07 - Will shareholder profit stay the panacea? ft. Maggie O’Carroll

January 7, 2020

Maggie O’Carroll is a leader in the field of women’s enterprise and has dedicated her professional life to improving the economic position of women, in the UK and internationally. Recognizing that women were a huge untapped entrepreneurial market in the UK and Europe, Maggie saw that there were both commercial and social impact opportunities in providing business support services to help more women to start and grow their own enterprises.  In 1996, Maggie founded North West-based award-winning women's economic development agency, The Women’s Organisation in Liverpool, England. In 2011, O’Carroll opened the doors to a £5.3million Women's International Centre for Economic Development having secured funding from ERDF, Liverpool City Council and Futurebuilders. Located in the heart of Liverpool, is the first centre of its kind in the UK, expected to help 3,000 women set up businesses and creating 4,500 new jobs over its first ten years.

Pinar Guvenc  00:00

Hello everyone and welcome to the seventh episode of What's Wrong With: The Podcast. My name is Pinar Guvenc and I'm the managing partner of Eray Carbajo, an award winning Architecture and Design Studio based in New York and Istanbul with a mission of creating concepts that address urban, social and environmental problems. Today we have the privilege of talking to Maggie O'Carroll. Maggie is a leader in the field of woman's enterprise and has dedicated her professional life to improving the economic position of woman in the UK and internationally. Recognizing that women were a huge untapped entrepreneurial market in the UK in Europe, Maggie saw that there were both commercial and social impact opportunities in providing business support services to help more women to start and grow their own enterprises. In 1996, Maggie founded Northwest-based award winning women's economic development agency, The Woman's Organization in Liverpool, England. In 2011. O'Carroll opened the doors to 5.3 million pound woman's International Centre for economic development, having secured funding from European Regional Development Fund, Liverpool City Council and future builders. Located in the heart of Liverpool, it is the first center of this kind in the UK expected to help 3000 woman set up businesses and creating 4500 new jobs over its first 10 years. Welcome, Maggie. 

Maggie O'Carroll  01:28

Thank you, Pinar. How are you doing? 

Pinar Guvenc  01:30

We're really delighted to have you here today and have you as our first podcast in 2020. And can you please tell us a little bit more about yourself. 

Maggie O'Carroll  01:40

I'm originally from Ireland, but I'm based in the UK. And formerly came from a small farm in the west of Ireland, but decided that after after college, I spend a little bit of time over in the United States actually, and that was a major Major influencer in terms of the kind of work that I do now. And the kind of work that I am involved in is I head up a social business, the largest social business for women's economic development in the UK. And our work is very much focused on how we can get more women A) into the workplace B) progressing within the workplace and also into business and growing their enterprises. So we're very much focused on that work and that's the work that I do and try and influence policy, working with our research scholars conduct some research ourselves and and also collaborate not just locally, but nationally and internationally. So that's why I'm so delighted to be able to talk to you today

Pinar Guvenc  02:48

And we're really happy to have you. Well, I mean as you know, a asfellow woman, this is already you know, a very fascinating thing for me and I hundred percent support it, but I'm also really frustrated that now officially being in 2020, this is still a very much of a valid and a big conversation globally. So let's talk a little bit about like, even before going into employment, you know, women's education, the problems we see there, employment and entrepreneurship. So what do you see whether locally or internationally?

Maggie O'Carroll  03:29

Well, I think the picture is different depending on where you live in the world, obviously. And I think whilst we have got some definite deficits in terms of women's participation and the quality and the outcome of that participation in the labor market, in terms of how much they get paid, how their promotions are enabled and supported, there are some good news stories and I think, you know, I'm delighted to say that it's in the US as one of the areas that one of the greatest transformations happens in relation to women in business and female entrepreneurs, for example. I mean, you have helped, you know, create and, you know, a jump of - starting off probably in the early 1970s - a half million women owned businesses to 12 over 12 million owned businesses by women now, it's phenomenal. And also, you know, the jobs that those women businesses are creating, it's, you know, again, from quarter of a million, up to nearly 10 million, these are big, bigger in terms of big progress, big jump. And, and it's, it's the jobs, it's the businesses, but it's also the contribution to the economy. So, you know, you're talking about sort of, it's moved from billions to trillions. And I think consequently, that's what you have to sort of think that we've had to see where progress and opportunity has been made. And in the US there has been significant progress made in this field. Now unfortunately in Europe, we're still on the catch up. And we we're lagging behind because almost 40% of your business startups are started up by women, but here in in the UK and wider, more broadly in Europe, and it's lagging between 20 to 30%. And then that translates to some pretty big numbers and economic loss to society. So on the one hand, it's not, you know, a very, it's not a perfect picture, but certainly there has been phenomenal progress in this field. But what we have to do is we have to get more women starting and growing because each primary issue that exists not only just here in Europe, but also in the US is the fact that those women aren't growing at the same rate as their male counterparts. So consequently profitability, and also in terms of what they get out of those businesses and financial awards are also limited. So it gets stuck. Those businesses get stuck onto the million dollar mark, and we've got to move them off the million dollar mark.

Pinar Guvenc  06:21

Why do you think that is? I mean, I feel that you know, in 1970s, women were woman, obviously, you know, there were women rights. And with that shift and having more women in education, it was evident that a woman's participation in business would also grow. But why do you think like, now we have, you know, we see good case examples. We know a lot of woman owned businesses now. Yes, still some countries and those countries may not even necessarily be a country that has a low education level. But why do you think this still exists and it still requires a push.


Well, I think there are probably, there are layers of reasons. It's not just one reason. But I think some of the factors that are involved that make it more easy or more difficult for women to progress in the area of entrepreneurship is that...but firstly, it's important to count who we are and who's starting the businesses. And I think you'll find it shocking around the globe, given that we've got access to ways of measuring data, you know, on picking and unpacking, understanding data and collecting data. And many governments to this day, are still not collecting the data. So we don't know how women or men it's all homogenized into one sort of bucket. So consequently, women are, you know, effectively silenced. We are not quite sure where they are. So I think one of the things the US have done very effectively is they started to count and measure and use the statistics. And so therefore, they're not trying to sail this boat without without, without a compass, they've got a compass, they've got a, an opportunity to actually see exactly where they're going. So the first thing is about the statistics, know your statistics, have your research, have your data, understand where you're going. You mentioned there earlier education and entrepreneurship education, the infrastructure for education tends to steer women into particular types of programs of learning. And so we do have this issue of women in STEM, and, you know, higher higher earning and higher yield businesses in the financial, in the STEM world, are where women don't tend to be present. And so consequently, that impacts on their impact- on their their earnings and their progress in that field. And the whole entrepreneurship and education infrastructure itself. They're only coming in, it's only becoming more popular now or seen as more important that entrepreneurship education should be in every program regardless of whether you're a surgeon, architecture, you know, any field, the world of health, the world of education itself, should really be focusing and having some types of programs to support and promote entrepreneurship as a, an option for postgraduate employment.

Pinar Guvenc  09:47

And I guess the like, there is different challenges in you know, whether it being employed in corporate life or being an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur yourself. And, you know, having been on both sides, or having many woman friends who are in you know different types of industries and businesses, I firsthand see challenges where you know, first of all, if you are employed within a larger company, then woman find themselves adapting to a business life that is defined by men, right? And this especially comes into play either during a motherhood phase or like pregnancy or postpartum. And during all these stages, women find themselves either in a position where they're judged or they're falling behind, or they feel like they're insufficient or inefficient all the time, because they feel like they can't deliver 100% at work or they can't deliver 100% at home, but they still want to continue their job and careers, but they have a big shift in their life that they need to adapt to, without almost having anyone in the business feel what's going on for some reason, because that's the state we and still, even in the United States, the state we find ourselves in. In entrepreneurship. I mean, we all know how much dedication and time and resources it takes. So, again, with that, I guess, without a team or building that team to yourself, it is almost impossible to you know, go about your life and do everything and also start a business from scratch and grow it. And there there are challenges around building that team or getting funding depending on the country just because they are women, or people perceive well, or like most of VC money goes into men founded businesses or women find it somehow more challenging to build that team. And you also mentioned the education and the predefined industries, almost, for a woman. So that also puts them in a position to sort of put together that team and work harder for that. What is what is your experience or like perception of this thing too? Like their, because their abundance of challenges, but they're very different depending on what type of employment you're seeking? 

Maggie O'Carroll  12:31

Sure, what I think, you know, the kind of discussion that we have around female entrepreneurship and and women in employment just seem to have doesn't seem to apply to their male counterparts. Despite, you know, I think the last time I kind of checked in on this, I think, you know, children and caregiving was part of the family role as opposed to that of just female role. Yeah, reality is that it's still, this is what we have. We've got this societal sort of default position. I think that shifting but the problem is that it's not shifting, quick enough. It's glacially slow. And I think like employees and dads, families really want to spend more time with their children whenever different, more and more flexible and more better work-life balance, I think the design of work needs to be sort of nearly, you know, ripped up and start again, because it just is so outdated and modus. And so we're really kind of backward looking in terms of actually how you undertake your work, where you undertake it from, are we as productive as we could be? In fact, if we were to work differently, we probably could be more productive. Is it more about just having- hanging your jacket at the back of the chair in the office, I think there's a lot of kind of macho nonsense alive, well and kicking. And it's remarkable because in actual effect, some of the studies will show that none of- these things aren't - it's not actually making it a nation or a state or a country more more productive, or an industry more productive. In actual effects it makes them less productive. So, I think for me, I think all of those things, of, you know, how we work and I think that's the same for men and women. I think the way work is designed is just not fit for purpose. So we're gonna have to do a radical rethink of that. So, those you know, design possibilities I think are endless. So I think, you know, given that we've got the use of technology, and we've got the ability to be able to communicate across boundaries, and, you know, as an analyst, so what, just in terms of our design thinking, it just hasn't been initialized properly at all. So we're still - policy hasn't picked up, hasn't caught up. And neither has, you know, mainstream industry, they're still kind of back in the - back of the day of time and motion. It really is quite shocking to me. And I think that that's why people are taking the option of jumping out of those jobs and jumping out to the corporate world And particularly women, because they're sick to death of it. They can see they have the answers. Employees have the answers, customers and consumers have the answers. But actually, the overall infrastructure and system is just too... Well, it seems to be incapable of catching up. So you have, you'll continue to have these issues about a lack of flexibility. And you'll have, you know, the caregiving aging population is one of the critical issues. I don't know how these corporates are going to find their talent, because, you know, they won't be able to keep talent because people are actually a different kind of set of drivers now. Sustainability is a key driver, we want better outcomes for our children, our grandchildren. So you know, what, we're just gonna have to operate business and the world's corporate worlds will have to, will have to change. My concern is is that it's just not changing quick enough.

Pinar Guvenc  16:36

And you're so right, because if you know, the business models and corporate life, these were so much better designed, then we wouldn't be seeing such a, you know, gap between even gender inclusion within industries possibly because woman wouldn't try to adapt to something that just, you know, either biologically or physically doesn't work for them. Right? And I think as women try to, as the percentage of women being in industries increases, I think this is also maybe pushing the industry to sort of shift a little bit. Just because they see maybe it's not feasible. But you're right, like, everything happens very, very slow. And we almost - I see policy always lags, right? So it's almost like it's the responsibility of the biggest corporates in the world to sort of set an example of how things should be done. And then there should be a trickle down effect from there. Like, you know, many of the big tech companies that are sort of like way more laid back and, or inclusive in how they do business. So there's a lot of things that are not discussed there. I mean, for example, you know, companies are very keen on being dog friendly these days, which I love. But also, you know, if you also bothered to set up maybe professional daycares within your businesses, then woman wouldn't have such a hard time coming back from maternity leave to work, right? I actually know women who had to leave their jobs because they couldn't find a nanny or right daycare to try to leave their children and they couldn't get more than three months maternity leave, which is insane. I mean, in 2020, this still shouldn't be happening.

Maggie O'Carroll  18:37

I agree. I mean, you know, it seems to me that you know, it's an interesting example about dog care, I think you can have, we have we need to have dog care and child care. And elder care.

Pinar Guvenc  18:53

And Elder Care, yes! Yeah it's so creepy.


And we need to have flexibility around those things. What I would say is that, I suppose the one thing I might probably change around slightly is that I have little faith in the ability of large corporates to change their modus operandi very quickly, or quickly enough. In fact, and I don't know, if they've got the ambition or the insight, to be honest with you. I think that our smaller our new starts, that's where I'm seeing that, you know, you were talking about, you know, a very, very significant crop of new start entrepreneurs every year in the United States and globally. And these are the ones that are actually going to break through, they're going to, they're going to be able to, you know, sort of see it, look into the into the future and basically say, look, we know what's happening here in terms of how am I going to be able to get the best tallent, maintain the best tallent. And more importantly, what, what's Good going to look like for me and my family, as an entrepreneur, and I think that there will be a shift, there's a values, I think they'll be a values, you know, a redefinition of what people's values are. Sustainability and climate emergency is going right up the list. And so consequently, business and the way we work will have to change. I think our large - and even so I think they do a good job - some of our large, like, for example, tech companies that are you know, perhaps even the ones that are involved in in helping us communicate, etc, etc. I mean, I think they do a nice job at the moment, talking about promoting a hip and a progressive brand. But in actual fact, I don't think it's going to be them, I think it will be the crop coming in now because it actual affect, most of those, even today, some of your, you know, big California tech companies were talking about, you know, assisting quite recently, actually, that this year, I think, I'm sorry, 2019 was talking about actually helping women be maintained in the work place by, you know, supporting them freezing their embryos. Now in real terms, that's kind of, you know, a little bit creepy in my world. But, but seriously, this was covered in the BBC. I did an interview on it. And I was like, you know, Facebook, get out of my reproductive rights, right? Nothing to hear over here. You know, women will have children and families will have children when when they're good and ready, not when you, you know, it's optimum time for your, you know, balance sheets and you're departments!

Maggie O'Carroll  21:56

Yeah. So, as you can see, I'm a little reticent about our large corporates, I think we've got to, you know, the new generation of entrepreneurs are looking for something different. I have every kind of I'm really optimistic about that. I'm really optimistic about our new future leaders in terms of, you know, what's going to be important to them. And is profit, money, monetary outcome and shareholder value going to be the, you know, the panacea. I think that's going to shift. It might not shift in my lifetime, but it's certainly going to shift.

Pinar Guvenc  22:36

Yeah. And I think you know, we have a good - and speaking of data - we have a good amount of data accumulated from the past decades of just you know, profit, how profit driven companies end up and or what type of challenges they face and if you only seek profit, you're not necessarily a sustainable business. And, you know, I see this not all, you know, I guess in general, like women's caregiving and nurturing characteristic really sort of helps to the business side in that case too, because I see a perspective there that is not just profit, but also aware of other - whether that is social or environmental problems. And in addition to that, I see there's a generational change to where millennials and Gen Z is just questioning more, expecting more...expecting more transparency, honesty, just, sustainable choices. And also, you know, not doing something just for the sake of it, but getting either a unique experience out of it or even you know, making an impact or solving a problem or whatever that is. So, I think with women and this like, just generational shifts, we should see much more focus on just like a the wellness of a business, not just you know, driving for the profits. That's so true.


So from my perspective, I think, and some of the evidence will point to this as well. Is that, you know, in terms of making progress in this area, we have to have, you know, we have to have our numbers, we have to have our research, you have to understand where we're coming from. We need a robust policy to feed into a robust policy environment, but then think, actually, you actually need to take actions. So our media really need to get off their, you know, usual merry go round of, it's just men, you know, entrepreneurship, corporate leadership, leadership in general is the preserve of the hero male, they've just got to stop being lazy. It just is lazy. And, and of course, then other things need to follow, you know, the investment, you're more likely to be significantly undercapitalized if you're a woman starting a business. So the evidence is very clear. It's just that, you know, women don't have access to the same sort of networks in terms of venture capital and access to finance and also growth, potential networks to help them grow. So we do need to redraft and redesign the ecosystem of support. And we need to put investment into us. Now that happens in you know, it's happened to the United States and it had the correct outcomes more women started, but they're not, not enough women are growing, you now need to take the next step towards that. We're catching up over this side of the pond, in terms of the numbers of women starting but again, we need to learn from your experience and basically get them to start and get them on the growth trajectory from the outset. And we also need to design in and support entrepreneurship education that actually looks at, you know, there's what we describe as the Entre-comp model, which is looking at the person, the variety in its hierarchy. So it's not just the business itself, it's all the stakeholders, and it's the actual entrepreneur themselves. So we've developed a model of quite a, you know, quite a robust model with the support of the European Commission. And it's one that is really looking at these kind of issues, which are, you know, the pick up on environmental sustainability, they talk about, you know, the welfare of and the, the progress of the person themselves and their community and the impact that they have on their community. So it really is, this is for good as opposed to just business for money. And, and we're not saying that the past is a bad thing. We just say profit only, can only lead to a very one-dimensional outcome, and that doesn't really bode well for, for the future. And moreover, you know, it doesn't really reflect back on some of the best, some of the most successful businesses that we had that were, for example from the Quaker tradition, Cadbury's chocolate. I mean, these people have very, very this, this community of entrepreneurs are very socially responsible. Where did we lose that? That was the question. I know. It's now owned by Nestle. So I, you know, maybe we should ask the chief executive the president of of Nestle about what their corporate governance is and their social responsibilities, but I suspect it wouldn't have been the same as the Quakers somehow or another.

Pinar Guvenc  27:46

Yeah, yeah. And you know, you're right. Like, it's like, if you're just profit driven, you will be called out on eventually. I mean, we've seen it whether it's in the fashion industry or, you know, food industry, like companies who did not care about health aspects, who did not care about inclusion, who did not care about environmental aspects of how they do business, somehow something happens and it gets out and with now more data, social media and just like everything being a media channel on it's own, that is also pushing businesses to act fairly and reasonably and socially and environmentally-conscious, just because maybe from, as an insurance model, right? So just because for the risk that it might even get out somehow that they're not so I think like those like scary case, examples, sort of like made other corporates aware to be aware of just more than just profits. But I think like, that will become the norm eventually where you would you will not be a successful business if you're also not also environmentally and socially conscious. And like speaking of that, and like the ultimate goal that where we want to reach. So like, I imagine a future where we do not say Best Actor or Best Actress. And we do not say a woman designed, the best woman-designed building, or like woman architect of the year or whatever, like we, we come to a point where we don't have to use the gender as an adjective and just accept the best in one profession or the best leader or whatever that is. So we talked about policy, we talked about education. We talked about redesigning business models. How else do you think like, what type of solutions or I guess policies we should be seeking to sort of get there and if we get there, when do we get there? Which is a very big question.

Maggie O'Carroll  29:58

I don't think any particular entity has the code, has the answer. And I think they use the word collaborative. And I think collaborative solutions are where it's at. Because effectively, this has to be driven and it has, it will, we will succeed. If we have government, private business, NGOs, the media, education, working in tandem and working in collegiate way. At the moment, it's, it's too fragmented. So consequently, there is, you know, a solution base where we don't have, we're still not there in relation to, for example, government, because if you've only got representation, which is primarily...Well, I like to say "pale, male and stale" in terms of, of "white", pale, male, and stale. So that is problematic in relation to policy. Because there isn't a gender lens, there isn't a diversity lens attached to that policy. And so therefore, if if policy can be good for women and for black and ethnic minority communities and for disabled people, yeah, it will be good for the general population. It will be - so inclusive policies is the first my first prescription for inclusive and collaborative policymaking. And that's a messy and also difficult business, but it is the only way you can actually get to successful policy initiatives and, and as I say, the women's enterprise agenda in the United States has been, you know, a roaring success. It came from nothing practically to, you know, to what it is today. Can it be better, yes, it can, but it had those ingredients of government, private business, education, media, and NGO involvement. So it has this unique perspective that was brought together, so you didn't have a groupthink situation. I think the - until we arrivethere are nearly there, I think we need to set aside where women get featured and get highlighters and get showcased. The reason being is that again we'll continue with the all male panels and the all-white... So until we actually have a better balance, I still am supportive of gender specific interventions and policymaking. Because it is a positive action and activity which is needed until we have any more even playing ground. Is it possible and how long? Well, it's taking you guys 40 years or sorry nearly 50 years in entrepreneurship for 48% of all business started by women. 50 years. So if we're if we're going to be talking about across the board, it could take anything up to 100 years. And in some cases, certainly in terms of political representation here in the UK, it's going to be 200 years. So my, you know, my concern is that it's about the glacially slow - I think we know what to do, but we're not doing it. And we're not doing it quick enough. So we need all those things you talked about, we need that kind of, you know, policy, we need the education element. We need good research. We need investment. We need a willingness and leadership around this to really grow in the ecosystem. But you know, I've been around this sort of work for about a quarter of a century now. So I'm, I don't know if I'll be doing it for the next quarter century, I doubt it. But what I was going to say was that I'd be optimistic that I've got, you know, colleagues that are to say, the under-30s. So I feel optimistic that those young women are going to be taking forward this agenda. And I think they're going to be making far greater pace and progress even. Even more so that's been made in the last 20 years or so.

Pinar Guvenc  34:22

Yeah, I mean, you're so right we're still even if we don't want to be invested we're very much in still and awareness era where we have to make the world aware of the woman leaders or woman entrepreneurs or whatever to make that a norm eventually, and which is why it is still a need and hopefully with this entire collaborative effort where the younger generation will push, this will eventually be a norm and maybe our like, great grandchildren will be like, Oh, they used to call actress that's funny, like why and you know, and maybe we'll get there. But currently you're right like we have to sort of push to make this a norm which means we have to repeat and repeat and just echo all the success that women do. So speaking of that, and I guess to sort of wrap up our podcast with a positive note to, as a, you know, successful woman leader yourself, what would be your advice to women that are starting out or trying to survive within the business or any progress maker really trying to make progress in an industry? What would be your advice?

Maggie O'Carroll  35:34

I think my my major piece of advice would be seek help. Ask for help. Don't be afraid to make the ask. And the network is, and your networks are, hugely beneficial. So developing appropriate networks and mentors both formal and informal have been some of the more powerful elements, but investing in - women need to invest in themselves. They just need to learn. They need to make sure that they're investing in their learning as well. I think asking for help, seeking help, getting advice, getting support, and really helping them develop their knowledge base and their confidence, and their hutzpah, a bit of cheek, will really go a long way. I've always said fake it till you make. 

Pinar Guvenc  36:32

I love that. That is so so so true. 

Maggie O'Carroll  36:35

And also international collaborative, look abroad be outward looking.

Pinar Guvenc  36:39

Thank you so much, Maggie, this was such a treat. 

Maggie O'Carroll  36:44

Well, I'm very pleased to be able to be involved. Thank you so much.

Pinar Guvenc  36:48

Thank you for listening to our podcast. Tune in next week when we sit down with Henry Gordon Smith, Founder and Managing Director of Agritecture Consulting, a global urban agriculture advising firm that helps partners with vertical farming feasibility studies, recruiting and systems design. For more information on our events and our podcast, visit us at What's Wrong With dot XYZ.

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