NatWest CEO Alison Rose: ‘Running a bank in lockdown was much easier than home schooling’

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Alison Rose: ‘We cannot allow [the pandemic] to let things go backwards for women’
Alison Rose: ‘We cannot allow [the pandemic] to let things go backwards for women’

In The Telegraph’s Women Mean Business online event, the NatWest CEO Alison Rose opened up to Telegraph Women’s Editor Claire Cohen about the “lockdown burden” of balancing work with increased domestic and care responsibilities faced by many women, including herself. “It was challenging… running a bank was much easier than managing home schooling,” she admitted. For Rose, who has two children, it helped to have a “great husband” who shared the responsibility of childcare. “I was very lucky that I had a lot of support, but it was really hard.”

Rose, who joined NatWest as a graduate trainee in 1992, has been vocal about the unique obstacles facing women in business. In 2019, the Alison Rose Review into Female Entrepreneurship – the Treasury’s review into the barriers facing women in business – was published. At the time, Rose estimated that up to £250 billion of new value could be added to our economy if women started and scaled businesses at the same rate as men. The Rose Review found that just one in three entrepreneurs in the UK is female.

In today’s event, Rose congratulated The Telegraph on its Women Mean Business campaign, which she said has “helped really drive forward the case for change”. She highlighted the progress that has been made in the nearly two and a half years since the publication of the review, from extra funding being made available to increased accountability from investors.

In 2020, NatWest announced £1 billion in funding to help female-led businesses in the UK recover from the pandemic; an additional £1 billion was announced in 2021. Rose described this as a “confident beginning”, but emphasised that there remains more to be done.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women in business, Rose pointed out. Women were more likely than men to see their work directly affected, and many women found that the “lockdown burden” made it more difficult to run a business.

As we emerge from the pandemic economy, Rose said it is crucial to recognise “the value female entrepreneurs” add, and to continue removing the barriers that women face. “We cannot allow [the pandemic] to let things go backwards” for women, she said. “If we do go backwards, that would be a disaster – we need to make sure that we keep this firmly on the agenda”.

During the pandemic, Rose said that she put a “real focus on the mental health and wellbeing” of her colleagues. She acknowledged that “the stigma of mental health has been reducing” in the finance industry, and emphasised the importance of talking about “the challenges that everyone faces”.

Yet despite the challenges faced by many women in business during the pandemic, there has been a wave of innovation from women-led start-ups. Recent research by YouGov, commissioned by The Telegraph and NatWest, highlighted that 80 per cent of women who started their own businesses during the pandemic felt happier than they were beforehand.

And Rose hopes to see this continue. The next steps in the Rose Review, she says, will involve “getting that capital to female-led businesses at the right point in their investment cycle”, and continuing to “unlock more funds flow, particularly VC and capital money, into female-led businesses”.

Follow the latest Women Mean Business event updates on Twitter: #WMBLive2021 or through the @TelegraphWomen Twitter account

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