The number of female entrepreneurs has increased by around 9.6% over the last two years compared with a 3.3% rise for men, according to the Office for National Statistics. Of these self-employed women, an estimated 300,000 are mums, contributing £7.4bn to the economy each year.
These figures are impressive, and appear to represent a shift towards entrepreneurial equality. Female business owners the world over are inspiring not just because of what they have achieved, but often also because of the barriers facing them. Yes, that’s right, I’m looking at you societal persecution. So in honour of all the female freelancers here are a few inspiring British women who led the charge.
Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop
The Body Shop was born upon the kitchen table in Anita Roddick’s front room in Brighton. It has since grown to be a multinational company with shops in major cities around the world. The business was first started as a means to make money for herself and her two daughters while her husband travelled around South America, and it seems she had no idea at the speed at which it would grow.
Anita Roddick’s equally inspiring daughter, Sam, told the audience at the Brighton Summit: “The Body Shop was made great by a continued ethos and values that fed into every aspect of the business.” And despite the later decision to sell the business to L’Oreal, The Body Shop retained a reputation for boycotting animal testing, environmental protection and support of all types of women, regardless of shape and size.
Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish, founders of notonthehighstreet.com
Another kitchen table success story, Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish developed online retailer notonthehighstreet.com in 2006. The founding ideal was to hunt out the most original items from the best creative small businesses and bring them together in one place, making it easy for people to browse and buy. This ideal has continued to today and notonthehighstreet.com continues to appease every quirky whim and fancy of the British public.
Carol Ann Duffy, poet
Carol Ann Duffy is an understated inspiration, a woman respected for her works and little known for her private life. She was appointed the first female poet laureate in 2009 and has been a personal hero since I read her honest and poignant poem ‘Valentine’ as a romantically confused teenager.
Duffy is also a pioneer for LGBT rights and has been openly gay for the majority of her career. Many of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems are about the plight and strength of women; her collection ‘The World’s Wife’ contains poems written from the perspective of the women behind well-known literary, mythological and biblical figures. She gives women a voice and is a figure of strength and integrity for the British public.
Stephanie Shirley, business woman and philanthropist
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley founded the software company F.I. Group in 1962. She was concerned with creating work opportunities for women with dependants and as such predominantly employed women – especially mothers with young children.
Shirley’s business model accepted that most new mothers would not be able to work regular hours, so it operated a skeleton of full-time staff and relied on freelancers and part-time workers to make up the bulk of the workforce.
Shirley adopted the nickname “Steve” in written correspondence to make it easier to operate in the male-dominated workplace of the 1960s, but eventually emerged as a powerful force in her own right and bested the majority of her male competitors.
Margaret Thatcher, politician
The Thatcher topic is controversial and understandably emotion-fuelled – many lives were drastically changed due to the actions of this powerful woman and there is a strong belief that her policies destroyed a part of British culture. However, if we remove emotions, as hard as that is to do, and look only at the positive, we will find some incredibly inspiring traits in the Iron Lady. Aside from being the first female Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher was a woman who knew her mind and stuck to it. She was fierce and she was bold and because she was not afraid to be hated, she was strong.
Eve Ensler said: “decide whether you want to be liked or admired.” When Margaret Thatcher died, tortured by dementia, many across the country celebrated. Yet she will remain forever a beacon of possibility for the women of a nation who, less than 70 years before Thatcher came to power, had only just won the right to the general vote.
Photo by Johnny Cyprus