Government business site 'not woman-friendly'

Branding on the Great Business site not seen as woman-friendly due to the "proliferation of Union flags"

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Union flags are putting off women from using a government business advice website, a new report suggests.

Branding on the Great Business site is not seen as "woman-friendly" with the "proliferation of Union flags" leading to comparisons with a military recruitment site, the Burt Report says.

The study by Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt, the government's ambassador for women in enterprise, also insists female entrepreneurship will benefit from increased Government attention although "untapped talent" will remain as long as women own one in every five businesses.

The report seeks to offer recommendations to the government to help boost the number of female entrepreneurs.

It suggests there is a need for better communication to "break barriers", such as speaking inclusively with women entrepreneurs - including on the Great Business website - and by offering "diverse businesses diverse support".

An accurate picture of the "true levels of diversity" is needed to help every business to have the chance to benefit, Ms Burt says as she proposes collecting diversity data by using government procurement processes, the VAT register and knowledge of local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).

LEPs should also appoint directors from diverse backgrounds and at all levels where decisions are made, plus develop a strategy to get involved with diverse businesses, Ms Burt adds.

On the need to speak inclusively, the report says a frequent complaint to emerge in conversations with senior stakeholders and female entrepreneurs is that women view entrepreneurship services as "not for them".

The Solihull MP added in the report: "One powerful way to show women that services are for them is to be explicit about it.

"The www.greatbusiness.gov.uk website includes a page explicitly for women in enterprise, which is welcome. It has links of particular interest to women entrepreneurs.

"To show graphically that the page is for women the bar on the right-hand side of the page uses all-women case studies.

"However, in all other respects the page uses the same branding as the rest of the Great Business website.

"This branding is seen as not 'woman-friendly': the proliferation of Union flags, for example, has been compared to a military recruitment site."

Ms Burt proposes changes to the website and notes clicking on one link leads to the "supposedly gender-neutral" finance page which has three case studies, all men.

She said: "The unintended implicit message is that finance is a 'male' subject. Women should be treated as a high priority if the Government aims to raise their participation in enterprise to approximately 50%.

"The link to the women's section of the website should appear at the top of the homepage. Currently it is near the bottom right-hand corner.

"The women's section of the Great Business website is welcome but the branding should be made more inclusive."

It adds the website is a powerful tool but needs to "speak to women in language they recognise".

In the report's conclusion, Ms Burt said: "Women's employment levels are now higher than at any other time since records began.

"However, as long as just one business in five is owned by a woman there will be untapped talent which could be boosting the economy and creating jobs.

"Women's entrepreneurship is a huge potential growth area which will benefit from increased government attention."

A Department for Business spokesman said: "We designed the Great Business website by working closely with businesses - both male and female-led - and will continue to test it with a wide variety of users to ensure it meets their needs.

"We have also launched a new research project with the Government Equalities Office so that we can keep improving communication with female entrepreneurs."

The Great Business website was launched in November 2013.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the target to ensure women's representation on FTSE 100 boards hits 25% by this year is "now in sight".

As of October 2014, women accounted for 22.8% - up from 20.7% in March 2014.

Mr Cable said: "The government is committed to ensuring that talented women have the tools at hand whether it's running a business on their own or heading up a corporate board.

"The evidence is clear - gender diversity delivers better business decisions which are vital to securing the future prosperity of the UK."

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