For quite some time in the UK there has been call, for more support, networking events and role models for female entrepreneurs. There remains considerable disparity between the number of men and women running their own business. According to the department for Business, Innovation and Skills, only about 20 per cent of single-person businesses are owned and run by women.
But interestingly, when women do start a business, research shows they are about 13 per cent more likely to succeed than men. The question arises, if women make such good entrepreneurs, why don’t more of them do it, particularly in light of recent gender pay discussions? After all, self-employment is the ultimate vehicle to achieve self-determination, free of traditional corporate discriminations.
The considerable work done on this subject seems to conclude that the main reasons women shy away from self-employment are a lack of self-confidence, networking opportunities, and female role models. However, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, if as many women as men did start their own businesses, it would add some £23 billion to the British economy per annum.
All of this suggests that a UK-wide networking and support group for aspiring female entrepreneurs could solve some of these issues. And so, the organisation, Make It Your Business (MIYB) was formed. Not-for-profit and, importantly, free to join, MIYB is all about removing barriers to entry. Working on the premise that “you can’t be it if you can’t see it”, each seminar involves a panel of three established female entrepreneurs telling their story to an audience of aspiring entrepreneurs.
It sounds simple, but this storytelling is very highly effective, as it simultaneously informs listeners and brings them together in mutual support. Part of its success stems from the fact that it is mandatory for panellists to be completely honest about the ups and the downs of their businesses. But it’s also about the networking which takes place before and after each event.
Many women seem to be more able to open up and ask questions if they don’t feel they are going to be judged — which in the ordinary workplace often means by men. It isn’t a sign of weakness, but merely an admission more can be done to create an environment where women can speak freely, if that is what it takes to unlock their potential.
To further encourage women, MIYB launched an online chat forum for aspiring female entrepreneurs together with parenting website Mumsnet. So, any woman can go online and share their question with the UK’s biggest community for women. With stats suggesting that the number of new businesses by women is falling, it’s even more important that one taps into the huge resource of women who could make a success of being self-employed.
Men in the UK are nearly twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurs. This isn’t just bad for entrepreneurship, but society at large suffers when the ideas of half the population are not adequately represented. Closing the gender entrepreneurship gap would ensure that the country no longer misses out on countless innovations, increase productivity, and raises wages.
The challenge for the gap to close is not just in the workplaces, but is rooted in the way that girls are treated in schools. While many excellent schools guide their girls to aspire to greatness, too many fall short. The work of some organisations which bring many female founders into schools, is making a difference, but more needs to be done to ensure that teachers have resources and training to inspire the next generation of leaders.
A survey of entrepreneurs in a report from Aston University found that 97 per cent of women polled cited freedom to adapt their approach to work as a key reason for starting their own businesses, while 85 per cent pointed to more flexible working conditions.
A report last year from the Female Founders Forum, Untapped Unicorns, found that 86 per cent of deals in the previous year and 91 per cent of publicly announced funding went to companies without a female founder.
Extensive academic research has revealed that cognitive biases, many of which unconsciously discriminate against women getting funding, are prevalent within the venture capital industry.
With right funding being vital, it is an area to which the government needs to give high priority.
(The author is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)