How the workplace was won

Pay gap statistics and gender-based franchise owner figures all indicate that it will be some years before women are truly equal in the franchise world. But these numbers tell only half the story. Gareth Samuel investigates how franchising continues to evolve to empower independent women in the 21st century and what more needs to be done.

Sexism can creep up on you. Most men would say, no doubt, that the office environment is now as suitable a place for women as it is for men and that sexism in offices was the tired practice of sneering office relics from the 1980’s. However, recent reports have found that many women do not see it the same way. In 2013, Government reports found that in the FTSE 100, women accounted for only 17 per cent of all directorships. What’s more, a recent post on popular news smorgasbord, Buzz Feed, gained national press coverage when Editors picked up on the shocking stories of eight journalism graduates and their experiences of ‘everyday sexism’. It seems the days of the all-male boardroom are far from over.

Franchising, for its part, is different in nature to traditional businesses. By its very definition, investors are expected to become their own bosses, which means women have as much chance to become independent as their male counterparts. But it still has some way to go. According to the NatWest bfa Survey 2013, women account for just 30 per cent of all UK franchise owners, which may not seem too bad compared to the figure of just 20 per cent in 2009. However, in 2013 of all new franchise recruits, only 18 per cent were female, which indicates the industry is moving backwards rather than forwards.

It could well be argued that sexism in the workplace is reflective of the current mood and structure of the state; it has not gone unnoticed that Mr Cameron has systematically purged women almost completely from his cabinet. It could also be argued that the cultural ideology of housewives vs. breadwinners is not dead. Whatever the reason, franchising must adapt to set an example for the rest of the business world to follow. There are organisations, such as Encouraging Women into Franchising (EWIF) and the bfa, through its Women in Franchising campaign, which are doing their part to ensure women are inspired to become their own bosses through the uniquely secure franchise system.

Leading vocal individuals too within the franchise industry, such as the inspirational Pam Bader OBE of Molly Maid and Carol Stewart-Gill of Dublcheck, should be applauded for the difference they have made in addressing the bias in business.

One such individual is Cathryn Hayes, Head of Franchising for HSBC, who believes that strong women have exactly the qualities that are needed to be successful in franchising. She explains: "Many women who have been running a home and raising a family have many of the attributes needed to run a business successfully – they are decisive, energetic, organise well and are used to doing at least three things at once.”

Although females in franchising figures do not bode well for independent women, there are, and will long remain, individuals and organisations striving to keep the march towards equality on track. While the battle against statistical inequality continues to rage, the war against workplace sexism is slowly being won.