The annual 100 Influential Women in Franchising list for 2020 compiled by What Franchise & Global Franchise is now live.
Women are currently joining the franchise industry in greater numbers than ever - and according to the International Franchise Association, it’s a global trend. In fact, there is research to suggest that female franchise ownership in the US has increased by more than 80% since 2010, while the British Franchise Association has reported a 20% jump in the number of female franchisees since 2015, with 37% of all new franchisees in the last three years being women.
Even without knowing the stats, it really feels like there are simply more franchise opportunities today with a broader appeal than at any point in history. This should make it easier for anyone to join the industry, but when we see so many more business models offering flexibility of working hours, it goes a long way to helping women break out of the unfair, but common norm of being the ‘second’ earner in a household, mainly due to being the ‘primary’ carer – whether that be of children or elderly family members.
Of course, if we happily embrace the fact that women make up a majority of franchisees across the children’s activity and tuition sectors, then we can’t be obtuse when the same is still true of men in the more manually focused man in a van sector. There’s nothing to say that this status quo can’t or won’t equilibrate at some point, but I think most other sectors seem pretty close to having equality of entry. That’s simply not the case in the wider business world though.
Believe it or not, it’s been 50 years since the Equal Pay Act came into being in the UK. Basically, from that moment on, employers were legally prevented from paying a woman less than a man for the same job. So why does the gender pay gap still exist? With the exception of this year (due to Covid) the government has been requiring British companies employing more than 250 people to actually publish their gender pay gap information. Yet, despite campaigns by women’s rights groups promoting the need to close the gap, the results published in 2019 showed that the gap had actually increased – in fact almost 80% of the UK’s largest companies were still reporting a gap.
Anyway, I’m not normally one to drift into political rants, but it does beg the question - might one of the reasons women are seeking out and embracing the chance to become a franchisee be the complete lack of glass ceiling?
A cursory glance at the last 10 or so Franchisor and Franchisee of the Year awards finalist lists suggests that, in our industry at least, no-one seems to be questioning the crucial role women play in helping to build and grow businesses and strengthen the economy – it seems to be a given.
Attending events such as EWIF and EWIB you can’t help but notice that the camaraderie and mutual encouragement that might have historically been dismissed as ‘a bit girly’ in some quarters, is built upon a network of incredibly skilled and successful women. Might it be that women are actually inherently suited to franchising, and with no-one standing to benefit from holding them back, they flourish?
There are plenty of research papers that suggest women are naturally excellent in several key skill areas required in the franchise environment: communication, organisation, multi-tasking and emotional intelligence.
Women are also thought to be more open to sharing best practice and helping others ‘in the team’ which of course lends itself perfectly to being part of a franchise network. I’m sure we’ve all heard with monotonous regularity about the ‘parent & child’ nature of the franchisor-franchisee relationship? Well, perhaps women make particularly great franchisors thanks to a being more naturally disposed to patience and compassion and winning as a team, or dare I say, family?
Denise Hutton-Gosney, MD and Founder of Razzamataz Theatre Schools says “As a performing arts franchise, we have always had a high proportion of women in our network. What we are now increasingly finding is that there is no set route from where these women come from. On one side we have incredibly successful, multi-territory owning young women franchisees who joined us straight out of college and on the other, we have women who have already had successful careers and are choosing us because of the flexibility and job satisfaction that we provide. It has always been our ethos that family and running a Razzamataz franchise go hand in hand and that is the environment that we create. For many women with young children or for those who are carers or who have a busy house to run, this flexibility and understanding gives them the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and run a business, many for the first time.”
I’ve worked in franchising for 20 years now. I opened a refillable ink cartridge shop in Edinburgh not long after university – not a particularly sexy business I’ll grant you, but a good business. Customers came in and asked if it was a franchise so often that I decided I really ought to find out what a franchise was...
Fast forward a few years of seriously hard work, taking advice, ignoring advice (and one or two avoidable mistakes) and I had 70 franchisees in 6 countries from the Middle East to the Caribbean.
After taking up an opportunity to exit the business, I took a big leap into the corporate world, where I took on a national recruitment agency franchise. One of the lovely things about this was finding that, in contrast to the world I’d just left, so many of the franchisees were women. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that up until then I was very much the odd one out: female franchisor, under 30 and not part of a family business.
I never thought for a second that being a girl meant there was anything I couldn’t do in business, but it was very clear that a lot of people initially took me much less seriously because of it. This is anything but a sob story I hasten to add – I have always responded well to the opportunity to prove people wrong!
Empowered by those 10 successful years in franchising, and being surrounded by lots of strong, inspiring women in recruitment, I set up Platinum Wave Franchising to help people get as much out of franchising as I had. It was just me at the beginning and I had to go out a engage with the industry not as a franchisor, but as a consultant this time. Whilst franchise consultancy was certainly mainly still full of men, I was really encouraged to see so many more women at the events, awards, exhibitions and really influencing the industry.
If I have any words of advice or encouragement to give to other women in franchising or to those thinking of getting involved as either a franchisor or franchisee, it would be to say Just do it! There’s nothing to hold you back that won’t also hold a man back – some businesses shouldn’t be franchised, so get the best advice you can before franchising yours. Not everyone is a suitable franchisee for every franchise brand, so please choose carefully and take doing your due diligence very seriously. The importance of making the right decisions and working hard to achieve your dreams has no gender bias.
Honestly, there really hasn’t been a better or more welcoming time to get involved. The British Franchise Association has a female CEO and COO. Many of the most respected advisors and suppliers to the industry are woman, as are many of the most successful franchisors and franchisees.
Regardless of gender, franchising has openness, mentoring and collaboration at its very core. One person finds a brilliant way of providing a service or selling a product, and then teaches others how to do it, continues to offer support and guidance and creates a network of collaborators all working towards the same goals. Seriously, what’s not to love??