International Women’s Day: why ‘investing in women’ is a recipe for successful economic growth

08 March 2024

Estelle Blanks, CEO at Innovation SuperNetwork

Investing in inclusion is a core value at Innovation SuperNetwork. Our company policies support inclusion in the fullest way possible and as a result we work with a diverse team of exceptional people who are critical to ensuring we can deliver on our mission to enable sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

But investing in women (the theme for International Women’s Day 2024) makes more than just business sense. It’s critical to ensuring we don’t leave anyone behind as we transition to a cleaner more sustainable global economy.

According to British Business Bank’s ‘Alone together: entrepreneurship and diversity in the UK’ report, all-female teams had just 2% total equity investment in 2022. On top of this, women in the North East are less likely to work in productive sectors, or to be in work all together (NELEP Evidence Hub 2023). This means there is a real gap in the region when it comes to women in the workplace and women in business accessing finance.

A strong investment ecosystem in the North East needs to be inclusive to support business and economic growth. A lack of diversity and female inclusion effects our economic prospects and is an issue we need to tackle head on. Without doing so, we are at threat of seeing this gap widen.

We believe that equity leads to quality, and not just in relation to financial investment. The businesses we work with that have inclusive and truly flexible policies, perform better, have happier and more productive teams, create more impact and are fiscally successful. Therefore, flexibility and as such inclusion are central to business development.

Positive impact of inclusion in the workplace

Diverse ideas, opinions and attitudes can be central to promoting growth for your business and the region.

By fostering an environment that is welcoming of difference, your business might be able to tap into new avenues of innovation and creativity. This could include new funding options, new markets, and alternative views on how your business works.

The most sustainable way to achieve these results also lies in diversity; making sure your employee team is varied and open to variation, as well as working with other businesses, partners and funders who might be outside your usual circles.

Business inclusion has the long-term effect of also improving regional inclusion too. If diversity brings both new innovations and economic success, a range of investors will be more inclined to bring their money to businesses operating in this region. Positively impacting opportunities for all.

A workforce that creates an inclusive environment is also one where employees tend to be the happiest. Inclusion makes sure voices and individual needs are being identified and met, which improves job satisfaction. This in turn reduces job turnover rates, which can lead to greater economic success for your business.

Challenging the business status quo

One of the barriers facing female-led teams who might be seeking financial investment is the inequitable make-up of the investment landscape itself.

Our work through the Northern Investor Hub is challenging the status quo by inviting more female investors and working with investors and funds to ensure they can see the financial value in closing deals with female-led and diverse teams. The news in this week’s Budget to reinstate the threshold to qualify for sophisticated investor status will help to increase diversity amongst the investors we work with.

At the same time, we’re working with businesses to ensure they’re considering diversity in their team make-up and that when they do go in front on an investor they are ready to sell their proposition with confidence and purpose.

Through our events and business support programmes, we strive to provide advice and guidance to help businesses benefit from inclusive approaches, but we also practice what we preach.  Our programme and events are designed with diversity in mind, from the venues we select to the way we market our activities.  We believe it is our job to provide the opportunity for lesser heard voices within business, so they have the opportunity to speak, and by doing so we hope to encourage others to speak on their experiences.

Our team itself is incredibly diverse. As a woman, leading a team with many women in senior leadership roles, diversity has always been mission-critical for the Innovation SuperNetwork. Our flexible-first approach to work means we’ve been able to attract and retain exceptional talent that ensures we stand out and deliver impactful support to businesses and the region’s innovation and investment ecosystem.

There is still work to do to tackle systemic discrimination and unconscious bias so we encourage our colleagues and the businesses we work with to think how they can ‘invest in women’ – you will find the rewards are more than just financial.

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