Want To Support Other Women? Cherie Blair Shares How To Back Women Entrepreneurs
“Too often women are told what they can’t do. Actually, we need to understand that we can! We need to find our own power. We do that by believing in ourselves and believing in each other. When we do that amazing things can happen,” says Cherie Blair, lawyer and founder of Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
When Blair's husband, Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, she had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of women entrepreneurs. Blair said that this experience made her want to accelerate the number of women in entrepreneurship so that they could become economic actors in their community.
“This is why I decided to focus my foundation on women’s economic empowerment. To help them set up, grow and expand their own businesses.” One of the key ways the foundation does this is through its Mentoring Women in Business Program. Enabled by technology, the program connects 6000 mentors and mentees across 100 countries.
The foundation also provides women in developing and emerging markets with access to online training - like financial literacy - which will enhance their business skills. “I firmly believe that a woman who has her own money can make her own choices,” says Blair.
In this interview, Blair shares why it is so important for women entrepreneurs to pay it forward and how men play a critical role in advancing women at work.
King: Can you share why the foundation has such a strong focus on mentoring?
Blair: I really believe women have to be each other’s cheerleaders and supporters. If we don’t help each other who is going to? There is a lot of talk about ‘queen bees.’ But sometimes it suits men to suggest that women are not collegiate with each other. It serves to justify the way things are. I have actually have found that most women are open to helping other women. In our foundation, we have many great women who provide practical assistance like donating money or giving their expertise. They also provide moral and emotional support, which is so vital.
King: How is your foundation using digital platforms to scale its mentoring program?
Blair: One of the first things I thought about when setting up this foundation was this idea of using technology to provide women with access to a global mentoring support network. We use a Google-based platform to reach over 100 different countries and provide women with access to mentees. Men and women will mentor for a year will provide mentees with two hours of support a month. We don’t just leave them though. It is a very structured program with training.
King: What is the impact of this support on women entrepreneurs?
Blair: It is quite clear that a lack of confidence is absolutely one of the things that women entrepreneurs and women, in general, have in common. They are so used to being told what they can’t do. Or that these are things that only men can do. In addition to giving them skills training, we connect them to each other. We give them the networks and mentors they need. We take a holistic approach to address this issue of confidence. We find that this has a knock-on effect, as 80% of mentees pass on what they have learned to other women and 50% of mentees go on to become mentors themselves. Women are also more likely to hire other women and to do business with other women — particularly if they have a network and a community.
King: What role do men play in either mentoring or sponsoring women in the workplace?
Blair: We must see men as part of the solution to this. We cannot carry on talking about gender inequality in rooms full of women. We cannot keep talking to each other — behind closed doors. We must engage with men. There are many men who want to engage with women as equal partners. They themselves don’t want to be pigeonholed into the idea that ‘real men’ only do certain things. Or they don’t show emotion. Or don’t nurture and care for their family outside of providing an income. We need to encourage men who feel equally uncomfortable about the attitudes that other men are showing to stand up and to speak up.