligent women who would make a great contribution to any business, particularly here in the Cotswolds, but cannot fit into a rigid corporate structure because of the demands of family life. That is why so many women choose to start their own companies and have the flexibility to make a success of them."
Stonehouse Court Hotel: www.stonehousecourt.co.uk
Beckford Silk: www.beckfordsilk.co.uk
Joey Running Bikes: www.joeyrunningbikes.com