I would like to thank my colleagues in the chamber today for their support for this debate, which marks the return of global entrepreneurship week. I also acknowledge the hard work of my friends and colleagues in Women’s Enterprise Scotland, who are in the gallery today. They lead the way in promoting and supporting women into business—work that they are tirelessly committed to all year round. Each year, they go from strength to strength.
I convene the cross-party group on women in enterprise. In the 18 months since the group started, we have had tremendous support from a wide range of stakeholders, including WES, which helps me to run the CPG, and I feel that the voices of women in business have been amplified somewhat by our work in the group. It is not just a talking shop: we get things done—not the least of which has been our securing of funding from the Scottish Government for supporting women in business through training and mentorship programmes.
In 2016, WES brought female business owners to Holyrood, where they received training on giving evidence to committees.
Since then, we have met women who are starting out in business at several recent events in Parliament, such as last month’s business in the Parliament event and Christine Grahame’s excellent evening event showcasing the business achievements of the army spouses from Glencorse barracks, in her constituency, which resulted from workshops that were put on by WES.
The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee published its report on the gender pay gap earlier this year. It has become a key indicator of where we are and the strides that we must take in order to close the gap. Alongside the gender pay gap is the gender enterprise gap. We must close that gap as a matter of economic urgency. If we could get the same amount of women as men running businesses, the injection to the Scottish economy would be significant; there would be an increase of more than £7 billion, which represents 5.4 per cent economic growth. Any Government minister would be shouting that growth figure from the rooftops.
Following on from that, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee inquiry into data is identifying that the lack of gender-disaggregated data only masks the issue further. The scale of the shortfall in women-led businesses getting business support, for example, needs to be identified and such businesses need to be targeted in the future.
I am delighted to see so many colleagues in the chamber today, because that must mean that they, too, are keen to champion the benefits of helping to support and encourage more women into business. As it is global entrepreneurship week, our goal has to be that we support women-led business to trade and work all over the world. We all know the Scottish Government’s four Is strategy of innovation, inclusion, investment and internationalisation. Women-led business must be included in all those elements if Scotland is to fulfil its potential. If I had given it a wee bit more thought at the time of lodging the motion for debate, I would have called it “Inclusion in Internationalisation”. Maybe next year. No one is allowed to pinch that—it is mine.
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Business Women Scotland awards in Glasgow, at which the keynote speaker was our First Minister. The winners and runners-up of awards are an inspiration to those who follow in their footsteps. I say “follow”, but we often hear that, in reality, women who run businesses are very giving of their expertise to other women who are starting out. They pull others up behind them; they mentor, support and champion one another.
All over Scotland in global entrepreneurship week there are celebrations of those who are operating abroad from Scotland—rightly so. I say to women in business that they should not look at globally operating business and think that they will never get there—that it is for someone else or that it is too hard—because the women who win the awards were once them. I say to them that they should not look at success and think that they cannot achieve it, but should instead speak to those women who win the awards and tell them that they would like to achieve what they have achieved, and ask whether they have time to tell them how they did it. Women will share that experience gladly.
Across the mentoring and support systems that are growing among female entrepreneurs, there will be many conversations that revolve around experience sharing that can encourage women who are not already doing so to reach global markets. Next week, in global entrepreneurship week, I hope that there will be as many conversations challenging and offering support to business to go global as there will be conversations revelling in the success of those who have already done so.
I move on to the traditional member’s debate speech section—my favourite bit—in which we get to make a fuss about someone in our constituency. I am looking forward hugely to hearing my colleagues use the opportunity to champion women-led businesses in their constituencies, but I will get in first with one of Aberdeenshire East’s success stories, right on my doorstep in the wee village of Newmachar, where I live.
Eight years ago, Lindsay Ritchie took a part-time course at North East Scotland College to learn how to make kilts. Since then, her passion has turned into a business, and she now employs eight staff in the local area and is a fully fledged global brand with customers all over the world. By the end of this year, her firm, Kilts Wi Hae, will have achieved a turnover just shy of £1 million. I have had the pleasure of visiting Lindsay’s business both as her MSP and as one of her customers. The way she runs her business is an exemplar of all that I frequently rave on about in Parliament.
Those who know me know that I never tire of talking about the benefits of flexible working. Lindsay says her workplace prides itself on its flexible working, which means that she and her staff can put as much effort and enthusiasm into their business as possible and still arrive on time at the school to pick up their children. The business is all the better for that, and her employees are loyal and committed.
Lindsay Ritchie has become a global ambassador for her business and for female entrepreneurs. She has shown that they can spin a small idea into their very own brand and do that in a way that fits in with their lives beyond work. In the packing area of Kilts Wi Hae, there is a map of the world with dots that show where the company has shipped kilts, gifts and accessories to. That map is absolutely covered in dots. If a small business from Aberdeenshire that is tucked away on a B road beside fields of horses can sell kilts and sporrans to four continents, any business can do it.
We can all point to reasons why not as many women as their male counterparts operate globally and why not enough women set up in business, but I want to leave that for another day, because today is about encouraging entrepreneurship and recognising that, without women, we would not hit the four Is. Today is about making a right good fuss of the women in our constituencies who are reaching out beyond our borders and making things happen for their businesses across the world. It is about women who are going global and who will help Scotland to reach its potential.