COME on girls, dry your eyes and stop expecting any special treatment

Get a grip of your knickers girls, this isn’t going to be an easy ride. If you are easily offended, or you happen to be part of the Wellpark Enterprise Centre, you might want to turn over and read something else. You see it’s happening again and I’m getting really fed up now. What is it? Positive discrimination for women in business.

The Wellpark Enterprise Centre – famous for offering funding to women entrepreneurs for childcare and ignoring male entrepreneurs with the same need – is at it again.

The Glasgow–based centre is expanding (how scary is that?) and has just held its second annual one day “Showcase for Women in Business”.  Jewellery designers, image consultants and soft furnishings companies were among the organisations displaying their wares. The show was officially opened by Maggie Morrison, Scottish operations director for IT specialists Cisco Systems, who claimed to be impressed by the spirit of enterprise.

But she pointed out: “Most of these are gender-associated companies, the sort you would expect women to be involved in. When this changes and women move into wider fields, we will have made further progress.”

She’s right. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking jewellery designers, image consultants and soft furnishings companies, I truly wish them every success. But those businesses are hardly the sort of high-growth, high-employment, wealth creating companies that the Scottish economy needs.

Even the wonderful First Tuesday networking organisation has suffered some sort of (temporary, I hope) brainstorm which has them hosting a female-only funding event next month. VCs, Angels and banks will all be there to watch female entrepreneurs give an elevator pitch to raise funding for their technology-based businesses. Martha Lane Fox, CEO of lastminute.com, will chair the event. (Surely the European sex discrimination law must have something to say about this?)

By pandering to the helpless side of the female psyche we aren’t furthering the cause at all. Indeed, we are actually making it increasingly difficult for women to experience the harsh realities of the business world, rather than the cosy cocoon they are being wrapped in by self-righteous, misguided, so-called “support” networks who should know better.

You don’t hear successful female entrepreneurs bleating on about their lack of business progress as a result of the Neanderthal attitudes of their male counterparts. Being a woman hasn’t hindered Rita Rusk, or Ann Gloag, or Audrey Baxter, or Anita Roddick. What about Marjorie Scardino? And look at e-Bay’s Meg Whitman.

All strong, successful, feisty women who have achieved success in business through sheer determination and hard work. Not for them the knitting club mentality we are seeing increasingly within the Scottish business community.

It’s human nature to blame others for our own lack of ability, and I suspect it’s those women who are failing in business, or have the propensity to fail, who bleat on and blame the glass ceiling for their own ineptitude.

As usual, the Americans are nearer to getting it right than we are. In San Francisco the first non-profit business incubator has been launched – the Women’s Technology Cluster (WTC). The focus? Finding the best and brightest women and helping them to build and sustain successful companies.

But you know what? It’s a 50-50 culture. Member companies must have a woman in a top position, but men are not excluded.

And that’s the way it should be. I want equality just as much as the next woman. Equality, not positive discrimination. I’ve been in business for eight years now and both common sense and hard-earned experience tell me business is not gender specific. There are the same challenges, issues, problems and achievements whether you are male or female, a teenager or pensioner.

I had a challenge with a bank manager who refused to speak directly to me and insisted instead on calling our commercial director and asking him to pass me messages. When I went to visit him at his office, he arranged to have someone with him. I’m not a monster; I’m a woman. And the problem was his, not mine. It didn’t send me into paroxysms of rage, venting my spleen about the problems of being a woman in business. I just got on with what was important – growing my business, and being a good boss.

Yes, there are obvious difference between men and women, particularly when it comes to the varying emotional inputs into business, the making of decisions, the treatment of staff, women’s inability to network effectively. But then by the same token there are differences between a 20 year old man and a 50 year old man in the decisions they would make, as there would be between two women of the same age in differing businesses.

My point is this – we are all different, we all need different support, the common denominator is business. So why channel so much time effort and money into supporting women–only events and programmes when the support should be entrepreneur-specific, rather than gender specific.

Scottish Enterprise is concerned about the business birth rate. Rightly so. But they shouldn’t be fussing over the number of businesses being started; they should focus instead on the quality of businesses being started and the quality of the people behind those businesses.

So if you’re a woman, planning to launch or grow your own business, here’s what you should do: dry your eyes, stop expecting special treatment, concentrate on being the very best, and get out there and show the world how good you are!

PS. Just a quick message for the Wellpark wimmin – don’t blame business a.m. for the thoughts in this column. Send your complaints to michelle@tartancat.com

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This column first appeared 10 years ago. I have no idea what has happened to the Wellpark Enterprise Centre since (and in the nicest possible way, I really don’t care), but I do know that my opinions haven’t changed. There are women who – for valid reasons – choose to launch and run a lifestyle business, and there are those women who – for equally valid reasons – choose to build businesses of scale. We need both, but there’s no point in pretending they are one and the same.

Instead, each individual entrepreneur should be nurtured and supported to be the best they can be – large or small – and support should be tailored to individual needs rather than generic bandaids, plastered over all and sundry.

What do you think?