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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Encouraging dreams and aspirations

Friday, November 17, 2006

To celebrate Women’s Enterprise Day, and encourage tomorrow’s female entrepreneurs, Meg visited St Martins in the Fields School and spoke at their Assembly about the options for women today.

 

I want to speak to you about Women’s Enterprise Day, today. This is part of Enterprise Week which is a set of events all around the country aimed at helping young people to turn ideas into reality. Women’s Enterprise Day relates specifically to you - involving ideas on how young women can become entrepreneurs.

 

An entrepreneur, what’s that?  Well an entrepreneur is someone who has a business idea, and this idea could be to fulfil a need within your community. It could be something that seems ordinary and everyday, perhaps a new local pizza shop, a skate park, or even cr?che facilities in your parent’s workplaces. Having had the idea, the entrepreneur makes it happen.

 

There are entrepreneurs on a larger scale of course.  A couple of examples of female entrepreneurs whose ideas have turned into substantial businesses, they certainly fulfilled a need.

 

There’s the ‘Friends Reunited’ website that I expect a lot of you have heard of. This was an instant hit, it became immensely popular when people realised they could contact old friends and reminisce about their schooldays. I know the idea of wanting to talk about what it was like at school when you are older sounds strange, but it’s true.

 

This website was thought up by Julie Pankhurst in 1999 whilst she was expecting her first child.  Julie became curious about what her old school friends were up to, where they were, what they were doing - she wanted to get in touch with them. So ‘Friends Reunited’ was born. This business was recently sold on the Stock Exchange for £175 million.

 

Another example of a leading female entrepreneur is Michelle Mone, the creator of the Ultimo Bra.  Michelle thought that the bras available in shopping centres did not fulfil the needs of ordinary women, they were uncomfortable and expensive, and so she decided to do something about it.  She was 24 when she designed the bra, and it took her another 3 years to get it manufactured. Her first batch of stock was so popular it sold out within 6 months. Now Michelle is a leading executive of one of Europe’s fastest growing swimwear and lingerie companies.

 

Interestingly, when asked at school by a career adviser what she wanted to do, Michelle said, ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’!   She says that her entrepreneurial drive came from seeing a lot of deprivation whilst growing up in the East End of Glasgow.  Seeing unemployment and redundancies she decided at an early age that she didn’t want to be signing on, or scrabbling around for any job to make ends meet. She wanted to be in control of her life, have an interesting career with long- term prospects.  She has certainly achieved that.

 

There are around a quarter of a million minority ethnic enterprises in the country. They contribute at least £15 billion pounds a year to the economy. Interestingly the businesses that are led by women are more likely to grow faster!  We know from recent research that girls of 16 from ethnic minority backgrounds have the same aspirations as white girls to combine work and family life. A difference is that they are even more ambitious about their education and future careers. I also know that all minority ethnic pupils are more likely to participate in higher education, more likely to go to college and university.  

 

Last week I spoke at the launch of the Female FTSE Report 2006.  This report shows how many women there are in executive positions in top companies, BP for example.  Sadly the report showed this year that positive advances for women in previous years have been reversed - the number of women directors has gone down.   But the report also showed that there was a great deal of female talent just below board level - and these women need to be given the opportunity to attain a higher status.

 

Organisations benefit by increasing the diversity of their workforce, and by making better use of women’s skills. It has recently been estimated that if more women went into work, in better jobs with higher pay, it could be worth between £15bn and £23bn a year to the UK economy. Now that really is a great deal of money!

 

Women make up half the population, but are seriously under-represented in public life, whether as MPs, on boards of public bodies, business leaders. This situation isn’t acceptable. The greater involvement of women in all walks of life is important because every one’s opinion counts, we all should have a voice.

 

My Department has recently announced measures to improve the prospects and career options of women in the labour market.  We are encouraging employers to make quality part-time work available, and ensuring that all young people have access to careers information and advice.

 

I’d like us all to think about part of your school motto, ‘With Love and Learning’. To see how this relates to entrepreneurship, and how your ambitions can be realised. You are certainly privileged to be part of a school community that fosters learning, and allows you to gain that learning in a supportive environment. This is important because it will help your entrepreneurial spirits to flourish. I wish you every success in your dreams and aspirations.


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