Interview with Karen Gill, everywoman co-founder

Karen Gill MBE is the co-founder of everywoman, a global learning and development organisation that drives positive change by empowering women to achieve their professional potential. 

As part of its portfolio, everywoman’s cross-industry awards, such as the everywoman Entrepreneur Awards, the UK’s leading awards programme for women in business, have created thousands of female role models and inspired generations of future leaders.

Photo of Karen GillKaren, what is the story of everywoman? What inspired you to start this organisation?

We started to build an online community for women entrepreneurs in the late 1990s and we kept hearing about the condescending attitudes women faced in business and a reoccurring conversation around the lack of flexible working. Women were finding it almost impossible to juggle big careers and families, especially if travel was involved, like I had experienced during my career. Consequently, industry was losing many women after they had children, and it was the top reason women were leaving their jobs to start a business.

This poor service for women by business extended to the media. Female business leaders were rarely interviewed in the media, and when asked to name five female entrepreneurs most could only come up with Anita Roddick from the Body Shop.

Maxine Benson MBE (the co-founder of everywoman, “Max”) and I wanted to start a company to solve this problem; advance women in their careers through a community for women to share stories, insights, and network, and provide a platform where these female role models could be celebrated in the spotlight and inspire future generations of women in business.

Today, everywoman is a global learning and development organisation that works with leading corporations and organisations, improving productivity and performance through its membership offering and unique tailored blend of products and services which unlock female potential and power businesses to accelerate their gender inclusion goals.

We also have cross-industry awards and forums that have created thousands of female role models and inspired generations of future leaders and female founders. Role models are so powerful and important in changing the landscape and inspiring the next generation of women in male dominated industries. When we started 25 years ago, even the term role model was not used, and there were so few women in business to look up to. It’s amazing to see the positive impact everywoman has had and how many businesses believe in our mission and are working with us.

In 25 years, things have changed for women in business. What have been the greatest advancements in this field? What are the remaining challenges?

Technology has had a huge role to play. It has enabled so many more women to access learning and development content and since COVID the uptake of flexible and remote working has meant that many women, particularly those with families, are able to stay in the workforce, continue to advance in their careers and have more financial independence. Tech has also enabled more women to start-up their own businesses from home, especially with the growth of social media. Last year we even added a Social Star category to the everywoman Entrepreneur Awards, recognising women who had built their businesses through social media, and it was incredible to see the power and impact it can have for women’s business.

As I’ve said, when we launched the everywoman Entrepreneur Awards 22 years ago, we wanted it to be a platform to uncover and amplify the diverse array of female-led businesses. Until then, these role models were hidden from view and were missing from the story of the rise of entrepreneurship in the UK.

The visibility and number of successful female founders has come a long way over the past two decades, but the funding gap remains the biggest challenge for women in business and is key to unlocking the UK’s economic potential.

The UK government has an ambitious target to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by 50% by 2030, effectively adding 600,000 female-owned businesses to the market and boosting the UK economy by a projected £250 billion(1). The work of everywoman in providing a platform to showcase these role models will play a crucial role in this mission. 

There is a clear disconnect between the growth ambitions of female founded businesses and their access to funding.  Of the larger fast growth scale up businesses that entered the awards last year, 76% stated they were, or very likely, going to be seeking additional funding in the next 12 months, over 80% were planning to deploy more technology and 95% said they would be recruiting more employees(2). These women are wealth and job creators and the businesses we must be investing in for the growth of UK Plc.

The funding gap is still an obstacle for female founders, and we want the everywoman Entrepreneur Awards to be a call to arms for the investment and finance communities to double down on their efforts to understand how they can better serve these ambitious, unstoppable women.

Today, everywoman is recognised for its outstanding commitment to the advancement of women in business. What kind of support and resources does everywoman provide to female entrepreneurs at different stages of their journey?

We recognise that for SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) to compete with larger corporations for the best talent, benefits like personal development and training are a way to stand out from the crowd, increase employee engagement and support the advancement of women in their business. 73% of everywoman members consider personal development initiatives as vital for career progression(3). Last year, we launched a suite of products specifically catered to SMEs to do just that, so that resource and budget are not a barrier for DE&I (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) focus and training for small to medium sized companies.

Our Big Solutions For Small Budgets products are a cost effective suite of products that provide the tools needed by companies to transform their culture and empower their people.

We’ve developed a curated catalogue of solutions that will enable organisations to attract, retain and develop female talent and access crucial diversity products, services, and training. These ‘off the shelf’ resources will enable companies to target the areas they really want to impact and influence within their teams.

Although we only launched these products last year, the uptake has been phenomenal and we’ve already heard from women who have used these resources to get promotions or pay rises they otherwise wouldn’t have gone for, which is brilliant. We also see male allies coming to better understand the nuances and actions of allyship for the women in their business, which is so important. We want all businesses to be investing in retaining and developing their talent no matter what their size.

SG Kleinwort Hambros sponsors the everywoman Entrepreneur Awards – Next Level Award, this year. Could you tell us more about this award and you share some success stories from awarded female entrepreneurs?

Over 22 years of theeverywoman Entrepreneur Awards, Max and I been privileged enough to hear some outstanding stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things, and each year the bar gets higher and higher, so it’s difficult to pick out a few.

One that does stand out for me is Emma Elston, who founded UK Container Maintenance Ltd. She started the business at 22. She was struggling financially, using credit cards and living in a caravan. She bought some industrial bins and within a few years she had built a million-pound business. When she won in 2010, she said she was “blown away to be recognised by anyone, let alone by all the very successful women in the room”, it gave her a huge amount of confidence. She was featured in the press and became the face of a Federation of Small Businesses campaign to promote female entrepreneurs and was awarded an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). 

Another, Brie Read, Chief Executive of hosiery firm Snag Group, who founded her company because she wanted tights to fit, no matter what your shape or size. She raised £130,000 from family and friends, and within four years Brie had a turnover of £45million, with two million customers in 90 countries during the pandemic. It was just phenomenal to hear.

And more recently, Lottie White, co-founder of MyoMaster, a company which supplies products that help with sports recovery, who won in 2021, has gone from strength to strength with her business success. Lottie was recently on Dragon’s Den and secured an impressive £50,000 for her business on the acclaimed show.

The Next Level Award recognises female founders who have a highly profitable business (above £1,000,000 EBITDA - Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation) and are in that pivotal high-growth phase of their businesses. We are so excited to see this year’s nominations who, each year, continue to amaze and inspire us. I’d strongly encourage any female founder to enter this year’s awards, which are open until June 2024.

What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs who are looking to scale-up their own business?

In the UK, there are a significant number of organisations and institutions that are set up specifically to support entrepreneurs scale and grow their businesses. For example, The Scale Up Institute, or Accelerator Partners, who focus on helping high growth businesses get equipped to grow with leadership expertise, or BGF and also the traditional banks who have support schemes. It’s about tapping into organisations and institutions and taking advantage of the services that they offer and can benefit from.

And of course, I must mention everywoman. The awards and the everywoman community have created an incredibly unique group of like-minded women who not only advocate and champion each other, but also provide business referral and support network to eliminate feelings of being marginalised and isolated. At everywoman, we know that 99% of our members agreed that role models are inspiring with 36% citing them as providing the confidence to make decisions they otherwise would not have taken(3). Having that community and networking opportunities, alongside practical skills based personal development, is vital to career progression, support and unlocking the potential of yourself and your business.

I would like to encourage any female founders to enter the everywoman Entrepreneur Awards this year. The confidence, connections, support, and platform are a huge benefit to female founders at any stage of their business journey. For those looking to scale other winners and finalists end up supplying each other or receive angel investment or are acquired because of the awards, and many find new audiences. It’s a brilliant opportunity that should not be missed.

  1. Women-led high-growth enterprise taskforce report, 28 February 2024
  2. Survey of 2023 everywoman Entrepreneur Award nominees
  3. everywoman Impact Report 2020


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