I start by congratulating my friend and colleague Gillian Martin MSP on bringing a motion on global entrepreneurship week to Parliament. It rightly focuses on women in business and as entrepreneurs. Here we stand in the national Parliament of our country, where 35 per cent of our members are women—aren’t we lucky?—and the Parliamentary Bureau, which decides on the business that we debate as MSPs, comprises six men. In this institution, we boast of our progressive commitment to equality on the one hand, but the average woman’s salary in Holyrood is 11 per cent lower than that of the average man. Yesterday, the Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee met with five male MSPs and me.
However, this debate is not about this place or our lack of direct action to tackle gender inequality. Let us talk about the entrepreneurs and the women who succeed in business even when the odds are stacked against them. Figures from the UK Office for National Statistics show that women in Scotland, where average salaries are lower than those south of the border, are still being paid on average 15.2 per cent less than men.
I was interested in Jackie Baillie’s comments about Fife Council, but there is not a single mention of gender in its draft economic strategy for 2017 to 2027. As Gillian Martin’s motion notes, we need
“a gender-aware approach to economic development, enterprise and growth policies”.
In June last year, women in my constituency had a 10 per cent lower employment rate than Scottish women nationally. It is clear that Fife Council needs to consider gender in its plans for driving economic growth. Later today, I will be writing to the chief executive of Fife Council to ensure that it goes back and looks again at how it can adequately address the gendered barriers that women face in accessing work and starting their own businesses.
In 2017, women are still paid less than men and find it harder to get into the labour market, so I welcome the First Minister’s recent announcement of funding to tackle the gender gap in business. I note that Business Women Scotland’s BWS live events programme is to receive £60,000 for networking and to support events across Scotland. I invite Business Women Scotland to consider Glenrothes or Leven in my constituency as locations for future events.
Women’s Enterprise Scotland has also trained members of staff at business gateway Fife on gender balance. That is welcome, but we could be doing better and moving faster in the kingdom. As Gillian Martin notes in her motion,
“if the rates of women-led businesses equalled those of men, the contribution to Scotland’s gross value added ... would increase from £7.6 billion to £13 billion”.
More women in business is clearly good for business.
I would like to give a specific mention to Eden Fyfe Accounts, which operates nationally from its headquarters in Glenrothes in my constituency. It was founded in 2007 by Christine Convy, and all staff in the company are women. Eden Fyfe’s director, Lisa Bray, works with the Fife women in business networking group to give women more confidence and more contacts in business.
I would also like to mention the fantastic Lesley Reid, who runs her own business, the Willow & Plum Soap Company. Lesley established her business in 2013 and it specialises in cold-pressed soap, using natural ingredients that are kinder to skin than conventional soap. Lesley taught herself how to make soap from scratch, and she even managed to train her husband as well. Today, the company is a thriving family business that ships its products globally, all from its premises in Kinglassie. Business gateway supported Lesley when she came up with the idea in 2013 while she was very pregnant. Lesley states:
“they liked the idea, they saw my vision and I qualified for the ‘Create In Fife’ fund, which covered start-up costs.”
What an accountancy firm and a soap maker share in common is female ingenuity and the spirit of entrepreneurial aspiration that says, “I’ve got an idea and I’m going to make it happen.” There are female politicians in this place who, later today, will work across the party divide to hold this institution to account. The work of people such as Lesley Reid and Christine Convy teaches us all, regardless of our workplace, that women’s voices are powerful, that they are valid and that, if we truly listen to them, that is good not just for a fairer society but for business.