The playing field is not, and has never been, level for women in entrepreneurship.
The 2019 Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship highlights gender inequalities throughout the entrepreneurial life cycle, highlighting the issues women entrepreneurs face at every step of the way. We need to change this picture for current and future generations of women, and to create the conditions that will enable significantly more women to become leaders and entrepreneurs.
At the University of Oxford, we are embarking on IDEA, a brand new initiative to increase diversity in enterprising activities. IDEA is being designed to tackle some of the key challenges and inequalities faced by groups who are currently vastly underrepresented in enterprise and industry. The first focus for IDEA is gender inequality – we want to empower, inspire, connect and upskill more women leaders, business founders and pioneers, and increase inclusion in entrepreneurship.
IDEA will provide a framework to increase opportunities and support for our students, staff and alumni who are interested in entrepreneurship, and will help support the ever growing community of women entrepreneurs in Oxfordshire. Our Implementation Group consists of ED&I practitioners and entrepreneurship supporters from across the University who are shaping this framework from their experience and expertise. We are partnering with key groups and organisations inside the University, but also those we currently collaborate with in our ecosystem.
One of the key elements of our plan is the recruitment of an Academic Champion for Women in Entrepreneurship. They will serve as a liaison for the Advisory and Implementation Groups and act as an advocate for this agenda at a senior level In the University, providing academic and strategic leadership as part of the entrepreneurship objectives set out in our University Strategic Plan (2018-2023). The Champion will play a key role in the development of IDEA to help inspire, develop and support women interested in or already involved in entrepreneurship.
In addition, a selection of key programmes and projects will be developed to target areas where we can create systemic change, ensuring opportunities for engagement and feedback from women entrepreneurs (as well as male allies) is provided. IDEA will not be re-inventing the wheel; with many great programmes already out there (such as RisingWISE, a joint Oxford-Cambridge programme) we will support existing activities, as well as developing areas where there is a gap or an identified need. As this will be an iterative process, we would welcome good practise examples from other Universities; we want learn from others, increase knowledge sharing, explore collaboration, and bring together similar communities.
A series of open-to-all entrepreneurial events and webinars will be curated and organised – these will include a speaker series, skill sharing workshops, peer groups, and community networking opportunities. Experts and mentors, drawn from our staff, alumni, spinouts, and Oxfordshire community, will provide enhanced support to grow.
IDEA will also collect more data on student and staff engagement across the multitude of in-course and extra-curricular entrepreneurship activities in the University; this will highlight the pathways taken when moving from entrepreneurial interest to action for different groups, and allow us to better spot and fill the gaps, and ensure that our activities are inclusive.
To bring it all together, the IDEA webpages will list current resources and opportunities, including a calendar of events, networks, online platforms, and courses. In addition to resources, there will be stories and case studies, such as the Wonder Women series, which will showcase women in entrepreneurship with an Oxfordshire link.
IDEA as an initiative is brand new, but we have been preparing the ground for a while in both ED&I and entrepreneurship to bring this together. As we listen to our community, work with our sponsors, and develop the plan with our key stakeholders, we are creating an inclusive environment where women are encouraged, incentivised, and properly supported to become, and flourish as, entrepreneurs. Watch this space – we are really excited to be developing this initiative and creating real change in our ecosystem.
We would love to hear how you are creating similar programmes and spaces, and how we can learn from each other – for more information or to share details of programmes, contact Leah Thompson email@example.com
Written in celebration of International Women's Day 2021 for the PraxisAuril blog series - Women in Innovation