Catalyst South and Coast to Capital Chair Julie Kapsalis
This International Women’s Day I have been reflecting on how it feels to be a female leader in 2022, taking stock of the challenges we have overcome and looking to the future to see how we can break the bias and forge women’s equality.
Dating back to 1909, when an event was held in solidarity for female garment workers who had gone on strike to protest over working conditions, now International Women’s Day is celebrated across the world. But while its profile has increased, particularly in the UK, we must challenge ourselves to create a world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive every single day.
This year I am particularly proud to highlight the work I have been a part of as Chair for Coast to Capital LEP and also Catalyst South – a strategic alliance of six Local Enterprise Partnerships with a focus on championing an economic and business voice and promoting collaboration across boundaries to stimulate business growth and recovery.
Our ambition at Catalyst South is to unlock the South’s economic power and it has been fantastic to focus on how we can achieve this with diversity and inclusivity front and centre.
Last year Catalyst South adopted an innovative Artificial Intelligence programme that we had been using at Coast to Capital, to help identify and support female business leaders. The disaggregation work has helped us to unlock new opportunities for female-led businesses, enabling us to provide a more equitable business support service. It helps us better engage with more women-led businesses to obtain a deeper understanding of the number of businesses across different geographies and sectors, to ensure women receive the funding they need.
At South East LEP (SELEP), a £4m COVID-19 Recovery Funds programme for business support and skills has supported a number of female entrepreneurs and female-led businesses to start-up, pivot or adapt digitally as a result of changing economic conditions. This complements targeted local schemes, such as Her Biz in Hastings, for aspiring female entrepreneurs looking to start a business, Successful Mums in Kent helping females back into the workplace and the Business HotHouse, which delivers across Coast to Capital and Lewes and Newhaven in the SELEP area.
Thames Valley Berkshire LEP celebrated International Women’s Day with its ‘Inspiring Women in Business’ event on Friday 4 March. Attendees heard from inspirational, motivational women in business on how they have grown their business and discussed how to strengthen access to finance for women-owned businesses and narrow the funding gap for female entrepreneurs.
Whilst Hertfordshire LEP are celebrating the achievements of women on their LEP Board, Programme Boards and within the Executive Team who are helping to #BreaktheBias in Hertfordshire.
Elsewhere at Coast to Capital I am delighted to be able to share that we have become the first LEP to sign up to The Investing in Women Code, a commitment by financial services firms to improve female entrepreneurs’ access to tools, resources and finance. This follows on from our continuing work with NatWest on the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship that highlighted why the barriers women face in businesses are not just an issue of equality, but also for the economy.
For me, International Women’s Day allows me the opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come, while also pushing me to think more strategically about how we can continue to address our wider diversity to ensure we are representative of our region.
Last year we launched The Coast to Capital Backing Business Grants – a £2 million fund that was set up to provide grants to independent small businesses and social enterprises that had been affected by Covid-19. Through this, we supported a number of women-led businesses including Piglet’s Pantry, Brighton Gin, Caroline’s Dairy and Bird&Blend Tea. The grants were hugely successful and have enabled us to support business recovery across our region, while also ensuring women-led businesses can access the same level of support and funding.
In my role as Chair at Coast to Capital and Catalyst South, I can assure you that we are working hard to unlock further opportunities to support women across our region and are driving forward a world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.