Katie Cavanna: We need more women to step forward and shatter those glass ceilings

Devon and Cornwall’s PCC Alison Hernandez grew up in the Bay

Devon and Cornwall’s PCC Alison Hernandez grew up in the Bay - Credit: Archant

Embracing change hasn't always been one of my strengths. Since I was a child, the idea of something having to change or a plan not being stuck to, made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

This time last year, I instigated change – something which still astounds me now.

After working with communities experiencing poverty and hardship for over 15 years, I wanted to create a community-led project that could bring positive change.

For someone who avoids anything that moves beyond the comfort of control, this leap of faith was significant. On the surface, my confidence seems to be a strength, but in reality, self-doubt has also crept in.

With my extensive training, education and experience in supporting communities, alongside my passion, I wanted to change the system.

It wasn't working, so why couldn't the community shape it?

The vision behind RE4orm, to alleviate poverty and raise aspirations was clear, I needed support to make it happen.

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A recent report by Vistaprint found that British female business owners find failure more difficult to overcome than their male counterparts.

More than two-thirds of female entrepreneurs admitted they find it hard to bounce back from failures, compared with 55 per cent of men.

This fear of failure is actively holding back women from creating start-ups: one in eight working women wants to start their own business, according to research from FreeAgent and OnePoll, compared with just eight per cent of men.

Yet of the six million businesses currently active in the UK, just 20 per cent are run by female founders.

With fewer female founders, the pool of women who can mentor and advise their fellow entrepreneurs is consequently smaller. This makes it harder for enterprising women to learn from their peers and tap into those who have 'been there, done that'.

One reason that a woman may be less likely to start a business is because she is usually a family's primary caregiver. Of the 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK, 58 per cent – 3.34 million – are women, according to census data.

Juggling a demanding leadership role alongside childcare can be complex, emotionally fraught and extremely costly.

There are still only five female CEOs in the FTSE 100 and only one in three of Britain's entrepreneurs is female – a gender gap that's equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses.

Even though women are more likely to enter the workforce with higher qualifications than men, they earn less per hour.

And the pay gap increases sharply at the point couples have children – by the time their first child is aged 12, the average hourly wages of mothers are a third lower than those of fathers.

Any progress that had been made in gender equality over the past 20 years has been reversed by the pandemic.

RE4orm's growth has been steady and made up of many differing factors. Knowing that ultimately, decisions and future-planning was down to me, was exhilarating but also very overwhelming.

As I have mentioned in my previous columns, I firmly believe that one of Torbay's great assets is its people.

Setting up RE4orm highlighted the wealth of experience, skills and knowledge so many within our community have – it's here in abundance. We are not short of female leaders and entrepreneurs in Torbay either, Devon and Cornwall's PCC, Alison Hernandez grew up in the Bay. There are many women in positions of power and influence, but we need more.

One of the biggest champions of this, is Kim Thornton. I have known Kim from the TDA for a number of years. Clear, concise and bespoke advice for every individual she supports, Kim both challenges and empowers to ensure your business model works.

Many outstanding local businesses have been borne out of support from the TDA.

We need more women as leaders in Torbay. We need more women to step forward and shatter those glass ceilings.

Girls, if you're reading this, believe, achieve and succeed - now is the time.