Female leaders are looking increasingly like the answer, both for companies and society as a whole. But, as we know, one of the other things that has not changed over the years is the number of women actually able to apply these invaluable characteristics in formal leadership positions. Despite the evidence of girls’ ability to outperform boys at almost every level at school and university, despite women outnumbering men at entry level even in law firms, despite politicians’ banging on about the need to create pipelines to deliver more women into leadership positions, they are not always getting to the top in business.
Women started out as a minority group in franchising, but are increasingly becoming the decision makers, and playing a much bigger role in the franchising world. Franchises, once a boys’ club ruled by men, have begun to catch on with women, many of whom are finding that franchise ownership can offer freedom and opportunities to thrive. Franchises of all types are actively courting women as franchisors are finding that women possess the perfect set up skills for running a successful franchise operation.
The ability to manage a business within your own time but with on-going franchisor support appears to be the big appeal in franchising for women. This combines flexibility with independence and backing, a winning combination. Women in franchising have many reasons to be drawn into the industry – a sense of community, a structured entrepreneurial venture, a chance to follow their passions. Women might still be in the minority in the franchising sphere, but whether they are breaking into existing industries or franchising their own companies, there are lots of more women out there right now paving the way for others to do the same.
The figures on females
While the latest figures on the gender breakdown in franchising are from 2013, they paint a telling picture of the course franchising has taken. The number of female franchisees in the UK has been steadily increasing over the last 25 years, with 30% of all UK franchisees now being women. Men make up 70% of franchisees right now, though this has dropped down from 78% in 2005. In 2006 just 16% of new franchisees were women, whereas in 2013 this figure was 30%. With four of the last seven individual winners of the bfa HSBC Franchisee of the Year Award being women, their achievements are well-documented and recognised.
Why is it that women are 51% of the workforce yet 95% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are men? There are 16% women CEO’s in franchising; 11% more than in Fortune 500 companies. Is it because these smaller, entrepreneurial companies have greater agility and ability to break down the stereotypes and institute cultural infrastructures and management that enable women to ascend?
It could very well be. Franchising can be a great move for women who are looking to take their career a step further or to have a career that fits in around their home life. While most small-business owners function primarily alone, franchisees are provided with the built-in community of the wider franchising industry as well as other franchisees. Because the franchising community has proven to be one that breeds openness and mentorship, it’s highly attractive for women.
Using people skills
There have been various reports regarding the advantages that women bring to small businesses. Women often bring unique people skills to their roles as franchisees. “A particular strength of women in franchising is their ability to identify with others and use empathy to relate to people and build trusted relationships quickly,” says Hannah MacKechnie of Radfield Homecare.
“This is very beneficial especially in the early stages to help your franchise business to get established in the marketplace quickly. Women also tend to have a high level of emotional intelligence and be able to pick up on other people’s thoughts and feelings which can be very advantageous in terms of anticipating other people's decisions and actions and actually help with the success of the business.”
A recent study by the consulting firm Caliper, The Qualities that Distinguish Women Leaders, found women leaders to be stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts and “more conducive to today’s diverse workplace, where information is shared freely and collaboration is vital.” Feminine values are possibly more related to practical life, i.e. how things happen and how you can make them happen. Cooperation, interdependence, consensus, motivation, trust and creativity are just some of the often cited feminine qualities. They allow for the building of sustainable networks, establishing trust with customers and good talent management.
The flexibility and multi-tasking of franchising
It’s no secret that having it all is a controversial topic among women – especially ambitious, entrepreneurial women. Making sacrifices is the name of the game – whether it’s time with family, personal time, self-care or time at the office, something has got to give in order for us to fit all we have to do into only 24 hours in the day. Many women also saw franchising as uniquely suited for women as it provides control and flexibility.
“One of the main benefits of franchising is the flexibility and freedom. There are many women looking to get back into work after having children but cannot find a job with hours that suit the school run. There are a huge variety of franchises that allow women to work from home and work around their family lives. Women also often find that the skills they learn in the home lend themselves very well to business ownership,” says Lisa Curteis of Rosemary Bookkeeping Ltd.
Owning a franchise also allows women to have more flexibility in their schedule, which may make franchises a good business-owning option for women who have families. While running a franchise is time intensive, it does allow entrepreneurs to structure their time to fit their needs. From raising kids to excelling in the boardroom, women thrive when they have a full plate on their hands. They’re excellent at multi-tasking, which is why they do so well in the franchising world.
When a woman has multiple roles, tasks and priorities, she doesn’t get stressed out. Instead she creates an action plan and starts getting things done. The role of a franchisee is a multifaceted one and multi-tasking is a crucial requirement. It can be daunting when you first begin your journey in the franchising world but women are very good at adapting and so naturally equipped to do just this.
Mentoring and leadership
You know how men would rather run out of petrol in the middle of no-where rather than ask for directions? Whereas women are more than happy to ask for directions, or for that matter, read the instructions before trying to assemble a flat pack; or follow a really great recipe that we know works without swopping the ingredients around. The thing is, franchising is all about following a system – indeed that’s what you’re paying for. A business format franchise is a system where the franchisor has a blue print for operating a successful business. The franchisee is paying for the right to use the blue print and replicate the franchisor’s business.
Leadership is one of the primary qualities that you need to succeed in franchising. It’s impossible to be your own boss without the ability to delegate and lead. Whether it’s women’s experience from previous positions, involvement in the local community or from parenting, women are used to being in situations and positions where it’s important to influence others. Owning a franchise means that you are responsible for a team of employees so it’s really important to be a strong leader at team meeting, giving words of encouragement, delegation and feedback.
Passionate about product
Further, franchises allow female entrepreneurs to pursue their passions. Whether franchising pre-existing businesses or becoming franchisees, women in franchising reported being drawn first to their product. Hannah MacKechnie says: “I think for many women it is not necessarily the business itself that holds the interest but rather the service or product that they are able to relate to. If they believe in the service or product then they are able to build a business around this by sharing their belief with others. To me this is a positive approach to business, especially in the caring sector which depends very much on trusted relationships and having a genuine belief in the service offered is the key to business success.”
Supporting women in franchising
It’s also interesting to note that women today have more opportunities than ever to join in franchising. Organisations such as the British Franchise Association and Encouraging Women Into Franchising (EWIF) have established workshops, seminars, mentoring programs, and funding opportunities for women interested in operating a franchise. There is also much more variety for women to choose from today in franchising. Gone are the days when women were simply relegated to working in more feminine-type businesses such as beauty and health-related franchises. Today’s franchising world offers up opportunities across all sectors and types of franchising and there are female success stories in all of them.
The British Franchise Association launched a specific campaign recently urging more women to consider the benefits of franchising. Pip Wilkins, head of operations at the bfa said: “Many of our top franchisors and franchisees in the UK are female but we want to encourage even more women to consider franchising as a route to self-employment. Franchising is the perfect way to go into business but with a support network there to help and assist you.”
It is very true that women have never had it as good in franchising as they do now. Equally though, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot that can still be done.