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International Women’s Day 2024

In an ode to International Women’s Day 2024, we look at some of the reasons why women might not charge ahead in business, and hear from three women who have done just that

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A Bronze statue of political activist and homegrown suffragette Annie Kenny for the Women’s Social and Political Union in the centre of Oldham, England

Women in Sign

As another year passes and the time has come around again for us to  mark International Women’s Day, I have been looking back over research, statistics, and my own writing on the topic. I have to say, I have found more positive than negative reports on diversity within business and the disparity between female and male entrepreneurs and leaders does seem to be improving.

Two years ago in an article I wrote for SignLink to mark IWD 2022, a common theme that kept coming up amongst the women I interviewed was that whilst the number of women in the signage and graphics industry was visibly increasing, be that within companies or through the number of women attending and participating in exhibitions and industry events, the number of women in leadership or business ownership roles was still lacking.
However, according to research by the World Economy Forum, the share of women hired into leadership roles has increased by 3.6% in the past six years with the share of women hired into leadership roles increasing from 33.3% in 2016 to 36.9% in 2022. Whilst not a groundbreaking statistic it’s still encouraging to see the figure rising.

Additionally, a Rose Review Progress Report 2023 found that in 2022, women in the UK established over 150,000 new companies – more than twice as many as in 2018.

There is also plenty of research to back up the fact that a diverse leadership results in improved business performance. This makes sense when you think about the variety of skills and qualities both males and females can bring to a business and when you use these together to complement each other, it can only be a good thing.

According to McKinsey, businesses with diverse executive teams are 25% more likely to be highly profitable. 

Women-led businesses are also more likely to provide training and upskilling opportunities to their workers (European Investment Bank).

When the topic of women in the industry is raised, there can be a few that question the need for equality and challenge whether there is even an issue in the first place. On that note, I would say it’s worth remembering that despite waves being made and improvements being noticed, Globally, only a quarter of countries have equal legal rights for women and men (World Bank).

Out of 141 countries covered in the Women, Business and the Law database, only 38 countries have set out equal legal rights for men and women. This can affect women in areas such as their marriages and relationships as well as their careers.

This also feels a fitting time to mention that celebrating International Women’s Day and in turn championing for equality within the signage and graphics industry and further afield, does not mean that we feel women should take over the roles of men, and it very much does not mean this is only an issue for women. We need males and females to be working together to create a diverse and balanced workforce across the industry for optimum performance and success for all.

Last year’s Sign & Digital UK was a good example of this with the event’s Explains Lounge hosting a Women in Signs and Graphics talk featuring a ‘Men Supporting Women in Signs and Graphics’ Panel. This demonstrated the importance of male team members supporting and championing women in the workplace to create a better balance in the industry.

Founded in 2020 by Sarah Fenna and Izabella Ivanovici, Women in Signs and Graphics (WSG) has been working to make the industry more equal with the aim being to open up more opportunities in the industry for women whilst collaborating with the education sector to encourage the next generation of the industry.
In March 2022, WSG co-founder Sarah Fenna paid a visit to wide-format print business MacroArt where she led a session with the business’ client relationship manager Charlotte Barham for its growing female workforce.

The session discussed the need for a group like WSG and the women were invited to offer their feedback and insight into their own experiences as women in the industry.

Another initiative which was launched by the International Sign Association (ISA) and Sign Builder Illustrated is Women Leading the Industry (WLI). Currently only open to ISA members, WLI is dedicated to inspiring and empowering women in the sign, graphics, and visual communications industries who aspire to achieve leadership roles and was launched at the 2019 ISA Sign Expo.

Holding the Reins

When interviewing women for this year’s article, a common theme was a lack of confidence in ability when looking back to the start of their careers.

Funnily enough, this lack of confidence is documented in research with the Global Report on Women and Entrepreneurship 2012 finding that in every single economy included in the study, women have lower capabilities perceptions than men. In every region, women have, on average, a greater level of fear of failure than men.

What’s more, according to the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2019, women are less likely to believe they possess entrepreneurial skills. Only 39% of women are confident in their capabilities to start a business compared to 55% of men. This is a perceived gap in ability rather than an actual gap in skill sets.

This didn’t however put off two women from taking over the business they worked at and taking the leap to run a successful signage company.

Sam Morgan and Donna James took over Signspeed in October 2020 in a management buyout after the directors of the company retired.

(Above & below) Sam Morgan and Donna James, directors of Signspeed

Whilst working in a zoo, Morgan found herself feeling like she needed a change. When the company that was responsible for creating signs at the zoo (enter, Signspeed) was recruiting, she applied.

James also entered the industry accidentally. “My working life started as many do in our corner of West Wales at the tender age of 12, in ice-cream shops, and gift shops and working in various bars and restaurants. When I left school after my GCSE’s I dabbled with a course at a local college, but this wasn’t for me.

“At 17 I had been accepted by a Highstreet banking chain to take a role 50 miles away from home. Following the birth of my daughter, I returned West and after eight years in the bank, I left and ventured into the world of sales and business development in various B2B environments. This then led to a part-time position at the local newspaper and on to Signspeed.”