Gemma Barker reflects on her journey as a female business owner

I knew I wanted to be in PR from the age of 15. I loved being with people and networking and wanted to make an impact. After doing work experience at the BBC and Sainsbury’s in their events and marketing teams I decided to study for a communications degree to support my future career. My degree pushed me into a PR executive role, and it was then that I first got involved with the dental press. I loved dentistry and the people in it, so it was no accident that my business eventually evolved to focus on dentistry.

I started my first business, GGC, in 2008 as a reaction to the financial crisis.  We were a marketing consultancy to the healthcare sector, supporting companies who were cutting their marketing budgets and needed expert advice and tangible results to drive their business forward.

After six years, we were doing more and more in dentistry, and the bulk of that was with PR as the driving force. We then rebranded to Barker PR in 2014, focussing solely on supporting businesses with their relationship with the dental profession.

The industry has changed a lot in the 15 years since I started. As a 27-year-old female founder attending industry events back then, it felt like a very male-dominated industry. I found myself among women in marketing roles but scarcely any in business owner or founder positions.

Reflecting back, I can see how starting my own business in a field where women in leadership roles were a rarity was a bold move, and I can look back and feel proud of myself.

Women in business: The stats

Thankfully, since then, there has been a notable shift in the landscape of women in leadership roles. Today, women-led small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) contribute around £85 billion to the annual economic output in the UK, which is 16% of the Gross Value Added by SMEs.

In 2022, women in the UK founded over 150,0000 new companies. This is more than in any previous year and more than double the number founded in 2018, suggesting that the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK is on the rise, with almost one in five (18%) companies now led by women.

Of course, statistics vary by sector. In 2020, just 6% of SME businesses were led by women in the construction sector, compared to 37% in the health sector, 36% in the education sector, and 25% in the accommodation and food services industry.

Despite the gap slowly closing, there are still twice as many men working for themselves as women. So we still have a way to go.

Imposter syndrome

Being a female business owner hasn’t been without its hurdles. Imposter syndrome is a common challenge, with one in three female business owners citing feelings of low self-confidence.

A KPMG study found that 75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers, which is a feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt that makes them continuously question if they are qualified enough for the job.

I know I struggled for many years, but as I settle into my career now at 42, with 10 years running Barker PR and 15 years as a business owner, I am more confident in myself and have some key takeaways I’d love to share with you.

  1. Seek support networks: Joining groups like AllBright has been invaluable for our business. Surrounding yourself with like-minded women fosters a sense of collective empowerment.
  2. Build a strong support system: Surround yourself with great people who give you confidence and who you can ask for help when you need it. A strong team is essential for navigating the challenges of entrepreneurship.
  3. Stay in your own lane: In the face of imposter syndrome and external pressures, staying true to your goals is paramount. Stay in your lane, focus on your vision, and don’t let doubt derail your trajectory.
  4. Embrace vulnerability: Admitting when things don’t feel right and seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Owning your vulnerabilities fosters growth and resilience.
  5. Keep your eyes on the prize: Set your sights on your goals and go for it! And remember, I’m here to support and connect with fellow women in business in dentistry every step of the way.

To any aspiring female CEOs, I offer this final piece of advice: don’t be deterred by the challenges that lie ahead. Being a woman in business can be full of challenges, but it’s also extremely rewarding. 2023, for me, was rough. Following my breast cancer diagnosis, I had to step away from pretty much every semblance of my normal life, and that included my beloved business for six months. But I believe that even in the face of difficult times, there are some wonderful life lessons to be had. I am excited about what 2024 holds for the business. Barker PR is celebrating 10 years in June. I’m working on a really exciting event and developments for our clients, and my team is stronger than ever.

Finally, I am all about building other women up. I have been privileged to work with lots of amazing women over the course of my career, and I really believe that by championing and supporting each other, we can shatter those remaining glass ceilings and pave the way for future generations of women in business.