19 March 2013

The Business School recently celebrated International Women’s Day with a panel event showcasing successful women in entrepreneurship; and a lecture in collaboration with the Sustainable Business Initiative about Gender Diversity, Corporate Social Responsibility and Organisational Practices.
Business School exterior

The Business School recently celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time by organising two events – a panel of enterprising women on Tuesday 5 March, and a lecture in collaboration with the Sustainable Business Initiative about Gender Diversity, Corporate Social Responsibility and Organisational Practices on 8 March.

The events got off to a great start with the evening panel discussion, ‘Enterprising Women’, hosted by our own Dr Omaima Hatem, Early Career Fellow in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and herself a successful entrepreneur. We were delighted to welcome a diverse panel of female entrepreneurs: Kirsty Burnham, co-founder of SoLoCo, a creative crowd-funding agency; Norma Corlette, founder of Corlette Consulting and co-founder of Communities Online; Tanya Ewing, co-founder of Tayeco and inventor of Ewgeco; and Rachel Jones, founder of Totseat. During the pre- and post-event networking, we were also treated to artisan shortbread made by MSc Management alumna and founder of Pinnies and Poppy Seeds, Jennifer Hunter. Yummy!

With over 65 attendees at the event, the panellists had a lively discussion about their own experiences as entrepreneurs, the challenges they have faced and how they overcame them. For me, highlights included hearing from one panellist about how she overcame illness and invented a new product due to personal circumstances; and how another created a prototype on her kitchen table by cutting up an old wedding dress – ably assisted by a very understanding husband!

Key themes which arose during the discussion included the importance of passion and persistence when building a business – having the determination and stamina to persevere in the face of adversity, and to constantly promote, remodel and refine the business idea until it becomes a success. For this, you need confidence, resilience and role models, as you will come across obstacles on the way. Hopefully the panellists themselves became role models to many of the aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience!

The importance of building the right team was discussed – something which to me, as an HR professional and recruiter, has great resonance. It was heartening to hear of Rachel’s determination to recruit people with international awareness, due to the nature of her export markets and the clients she is serving. The panel also examined the importance of new team members sharing passion and vision for the product – and not just being motivated by the cash. This is something we talk to our students about a lot – being able to demonstrate their genuine interest and motivation in an organisation, and what they can add to the business; not simply what they will get out of it.

But this was in theory an event about female entrepreneurs in particular – what are the specific challenges faced by women in this sector, and are the challenges any different to those faced by men? For much of the discussion, the challenges and anecdotes could have applied to any entrepreneur, however one brave audience member did ask if there were specific challenges faced by women. All panelists agreed that, if you are combining your venture with a family, then you will need support – and this should actually be factored in as part of your employee costs; for example, if you need to pay for extra childcare. Somewhat wryly, both Kirsty and Norma advised against setting up the business with your partner – so in some cases, being able to separate work and family life really is advice well heeded!

Norma, in my opinion, made the very salient point that, that however much she – and other female business people – had been burdened with guilt about having to spend time apart from her kids at various stages in her career, she has become a fantastic role model for her children; something that surely all parents aspire to be to their offspring.

For the second event of the week, we welcomed Dr Doyin Atewologun from City University, where we discussed the intersections between diversity management, corporate social responsibility and human resource management. Critical to this discussion was how our own interpretation and definition of these concepts will be context dependent. Dr Atewologun recapped on the moral, legal and business cases for both diversity management and CSR, and invited the audience to contemplate how we are all in positions of power to influence how we manage our intersecting social identities. We were delighted that the Guardian Online picked up on this event – and you can read more about it here.

All in all, we were extremely pleased with the success of these two events – the diversity of our presenters, the candid nature of the discussions and the level of engagement from our audiences. We look forward to celebrating IWD 2014 and welcome any ideas for future events. Do get in touch by emailing careers@business-school.ed.ac.uk with your suggestions!