When Amanda Shaw started WiFi Solutions (UK) Limited two years ago, she was loathe to approach large companies. Before long, however, she was talking with the likes of M&S and Tesco. ‘I’m not afraid of approaching anyone, any more... I go straight to the top!’ she says.
It hasn’t been easy for the Ormskirk-based mother of three, however. ‘There are not many women working in IT, let alone running businesses in the sector,’ says Amanda. ‘As such, it can be quite hard as a woman, however talented, to win contracts in the business. When I walk through the door and there’s me and nine men after the same contract, the odds are often stacked against me!’
Amanda is passionate, however, that the situation will change. ‘If more women in the IT industry win contracts - and do a good job of it - then public awareness will eventually change and a virtuous circle will be created: more women will be attracted to the industry and, in turn, more women will win contracts.’
One initiative that she thinks will help change this situation is WEConnect (or Women in Enterprise Connecting to Contracts), a Women’s Enterprise Task Force (WETF) scheme launched to critical acclaim at the House of Commons last month (February) - and which received strong endorsement in the Government’s Enterprise Strategy yesterday. The scheme hopes to break down the barriers faced by women-owned businesses in securing corporate contracts (although 16% of UK businesses are currently women owned, only 3- to 5% of corporate and public sector contracts go to women-owned businesses).
The new initiative will put certified women business enterprises - WiFi Solutions among them - in touch with key procurement contacts in multi-national companies. This will encourage supplier diversity by giving large corporates the confidence to purchase from women-owned businesses which have achieved the WEConnect certification. Based on a successful US prototype, the scheme has already signed up major corporates including Accenture, Microsoft, Bank of America and Pfizer.
Marianne Schoenig, Sustainable Procurement Lead at Accenture UK, comments: ‘To provide high performance to our clients, we depend on flexibility, creativity and cost-competitiveness in our supply base. The more inclusive and diverse we are in our procurement operations, the greater our chances of tapping into excellent niche supply sources. We are delighted to support WEConnect in its mission to increase representation of high potential under-utilised businesses in corporate supply chains.’
Pam Alexander, Co-Chair of WETF and Chief Executive of the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) explains what excites her about the new initiative. ‘SEEDA is delighted to be supporting this scheme which delivers one of the five priorities of the WETF - diversifying supply chains. There are 620,000 majority women-owned businesses in the UK - that’s more than ever before but the number of such businesses winning corporate and public sector contracts is still shockingly low’.
She added: ‘Companies need access to contracts in order to grow and generate prosperity. By creating new routes to procurement opportunities, WEConnect will encourage more women to think big, expand their businesses and fulfil their potential. With respected heavyweight companies like Microsoft and Pfizer already behind it, we hope WEConnect will bring about real change in procurement policies.’ Dr Suzanne Doyle-Morris is one of the first batch of women business owners certified by WEConnect. Her business, Cambridge-based Doyle Morris Coaching & Development, helps companies retain and develop their female executives - particularly those in traditionally male-dominated fields like IT. She is hugely enthusiastic about the WEConnect initiative.
‘I’m delighted about WEConnect because it gives me the chance to build relationships with large organisations that want to work with women-owned businesses. I’m going to get access to corporates at a level that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to at this stage. I’m looking forward to meeting procurement executives within large companies who are happy to deal with smaller businesses. It’s pushed me to think bigger than I would have otherwise. To play with the big boys, we need to be thinking bigger ourselves!’
Diana Hodgins, meanwhile - a former winner of the British Woman in Industry award, who now runs European Technology for Business (ETB) - says: ‘We joined WEConnect because we want to exploit what is currently one of the UK’s best kept secrets - our motion sensing technology. This has been developed and proven for human motion monitoring for a range of medical and sports applications in the equine industry.’