Lydiah Igweh is the Director of Enterprise Support at Oxford Brookes University. With over 17 years of C-level Business Development, Marketing and Strategy experience, Igweh specializes in innovation, entrepreneurship, organizational change, leadership and digital transformation. She’s committed to championing women in business and advancing race equality. Lydiah enjoys writing, mentoring future young leaders with EY Foundation, public speaking and presenting.
In this edition of High Profile Magazine dedicated to women, Lydiah Igweh spoke to Pam Sheemar, about NatWest’s commitment to supporting female-led businesses in the UK, its efforts to create an inclusive organisation and what gender equality means to her.
Pam has worked for NatWest for more than ten years, including in retail banking and entrepreneurship. She headed up NatWest’s entrepreneur accelerator programme in Birmingham as Entrepreneur Development Manager. She has recently been appointed to a new role within the bank's Corporate and Commercial team as part of a new programme that will serve as a future talent platform, and which ensures Diversity and Inclusion and delivers on the bank's continued commitment to supporting all colleagues, specifically those from ethnic minority backgrounds, with focused development opportunities.
Tell us about your role at NatWest and how you help female-led businesses?
As Entrepreneur Development Manager I headed up the Birmingham Entrepreneur Accelerator Hub and in this role I supported hundreds of entrepreneurs to start, scale and succeed with their businesses, providing a web of support including access to an extensive internal network of support whilst working collaboratively with the external eco-system and stakeholder partners. This supports all entrepreneurs, male and female, and I am very proud to say it is very ethnically diverse.
Specific help for female entrepreneurs included access and support to our designated support such as Back Her Business, Dream Bigger and Advancing Female entrepreneurship programmes.
Why are NatWest interested in helping women in businesses?
The Rose Review was launched in March 2019 by Alison Rose, our CEO, at the UK government's request. The review sets out to identify the disparity between male and female entrepreneurs when starting and scaling businesses and the barriers facing women.
Advancing female entrepreneurship represents a £250 billion opportunity for the UK economy and NatWest are passionate about supporting female entrepreneurs to realise their full potential.
How is the extra £1bn of funding available for Women in Business going to help?
Support and encouragement for female entrepreneurs are needed as much as ever due to the Coronavirus crisis's disproportionate impact on women.
The Female Entrepreneurship Funding builds on several initiatives that the bank already has to support women looking to start, scale and grow their businesses.
The aim is to ultimately help female entrepreneurs to scale and grow and builds on the £1bn announced last January, which was the most significant intervention by a UK lender focused specifically on female-led businesses.
A central finding of The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship ('the Rose Review'), was that the single biggest issue holding female entrepreneurs back is the lack of funding.
Traditionally women are less likely to take on debt than male-led businesses, which can impact their ability to scale and group at the same rate. The increased engagement stimulated through government schemes has also allowed NatWest to ensure that female entrepreneurs gain access to this overall support package.
Why do you believe women-led businesses should get extra support to recover from the pandemic?
Due to the adverse effects of the Coronavirus, we have seen unprecedented demand from female-led businesses, and we have already exceeded our £1bn target one year ahead of plan. Female business owners are also more likely to struggle to balance business with family life during the pandemic with ¾ of female business owners finding managing their business challenging during the pandemic compared to 55% of males.
Increased intervention can help support female entrepreneurs with access to funding and accelerator programmes that provide full funding coaching, workshops, and networks. We are determined to play our part in levelling the playing field.
How is NatWest advancing Gender Equality internally?
At NatWest, our goal is to create a sustainable, inclusive culture, and we have many initiatives that support gender equality. We are committed to having at least 30% women in our top three leadership layers (c.4,000 roles) in each of our businesses by the end of 2020 and achieve a full gender balance across the bank by 2030.
Other initiatives include our Gender Employee Led Networks and personalised development programmes that encourage collaboration, mentoring and development and provide a platform for creating and accelerating a level playing field.
Have you experienced any inequality in your professional life? If so, how has it shaped you into the person you are today?
Being a BAME female, I have experienced inequality in my professional life in many instances. However, I have overcome them by continuing to deliver exceptional performance and always being a good citizen.
Much of this comes to a personal attitude, demonstrating a can-do attitude and a growth mindset. Initiatives such as the Midlands and East Accelerated Career Pilot Placement also help to level up and close the gap to ensure that there is support for individuals from an underrepresented background to ensure Inclusion and that our workplaces reflect our communities and customers.