IAN HOUSTON says International Women’s Day can serve as a reminder that investing in female-led businesses sparks greater economic output
Outside my late father’s primary school in Glasgow there are two old stone gates, one that was the entry for “Boys” and the other for “Girls.” Much has progressed since that time in Scotland, but the gates are metaphoric and literal reminders of the gender divisions that girls and women faced when entering the grounds of equality.
As we approach International Women’s Day, I pay tribute to the countless women trailblazers in Scotland and around the world who have advanced and continue to advance lasting and much-needed change.
In Scotland, I marvel at how the Glasgow Women’s Library as the only accredited museum in the UK that honours women. The library located at 23 Landressy Street is dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements. It is inspirational. Through the library’s collections, archives, and innovative programmes,
I find a bridge to certain questions: What is the state of equality and opportunity for women in Scotland, the UK and around the world, and what more should be done?
An organisation I admire and continue to learn from is Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES). WES champions women-led and women-owned businesses. What Scotland, the UK, and economies around the world need to better recognise is that by investing in and growing a business ecosystem of women-led and women-owned business, our local and global economies would grow substantially. The evidence of this investing connection is irrefutable.
WES has developed a growing national Women’s Business Centre with hubs across Scotland. The vision is profound and will unlock greater economic potential. These leadership steps are inspirational and places Scotland on a path for further growth.
I spent time in my career working with an organisation called FINCA International based in Washington, DC. FINCA is reaching the financially poor in remote communities around the world by extending micro loans and business training with a particular focus on women. The effort of FINCA and other organisations like it has been transformational and life-enhancing for women and families.
Investments in women at this level of the economy have proven humanitarian, social, and economic value. The result of investing in women and women-led and owned businesses and franchises sparks greater economic output. Those investments must expand significantly and be scalable.
Professor Sara Carter who is Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow and is a Professor of Entrepreneurship, was an early thinker in making these links and advocating for change. Professor Carter has made it clear that the contribution of women-led businesses to the Scottish economy is substantial. Estimates suggest that women-led businesses contribute billions of pounds to Scotland. It is essential to keep developing and empowering these leaders and entrepreneurs to release an even greater potential.
This has been an especially challenging and taxing year for women and I celebrate and honour the leadership, resilience, and sacrifices of women around the globe, past and present.
I also see many historic achievements and glass ceilings in business and politics that have been broken. But there is still much global ground to cover in terms of closing pay gaps, expanding credit, breaking down gender barriers, providing greater access to education for girls, increasing health and wellness care, creating more progressive family leave policies, among other goals.
When I look at Scotland, I admire the steady growth, innovation, and progress being made by women leaders and entrepreneurs. That momentum must be sustained in Scotland, and reach further around the world. It is this gate we can construct, proudly pass through together, and leave as a passageway for future generations.
Ian Houston is the president of Scottish Business Network (SBN) US and SBN ambassador in Washington, DC
International Women’s Day is on Monday 8 March