Press release

Army of women boost business as home secretary recruits nearly 5,000 female mentors

Thousands of successful women have joined the drive to kick-start growth by stepping forward to mentor other women wanting to succeed in business, the home secretary announced today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Inspirational mentoring champions include specsavers founder Dame Mary Perkins and Dawn Russell, who survived cancer and now runs her own foundation aimed at boosting self-worth in young women. Other high-profile ambassadors promoting mentoring include hallett retail founder Wendy Hallett and digital business entrepreneur Penny Power.

Home secretary and minister for women and equalities Theresa May said:

‘Women are vital to Britain’s economic future and the support of a mentor will help even more of them fulfil their true potential.

‘The government is working hard to help women make the most of their talents, but we cannot act alone. I’m delighted by these mentors’ commitment to helping budding businesswomen succeed - and to making Britain prosper.’

Last November, the home secretary announced funding to recruit and train 5,000 mentors as part of a package of support for women in business. The department for business revealed a further 10,000 mentors would be recruited to support both male and female entrepreneurs.

So far 12,319 volunteers have registered to become mentors, with 4,951 (40 per cent) of them women. 7,277 people have completed their training, of whom 2,960, (also 40 per cent), are female. The project is on track to deliver 15,000 mentors by the end of September.

Mentors will be trained to support women through free workshops or online and distance learning. They will provide a minimum of one hour free business mentoring a month to an owner of a micro, small, or medium-sized business over the next two years.

If women started businesses at the same rate as men there would be an additional 150,000 start-ups a year, and if female entrepreneurship reached the same levels as the US it would contribute an extra £42 billion to the economy.

The home secretary also announced updates to a range of additional support for women in business:

  • Rural growth networks - details are being published today of a £2m programme to help female entrepreneurs in rural areas start or build their own business;
  • ‘Think, act, report’ - case studies are being published today showing how adopting the principles behind the government’s voluntary approach to diversity at work has helped leading firms - including BT, tesco and ernst & young - reap business rewards;
  • Women’s business council - The council is today publishing the work programme for its one-year mission to identify and break down the barriers to female success;
  • Women and banks - the government is revealing the initial findings of its review to ensure women have equal access to the finance they need to start a business.


Notes to editors

1. Rural entrepreneurs

The rural growth network schemes will provide tailored support including mentoring, business advice, networking and skills development.

The £2 million has been allocated to projects dedicated to women as part of a £15 million package of support for the five rural growth networks from the department for environment, food and rural affairs that is expected to create over 3,000 new jobs and 700 businesses.

Among the many women set to benefit are the wives of military personnel, garden designers, holiday cottage entrepreneurs, and women who have turned their passion for food and drink into thriving businesses. Case studies are available from the Home Office press office.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said:

‘Women who want to go back to work or set up their own company should not be held back by living in remote places. We want to help all women across the country turn their great business ideas into profitable rural businesses. Rural Growth Networks will create thousands of new jobs and hundreds of start-up companies by fixing problems rural businesses face, like a shortage of work premises and limited internet access.’

2. ’Think, act, report’

Last week, nomura bank became the latest major company to publicly commit to promoting gender equality by signing up to ‘think, act, report’, the government’s voluntary scheme for reporting on equality.

To find out more about the benefits of adopting this approach, case studies are available outlining the progress made by some of the companies already taking part.

o For more information on ‘think, act, report’ click here

3. Women’s business bouncil

The women’s business council has started a year-long probe into how to increase women’s contribution to the economy by identifying the issues they face and finding practical solutions.

The council is today announcing its plan of work. It will use its business expertise to look at women’s entire working life - including education, finding a job or starting a business, juggling childcare and a career, succeeding in senior roles and preparing for retirement. Crucially, the WBC will examine from a business perspective how these issues affect employers’ ability to hire the talent they need.

Women’s business council chair Ruby McGregor-Smith said:

‘This is an exciting opportunity to make a real difference to women’s lives, to business success and to economic growth. We are looking at the entire life-cycle to see what holds women back and what government, business and others can do to address this.’

4. Access to finance

The government is undertaking a review into claims that women are being discriminated against by banks in their lending decisions.

o Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg commissioned the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, to review the claims made by a 2011 IPPR report called ‘women and banks - are female customers facing discrimination?’. Lynne Featherstone is working with the british bankers’ association, the council for mortgage lenders and other industry bodies to identify actions to address this critical area and ensure female entrepreneurs are confident they have the same access to funds as their male counterparts.

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said:

‘It is completely unacceptable if banks are discriminating against women. Women should receive exactly the same service in accessing financial help as their male counterparts. We are working with the british bankers’ association and other industry representatives to identify what can be done by the financial sector to support women and to set out an action plan. Greater transparency by lenders in the way they go about their business is needed to ensure women have confidence to access the finance they need without the fear of being discriminated against.’

A parallel review on business lending to ethnic minority entrepreneurs and businesses is being conducted by the department for communities and local government.

5. Mentoring

Case studies and quotes from the mentoring champions are available from the home office press office.

o The home secretary pledged to fund the recruitment and training of 5,000 female mentors last November. This is on top of 10,000 (male and female) mentors subsequently announced by the department for business.

o Free training will be open to volunteers new to mentoring, those who run their own business with 250 employees or fewer, are business support professionals, or work for a company employing fewer than 250 people.

o Once trained, mentors are asked to provide a minimum of one hour business mentoring a month. 

o For more details on signing up to become a mentor visit:  

o For more information on being mentored visit:

6. Equal pay audits

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone announced a new safeguard on equal pay last week, which will give employment tribunals the power to require an employer who loses an equal pay case to carry out a pay audit, where there is likely to be systemic discrimination.

More details are available here

7. For more information on any of the above, or to request an interview, please contact the home office press office on 0207 035 3804, 0207 035 3245 or 0207 035 3535.



Published 21 June 2012