Tag Archives: equality

Gender Equality in Entrepreneurship Policy: Looking to the Future

This post was contributed by members of the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management – following a workshop which they led at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Ireland on Thursday, October 22

Women at conference (pic credit: Ignite New Zealand under CC via Flickr.com)

Women at conference (pic credit: Ignite New Zealand under CC via Flickr.com)

The international panel at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), Ireland, was asked to reflect on the differences in the challenges that women entrepreneurs face compared to their male counterparts. Their responses would then shape their views as to whether the panel thought that different policies are needed to support them.

Professor Colette Henry, a member of the TRIGGER team and Head of Department of Business at DKIT introduced the panel. Professor Helen Lawton Smith – as the Birkbeck lead of the TRIGGER project – chaired the session, and began by asking the panellists to share their own perspectives and experiences of women’s enterprise policy. The panel brought together perspectives from both research and practice.

The panellists were:

  • Ms Sarita Johnston, Enterprise Ireland
  • Professor Barbara Orser, University of Ottawa, Canada
  • Professor Bill O’Gorman, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland
  • Professor Lene Foss, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway
  • Ms Roseann Kelly, Women in Business Northern Ireland

Structural and contextual challenges

In response to the question of the different challenges faced by men and women entrepreneurs, Lene Foss suggested that women face both structural and contextual challenges. Roseann Kelly identified these as a difference in the kinds of networks they have as well as the existence of fewer role models. Lene Foss further highlighted the dual role that women play as both mothers and entrepreneurs, as well as national differences in women’s propensity to become entrepreneurs. In Norway for example, immigrant women are more likely to be entrepreneurs than Norwegian women.

On the question of whether support for improved networking opportunities for women was an appropriate policy response, Bill O’Gorman cited his recent experiences of women’s attitudes towards women-only networks. He gave an example from his own work where his team at Waterford had set up three networks in Ireland and Wales: male only, mixed and female only. Surprisingly, while women initially were reluctant to join women only-networks because they realised that gender diversity is important and a women-only network would segregate them from men, the women-only network appeared to perform best. While the other two networks folded, the women-only one continued and still exists.

Sarita Johnson, Manager of Female Entrepreneurship for Enterprise Ireland, cited research that has led to Enterprise Ireland to support women-only programmes including networks. This demonstrated that the challenges facing women entrepreneurs are different, specifically with regard to attitude towards risk-taking and raising finance. For example, Enterprise Ireland invests in 100 high potential start-ups (HPSUs) per year. The specific targeting of women has meant that the number of women entrepreneurs in this category being awarded grants has risen from 7% to 18%. She also found that women-only networks tend to perform best – for example, in raising export sales.

Need for better understanding of gender differences

Dundalk Institute of Technology (pic credit banlon1964 under CC via Flickr.com)

Dundalk Institute of Technology (pic credit banlon1964 under CC via Flickr.com)

Barbara Orser highlighted that it is not just social capital that contributes to women only-networks performing better – it is also technology adoption and financial capital. There needs to be better understanding of gender differences, for example, with regard to levels of confidence, in order to develop better policy. Three aspects were identified as important: women’s social circles; social capital in the form of information gathering networks, and fear of failure.

Roseann Kelly suggested that women are sometimes reluctant to benefit from women-only initiatives and prefer not to be labelled as ‘women entrepreneurs.’ This is a marketing issue – exemplar women are there by right and should celebrate their success. They should play by their own rules and not those set by men. Moreover, women should not have the equivalent of ‘old boys’ networks, because women are better at inclusivity than men.

When the Panel were asked how a hypothetical one million euros might be best spent to support women’s entrepreneurship, Sarita Johnston from Enterprise Ireland said that a programme which would give financial support to women entrepreneurs would offer the quickest and most tangible benefits. Blended support in the form of networking, accelerator programmes and role models is the best approach for supporting start-ups. Access to capital pulls through the development of other skills. Bill O’Gorman thought the money being spent on Ireland’s action plan for jobs is effective, and an emphasis on female entrepreneurship would yield benefits.

Roseann Kelly pointed out that Women in Business Northern Ireland has no public funding for enterprise support and has to be self-sustaining. Public funding would give a boost to their programmes. Barbara Orser suggested that public monies in Canada could be spent on encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. A specific population that might benefit from funding is women university students; these are under-represented in Ireland’s women entrepreneurs.

Impacting on the entrepreneurial culture

The challenge for the TRIGGER team at Birkbeck is to build on the insights gained from academics’ and practitioners’ experiences to make an impact on the entrepreneurial culture within the college. This means encouraging more female students, as well as professional and academic staff, to share the lessons of the differences in challenges they face with other communities. This panel event shows that there is much to be gained by sharing perspectives from within different institutional and national contexts.

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A quiet anniversary? Reviewing the Race Relations Act 1965

This post was contributed by Andrew Youngson, media and publicity officer for Birkbeck, University of London

Race-Relations-Act-webIt has been 50 years since the initial Race Relations Act was introduced in the UK. But despite progress being made in the fight against race-related discrimination since the 1965 Act came into play, many argue there is still a long road ahead before true race equality is reached.

A fascinating evening of discussion and debate around the Race Relation Acts of 1965, ’68 and ’76 as well as more recent legislation in 2003 and 2010 was held at Birkbeck’s Malet Street Building on Tuesday, June 19 as part of Social Sciences Week.

Run by the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism in collaboration with JCORE, the event brought together top thinkers in the field of race relations to review the historical context of the Acts, to explore the current landscape, and to consider the implications for the future.

Following introductory speeches by Professor David Feldman and Dr Edie Friedman, presentations were led by Dr Camilla Schofield from University of East Anglia, Dr Anastasia Vakulenko from the University of Birmingham and Dr Omar Khan of the Runnymede Trust.

“A quiet anniversary”

Dr Camilla Schofield spoke about the history of race relations, and the Race Relations Act, focusing in particular on the initial 1965 and 1968 Acts.

The 1965 Act, she explained, represented in many ways a radical break from the passivity of the UK legal system, but she noted that many anti-racist groups and activists felt the Act was not strong enough to challenge racial discrimination in a meaningful way.

For instance, of the 327 complaints made to the Race Relations Board between 1966 and 1968, 238 cases were considered to be outside its jurisdiction. As such, the Act was considered by many as a process of pacification, rather than criminal sanction.

While the 1968 Act extended the law to recognise private discrimination in employment, housing, credit and insurance, still it – like its predecessor – was not considered powerful enough, and was certainly not heralded as a triumph of the Left. This in part, Schofield explained, is perhaps why the 50th is such “a quiet anniversary”.

However, she made a case for reinvigorating interest in the Acts, and highlighted the importance of not considering them as outright failures. There is room, she said, “to tell their history from the bottom up”, by focusing on the experiences of the volunteers and officials who have been involved in the enforcement of the Acts, such as members of local conciliation committees. This would not be “a radical history”, she said, “but one of everyday lives”.

Muslims and Jews: “A fragmented picture”

Looking further on than the ’65 and ’68 Acts, Dr Anastasia Vakulenko discussed the historical perspective of the Race Relations Act with regards to Muslim and Jewish communities.

While the third iteration – the 1976 Act – was superseded by the Equality Act of 2010, Dr Vakulenko explained that many Muslims and Jews still feel they could be protected better under the law.

In the beginning of this journey, five decades ago, these groups were not at the top of the agenda, she explained. Their complexities in terms of self-identification, which run across cultural and religious boundaries, meant in many cases it was not easy to bring any discrimination cases to tribunal.

Fitting themselves to discrimination law was very difficult. Until 2003 for example, Jews could only make a case for discrimination on grounds of race, not religion. However, Dr Vakulenko noted, they were at least able to benefit from the Race Relations Act at a time when religious discrimination wasn’t recognised in law. Muslims, on the other hand, could only benefit indirectly, when the act of discrimination impacted on the individual on grounds of race e.g. if he or she was Muslim and Asian.

Through the latter half of her presentation, Dr Vakulenko cited recent cases which highlight the ongoing complexities in UK race relations and the responses of the legal system, such as that of 15-year-old Shabina Begum’s unsuccessful High Court battle to wear an ankle-length jibab gown in school; and the 2009 Jewish Free School case in which the school was ruled as guilty of having discriminated against a pupil who was not considered by the orthodox religious authorities to be authentically Jewish.

Looking at the current landscape, Dr Vakulenko said she saw a fragmented picture, in which Jewish and Muslim communities often see themselves as the most aggrieved minorities: with Muslims having to challenge discriminatory perceptions of being “radical extremists”; while Jews are tackling the image that, en masse, they are supporters of an “apartheid state”.

The challenge, then, is for these two communities to avoid falling into partisan political traps so that they may find a common ground and a stronger allied voice against discrimination.

“Do we need more legislation?”

Bringing the presentations to a close, Dr Omar Khan discussed the state of play for racial equality in the 21st Century.

Speaking from his position within the UK’s leading independent race equality thinktank, he explained why he believes it is misguided to think that we live in a “post racial society”. Rather, he finds there are considerable challenges to surmount before race equality can be reached:

  • The challenge of analysis – a difficult task when we consider that the nature of ethnic equalities always vary
  • The challenge of mobilisation/activism – given the relatively small population of each ethnic community, there is still a major need to bring them together in a sustainable way
  • The challenge of policy – without robust data collection, we can’t know the effectiveness of government policies on race equality.

Offering a new way to frame this argument, Dr Khan asked the question: ‘Do we still need further legislation in Britain, or is it about finding better ways to enforce the legislation that is in place?’

“Racism has not gone away,” Dr Khan told the audience. “It’s time to come together on a common platform in Britain”.

Without better enforcement and a wider, more honest debate on race equality, he added, it could be 50 or even 100 years before we can come close to being a ‘post-race society’.

Off the agenda?

Following the presentations, the speakers gathered together to field questions from the audience. Topics arising included the emergence of UKIP; whether race has fallen off the political and activist agenda; and how the Race Relations and Equalities Acts impact upon schools.

Dr Friedman offered some closing comments, noting that it is important not to forget the Race Relations Acts. Instead, they should be considered important milestones that should be followed up, to make sure that we continue working towards creating a society what we all want to live in.

Agreeing with those thoughts, Professor Feldman added that “what is needed is more enforcement and more mobilisation, as well as more research”.

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Career paths, gender and early stage careers: Learning from others and maximising potential

This post was contributed by members of the Transforming Institutions by Gendering contents and Gaining Equality in Research (TRIGGER) team – a research project in Birkbeck’s Department of Management – following a workshop which they led at Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Ireland on Thursday, May 21

Trigger-blogThe Birkbeck team brought TRIGGER to the Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) to discuss the persistence of gender inequality in career opportunities and in women’s expectations of their future careers. How institutional specific environments as well as general patterns of discrimination influence career paths formed the context to the discussions.

Professor Colette Henry, a member of the TRIGGER team and Head of Department of Business Studies at DKIT as Chair, asked the panellists to reflect on their own experiences. The panel unusually combined perspectives from high-level diplomacy with those of academia – Birkbeck, DKIT and Queen’s University Belfast.

The panellists were:

Three main issues stood out:

1) Should women have a plan for their career at the outset in order to succeed?

However, this is not straightforward. It was repeatedly said by the audience of academic and professional staff inside and outside DKIT that women very often lack the confidence to put themselves forward.

Junior staff are sometimes satisfied to get to middle levels of management, rather than aim for the top. They often do not apply for posts if they do not fulfil all the criteria, whereas the pattern is that men tend not to be so inhibited. Moreover, at DKIT, mature women students often do not have the same confidence in their abilities compared with those who have recently left school.

However, Nola Hewitt-Dundas suggested that a career is only one aspect of life. It describes who we are not what we are. Women role models have a powerful influence on women’s perceptions of what is possible. As Viviana Meschitti advised the women in the audience, be a mentor and be a role model. Women should be encouraged to take a challenge – be brave!

2) The uniqueness of the challenges to women in returning after maternity leave.

The diplomatic service like academia requires staff to travel but for much longer periods of time. An academic career is an international career – how do women balance a family with travelling even for short periods of time?

Balancing home and career is challenging. But a male voice in the audience suggested that women have more of a choice than men, who do not get the same opportunities for paternity leave, even under the new EU equalities legislation on parental leave.

3) The effectiveness of intervention.

Professor Nola Hewitt-Dundas demonstrated that of the 100 academic women who had been mentored since 2000, half of them had been promoted. This radically improved the gender balance at senior positions in Queen’s University – and overcoming some of the problems with the gendering of careers.

Dundalk has no formal mentoring system. A lesson from the previous workshop in March at Birkbeck was that there should be systematic attempts to identify why people have not been promoted. As a senior woman executive at Cisco on the lack of women in senior posts, was quoted in the Evening Standard in April this year, ‘Find the women’. International Women’s Day is a great way to promote women.

In addition – what this workshop did throw up was that there are some policies and actions in DKIT on gender equality but that there was a lack of general awareness of them. Indeed the institute was described as being ‘child hostile’. An outcome of the workshop may be that it will seed grassroots initiatives for gender equality, which the Institute will find hard to ignore.

The challenge for Birkbeck is to make sure both that there is better awareness of the range of actions designed to support diversity to ensure that more women take part. Moves to institutionalise gender and diversity issues into college-wide decision making processes are steps in the right direction.

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