Introducing a new blog series: The Female Principal part 1

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of excerpts from a manuscript that Chris Barrow is currently developing into an ebook which focuses on women dental practice owners. Read the first installment below:
Part 1
It was the week before Christmas 2013.
The end of a 5th consecutive year of post-banking collapse recession in Europe.
As usual, the last-minute ‘must be done’ list was expanding faster than my tasks in Wunderlist could be completed.
As a business coach of 20 years I am used to having to go up a gear to clear the decks before the holiday season, but on this occasion the schedule presented me with some interesting challenges.
No less than three former clients had contacted me in the weeks leading up to the festivities, requesting an informal conversation about their individual futures.
With the help of my essential personal assistant, Phillippa Goodwin, we had managed to schedule all three conversations into that last 7 days of my working year.
A late hotel supper, afternoon coffee in an airport lounge and a Sunday morning FaceTime video call from my office at home, The Bunker.
There were two reasons that these three conversations prompted me to reflect and comment.
Firstly, they all revolved around the same fundamental question:
“Should I carry on owning my own business and, if so, how can I make it a success?”
Secondly, all three were women who combined business ownership with the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.
The phenomenon of the female principal
I know that around 6% of the UK population pay higher-rate tax. Maybe 10% of the overall work-force own their own business.
As for the ratio of working women who own their own business…here are the latest stats from the Prowess 2.0 web site:

  • Women account for under a third of those in self-employment, but over half the increase in self-employment since the recession started in 2008. Between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for an unprecedented 80% of the new self-employed. (Labour Force Survey, Office of National Statistics 2013).
  • There are now almost 1.5 million women self-employed which represents an increase of around 300,000 since before the economic downturn (Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective, RBS Group 2013).
  • Women account for 17% of business owners, i.e. owners/ managers/ employers (Labour Force Survey 2008, in Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective, RBS Group 2013)
  • UK Women’s businesses have a higher churn rate (ie. more start-ups and closures). But women are less likely to attribute closure to ‘business failure’ and more likely to cite ‘personal reasons’ – which peak at age 25-34 for women. (Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective, RBS Group 2013)
  • Men are now twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active as women but in 2001 were two and a half times more likely to be entrepreneurially active, ie. involved in the early stages of a new venture. (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, UK Report 2011)
  • 10% of the female population are thinking about starting up a business (Women in Business: key facts,  Government Equalities Office 2008)

Read more:
In UK dentistry we have around 23,000 dentists, 10,000 of whom own their own practice.
According to Dental Tribune:
In total, there were 23,201 dentists in 2012/13 in England, an increase of 15.1 per cent (3,041) since 2006/07, when figures were first recorded.
With regard to sex distribution, the investigators found a continuous increase in the percentage of female dentists, while the number of male dentists remained fairly stable. Today, female dentists make up over 45 per cent of the workforce. In 2012/13, there were 10,541 female dentists, a 34.7 per cent increase since 2006/07 when there were 7,824 female practitioners.
In the under-35 age group, women even outnumbered their male counterparts. In 2006/07, 51.8 per cent of all dentists under 35 were female compared with 56.1 per cent in 2012/13. In contrast, 76.4 per cent of dentists aged 55 or over were male.
The report, titled NHS dental statistics for England: 2012/13, was published on 17 September. It can be downloaded from the Health and Social Care Information Centres website.
However, it seems difficult to identify how many of those women own their own practice. I wonder if the trade associations have any statistics on that?
Over my 20 years as a dental business coach, I have had the good fortune to support a lot of female principals and the issues are often the same:

  • balancing the responsibilities of mother, wife, owner and clinician
  • finding the 37 hours required in every day and the 9 days required in every week to “get things done”
  • sheer exhaustion
  • constant guilt as a family member
  • figuring out how to be an accountant, tax expert, marketeer, administrator, manager and leader – as well as a dentist
  • being wound around the finger of team members
  • having to listen to condescending male colleagues and professional advisors who assume you are stupid and soft
  • having to listen to doubting Thomases who tell you that you will never ‘make it’
  • having to listen to angry and unreasonable patients who want more than they are due

I’ve chatted with a female principal who called me at 21:00 on a Friday night, sat in her surgery and too stressed to go home. Others who have confessed to me that they spend most of their lives feeling as if they are on “Planet Me” – population 1.
Many years ago I found myself in conversation with a female principal who owned two busy practices and was a single mum with two young daughters. We talked for a long time about the above list and eventually she said:
“Chris – what I need is a wife!
So we advertised for one in the local paper – a Mrs Doubtfire you might say – although not a cross-dresser.
Sure enough – a lady was hired to complete all the simpler domestic chores and paperwork, so that my client could come home from work and spend some quality time with her kids, even though she still found herself doing the accounts on the kitchen table at 23:00 over a glass of Merlot.
It does beg the question ‘why bother?’ as I have to say that even I have never worked as hard as some of the ladies I have coached.
It sure as hell isn’t about the money – I’ve coached many a female principal whose earnings were pathetic compared to the associates she supported.
Dare I say it – I’ve worked with female principals whose income didn’t support the family and were subsidised by their male or female life-partner.
*This post is an excerpt from The Female Principal manuscript by Chris Barrow – to be published as an ebook later in 2014


Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.