Turning the Tide for Women as Entrepreneurs – Can It Be Done?
In this guest article, Dr. Carrie Santos, CEO, Entrepreneurs’ Organization looks at how we can turn the tide to create gender parity in entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurial opportunity is present all over the world, but not everyone has the same access to resources or the right support system to take an idea forward. The reality is, women feel this impact more than men.
This is a great loss.
Countless studies have shown the many benefits that women entrepreneurs bring to the table. In the UK alone, up to £250 billion of new value could be added to the economy if women launched and scaled new businesses at the same rate as British men, generating jobs and unlocking new opportunities for many.
Women should be at the forefront of the entrepreneurial scene. The flexibility that comes with self-employment – the autonomy to choose how and which work and family roles to prioritize– makes being your own boss an attractive proposition for many women.
But no matter how much perceptions have changed, there is no denying that it is women who often find themselves prioritising the role of unpaid caregivers at the expense of full-time jobs.
During the pandemic, the percentage of self-employed women grew more than for men – as many sought flexible work arrangements to support household and caregiving chores. Entrepreneurship can harness this flexibility.
But translating these benefits into full-scale opportunities is not easy.
Turning the tide for female entrepreneurs
The reality is that to turn the tide for female entrepreneurs, women need to have access to the right resources and receive the right support right from the outset. And this can only be achieved through public and private sector collaboration.
By resources, I mostly mean capital. Access to funding has been a long-standing issue for female founders. In the UK, research has shown that female-led businesses receive less funding than those headed by men at every stage of their start-up funding journey. The same research showed that women are also less likely to be aware of funding options available to them, or take on debt. So, there is both a supply and demand problem.
Too many women may not see themselves as the typical client for financing and too many financial institutions do not see women founders as their typical customer.
In times of recession or financial uncertainty, access to funding and support schemes is key for any small or medium-sized business. Yet during the pandemic, compared to businesses run by men, women-led businesses were less likely than men to report accessing public support from banking institutions and governments.
If we are to break this cycle, we need governments, banks and organisations to interject and create specific funds targeted at female founders.
In the UK, for example, support schemes have been rolled out by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), NatWest and Johnnie Walker to improve access to finance for women-led businesses. The British Business Bank has also made it more accessible for founders, regardless of gender or background, to kick-start their businesses. We just need to scale these initiatives and get them in front of entrepreneurial women.
For those of us who are not in a position to provide capital, we can do our part by shouting about women – as leaders, builders, earners, employers. For female entrepreneurship to fully scale, we need to keep breaking down the stereotypes that lead women and men alike to automatically picture a man when they hear the term “business owner.”
All founders know that the entrepreneurial journey can be draining. It is as exciting and exhilarating as it can be lonely, intense and high-pressured. Any business founder navigating this path needs the right support group. Yet, in the UK, research has shown that women have been less likely to know other entrepreneurs or to have access to sponsors, mentors or professional support networks than men.
Groups and networks – including organizations like the not-for-profit Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) that I serve – enable women to connect with other business owners in a safe space for inspiration and insights, then apply this intelligence to their businesses. EO members regularly share referrals to reliable partners like bankers, accountants and lawyers, because founders all need trusted advisors as they navigate scaling their businesses.
When male founders share their journeys with women peers, it opens new doors of opportunities for female founders to see the kind of access and support they should be getting.
Let us leverage our peer groups and businesses to improve accessibility for women who are thinking about founding a company. Think: recruitment events geared to women, partnerships with other female-focused businesses, and visibility of women in our marketing and communications materials, to name a few actionable options. It is only through a concerted effort – across industry and public sector – that we can achieve true gender parity in entrepreneurship and turn the tide for female founders.
It won’t be easy, but progress has already been made. Now it is about the pace. Let’s get to it.