Empower programme brings more women into rural economy

Empower, the women’s entrepreneurship programme due to be delivered in the iHubs on Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), IT Sligo and Letterkenny IT campuses in May, will now be delivered fully online from June, in line with the continuing physical distancing restrictions around Covid-19.

The Empower programme has been running in the Galway and Mayo GMIT iHubs since 2017 and expanded to counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal last year under the Connacht Ulster Alliance (CUA).

Funded by the department of justice and equality and the European social fund, the application deadline has been extended to Friday, May 29.

All participants need to have access to a device – PC or laptop – and good broadband. Selected participants will engage online in group discussions and in one-to-one mentoring sessions. Role models will also be introduced along with new modules on leadership and sales.

GMIT president Dr. Orla Flynn said that, in Ireland, female-led businesses remain an underdeveloped source of economic growth and jobs.

“As part of a drive to increase the number of female entrepreneurs in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, GMIT Innovation Hubs set out to increase participation with the launch of Empower in 2017, expanding to Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal last year.

Bringing more women entrepreneurs into the economy will help improve economic growth and stability and is particularly needed in the rural and peripheral west and north-west of Ireland.

According to Maria Staunton, Empower programme manager, the Empower programme is helping many women build confidence, assess skills to implement ideas or scale businesses, and deliver market opportunities.

“Over 64 women in the west have completed the programme since 2017 and 146 people are currently employed by the businesses full-time and another seven part-time,” she said.

Redressing imbalance

“Labour force participation rates for women in Ireland remain low by international standards despite rising wages and more career opportunities, and this Empower programme aims to help redress that imbalance.

“CSO [Central Statistics Office] figures indicate that while the gender differential in the participation rates between men and women here is falling, it remains wide – 68.4% for men compared to 56% for women – even though women make up over 50% of the population.

“Women’s participation in the economy is vital if we are to get the economy on track again especially after the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the programme manager.

The women I have worked with on this programme have shown tenacity and determination to get their business up and running.

“Whilst I have observed high levels of ambition, some lack confidence and have low perceptions of capability. Sometimes aversion to debt and a conservative approach to risk-taking can hamper ambition,” Maria said.

“Often entrepreneurship is seen as providing more flexibility for women. However, work-life balance still remains a challenge, particularly so during this Covid-19 lockdown. The ‘guilt’ factor often comes into play amongst women as they spend time on their business whilst having other responsibilities,” she said.

Challenges

“They face numerous challenges in terms of work-life balance, something which shouldn’t and cannot be overlooked by policy makers. Women often choose self-employment for lifestyle reasons, particularly when the children are young, while men, to a larger extent, are driven by pecuniary motives,” said the programme manager.

“One interesting observation is that these women are paving the way for future entrepreneurs. I often remark that female founders teach their children – boys and girls – all about entrepreneurship as they often have to have the kids beside them when on telephone calls or have to bring them to meetings.

“I know some who involve their kids in helping to pack orders. One person on the programme even brought her four-week-old son along on some occasions as she was breastfeeding him. It’s important for us on the programme to ensure there are no barriers put in place,” said Maria.

In the future the bigger impact – apart from job creation – may be the impression they leave on their children. We talk about implementing entrepreneurship in schools but what better way to learn about entrepreneurship than listening to and being involved with your parents on topics such as new ideas, ordering stock, money, etc.

“This might be the bigger impact supporting women entrepreneurs has on the economy.”

The Empower programme is funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund as part of the programme for employability, inclusion and learning 2014-2020. The local enterprise are also very supportive of the programme.

For more information about Empower, see: www.empowerher.ie.