In Karren Brady’s view, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword for women.
“I think the negatives are there for everyone to see, in the way that women have been disproportionately affected by job losses, lower wages, and the pressure of childcare while working from home,” the businesswoman and Conservative peer tells City AM.
“But on the other hand, a lot of the prejudice against working from home is gone. It no longer means you’re slacking, and many women are now able to consider how their work fits in with those obligations and choose when they need to be in the office, without that judgement.”
Baroness Brady is doing the media rounds ahead of her Women In Business & Tech Expo next month, and she is well-briefed with slick answers when it comes to the event’s agenda: promoting women’s professional development during what she terms the “Great Resignation” post-pandemic.
“Lots of women are thinking that if they’re not working for an organisation that is as agile working as they would like, why don’t they set up their own businesses?”
As the economy bounced back from the worst of Covid, hundreds of UK entrepreneurs have benefited from a wave of venture capital (VC) investment, as VC firms poured a record £13.5bn into UK startups in the first half of the year – more than the whole of 2020, according to Dealroom data.
But barely any of the founders benefiting from funding were women.
After climbing fractionally for the past few years, the total capital invested in London startups founded solely by women dropped in the first half of 2021 to just £860m.
Add a male co-founder to the equation and the total capital invested in that period rose to £6bn.
Brady recalls a conversation with the female co-founder of one of Britain’s largest startups, who described how when she went to pitch for seed funding alongside her male co-founder, none of the investors asked her a question other than “are you going to go off and have loads of kids?”
“But that was a real driver for her,” she says. “If there was an equal mix of women and men working in decision-making roles like venture capitalism, then I’m sure more women founders would receive company funding.
“As it is, women have to learn to be extra assertive when they walk into a room. They must expect not to be taken seriously, and develop a mindset not to be dismissed.”
Brady’s stern persona as Lord Sugar’s female sidekick in The Apprentice begins to make sense.