How NatWest is accelerating the success of women in the business world, from budding entrepreneurs to tomorrow’s corporate leaders
Imagine if we could give our economy a much-needed boost while making great strides towards achieving gender equality. This, in fact, is exactly what a 2016 government report proposes: according to Deloitte research presented by the Women’s Business Council in 2016, if women were as entrepreneurially active as men, we could pump an additional £180 billion into the UK economy by 2025.
To achieve this, however, we need to work out what prevents so many women starting their own ventures. Research carried out by NatWest shows that 62 per cent of Britons are held back by fear of failure, with women proving persistently less likely to seek external support.
Julie Baker, the head of enterprise at NatWest, identifies three main barriers: a perceived lack of access to finance; insufficient awareness of where to find support; and inadequate access to the right networks. ‘Introducing women to role models, particularly those who have experienced failure but come out the other side, helps boost confidence,’ observes Baker. ‘That’s why the networking events we host around the country through our Women in Business initiative are a vital form of support.
Our specialists understand the barriers women face
Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise, NatWest
NatWest is the only bank to offer independently accredited Women in Business specialists, whose role is to support aspiring and existing female business owners. ‘We have more than 400 specialists, and that number is growing,’ says Baker. ‘They understand the barriers women face and the appropriate dialogue to have with them.’
Part of that dialogue involves offering guidance on different forms of finance, as Heather Melville, the director of strategic partnerships at NatWest, explains. ‘Women are often reluctant to borrow money,’ she says, ‘but we can help put them on a stronger footing, whether by providing traditional bank funding or alternative sources of finance.’
One customer who has benefited directly from NatWest’s support is Alice Walsh, the founder of the luxury men’s accessories brand Alice Made This. ‘I always wanted to be the master of my own destiny,’ says Walsh, who wrote her first business plan at the age of 24. A trained furniture designer, Walsh decided to make the move into fashion when she and her husband Ed, with whom she co-founded Alice Made This, spotted a gap in the market for high-quality men’s cufflinks.
In many ways, the odds were stacked against her. ‘I was living in a one-bedroom flat, so I didn’t have enough space; I was doing a full-time job, so I didn’t have enough time; and I had no disposable income, so I didn’t have enough money,’ she recalls. Fortunately, she managed to secure a loyal customer base by getting her products stocked online through the men’s style site Mr Porter, and cemented her status as a serious fashion force by showing at London Collections: Men.
The next turning point came when the brand won Rise Newcomer at the NatWest UK Fashion and Textile Association Awards, and Walsh met Jonathan Coates, who is now her relation¬ship manager at NatWest. ‘At the time, we were with another bank, but Jonathan made the switch easy,’ says Walsh.
She credits Coates with having given her valuable exposure to other businesswomen through networking events, even encouraging her to apply for the NatWest Everywoman awards.
For Coates, working with small businesses is about unlocking their potential for growth. ‘My partnership with Alice, and with all my clients, involves introducing them to people and partners who can open doors for them,’ he says.
Walsh’s success story is emblematic of the path NatWest hopes to trace out for all the women it works with, including among its own staff. Melville says: ‘It makes sense for us to invest in our own female talent as by 2024 the economy needs another 1.9 million managers, of which 1.5 million need to be women,’ noting that NatWest’s Women in Leadership programme is proving highly effective at developing future female leaders. ‘Gender diversity,’ she says, ‘is essential in our bid to become the UK’s bank of choice.’
We can help put women on a stronger footing
Heather Melville, Director of strategic partnerships, NatWest
Manjit Kang, a relationship manager at NatWest, explains why it is so rewarding to be part of a bank that proactively supports working women: ‘Becoming a Women in Business specialist has helped me to understand the challenges my female customers face, from gaining access to finance to building a network. Starting a business is a leap into the unknown, so I try to offer women support that is tailored to their needs, whether by inviting them to networking events, raising their social-media profile, assisting them with loans or finding them a premises. It is incredibly satisfying to see women progressing in their entrepreneurial journeys. The Women in Business initiative has had an impact on the way I perceive my own career, too: I’ve learnt that, as a woman, I can bring important qualities, such as empathy, to the workplace. Previously, I would ask for permission before saying something, whereas now I have the courage to take the plunge. I’m proud to work for a bank that has taught me to open doors for both myself and my customers.’
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Manjit Kang, relationship manager at NatWest