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Wanted: Female Entrepreneurs

UK self-employment is booming, reaching the highest levels in 40-years. Women entrepreneurs have contributed massively to that growth and there are now 1.2m women-led SMEs in the UK, contributing an estimated £75bn to the economy.

But why are there still twice as many male entrepreneurs as females? Is the U.K. economy missing out on the untapped potential of female leaders?

Facts and Figures

Traditional stereotypes have held firm, with the vast majority of UK entrepreneurs still being male. Currently, only 5.3% of women are engaged in entrepreneurial activity, compared with 11.5 % of men (APPG for Entrepreneurship 2018), creating a pool of untapped entrepreneurial potential.

While strong efforts are being made to break this archetypal mold there are still too many hurdles in place.

According to FSB, 2.7 million women in the UK want to start a business but have been put off by persistent barriers (FSB 2018), such as: gender bias, lack of funding or scope to grow.

Moreover, statistically, women start businesses with around one-third of the finance of men (ibid Carter & Shaw, 2006). With their businesses often underfunded, with less management training or experience, female entrepreneurs also point out lack essential professional networks or strong female role models to look up to. (Currently, on FTSE 100 boards, the percentage of women in leadership positions has flatlined for a fourth year at 9.7%.)

Overcoming Obstacles

Thankfully, in recent years we’ve seen a far greater focus on women’s enterprise and gender equality, with more growth opportunities being created for women. However, what we need is to challenge a widespread cultural and gender biases for all women that limit their social, cultural, and financial independence.

“Britain is home to so many new, innovative businesses is something to be proud of. But the fact that so few of them are started by women is shocking. This is not because of a lack of talent or appetite.” says Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary.

Data-Driven, Female-Led

A final, perhaps unobvious problem to address is the lack of sufficient quantitative and qualitative official gender-disaggregated statistics. While the reports have shone a much-needed light on the issues, it’s become clear in doing so that there simply isn’t enough data on the subject for us to understand the problems completely.

The Treasury’s recent announcement of launching the review into the barriers for women in business was very well received. The initiative, headed by Alison Rose, from RBS, will hopefully provide a full picture of the challenges faced by women offering solutions to champion female entrepreneurship. “If we want to strengthen the U.K.’s position as one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, then no-one can be left behind”, said Rose.

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