A professor of mine once tasked a class to discuss words they associated with entrepreneurs. To her dismay, one pupil shouted “man”. This is a testament to a traditionally male-dominated business world still permeating society. Recent news reports have shown that over one third of female entrepreneurs are likely to experience gender bias when attempting to raise capital for their businesses. This is just one of many reasons why only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in the UK are female (calculation based on Global Entrepreneurship Monitor figures for Total Entrepreneurial Activity and ONS Labour Force survey figures on the size of the working age population). (The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, pg 6) However, this article aims to provide a more optimistic account, explaining the progress that has already been made and success stories. Ultimately, today’s trends show females will be a compelling driver for entrepreneurial growth in the future.
A report published by HSBC revealed that, in a survey of more than 1200 entrepreneurs, 35 per cent of female entrepreneurs had experienced investors interrogating them on issues such as whether they were married or had children. However, this is not the first time the matter has been acknowledged. Robert Jenrick, formerly Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, stated last year that “the fact that 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” (BBC News). 
Jenrick’s passion led to a commissioned independent review by leading businesswoman Alison Rose, the recently appointed CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland. The Rose Report showed that the cumulative effect amounted to an astonishing £250bn of untapped added value in the economy. Furthermore, the UK has the highest gender gap, with ~6% of UK women running their own businesses, compared to ~15% in Canada, ~11% in the USA, and over ~9% in Australia and the Netherlands. These figures are driven by a multitude of factors, such as underrepresentation on investor boards and subconscious gender bias.
Why is the UK so behind?
Women face obstacles that aren’t present for men. Access to funding, disproportionate primary care responsibilities, greater risk awareness, skills perception and access to networks and mentoring were identified as the most important in the Rose Report. Secondly, subconscious bias is rife when finding investment for business. Harvard Business School recognised males are 60 per cent more likely to get funding for businesses than females, regardless of the content of the pitch (Independent).  Increasing funding available to female entrepreneurs and diversifying investors would be good ways to promote equal opportunities. Furthermore, providing better family care for female entrepreneurs would remove an additional barrier which prevents many women starting their own company.
Turning Negatives to Positives
Whilst there is still much progress to be made for female equality within business, the future is certainly not bleak. Women are founding companies at a historic rate, and there are leading successful women in many industries. Rather than focussing on the aforementioned challenges and pervasive negative narrative, it is vital that more noise is made around the successes and the potential for a better future. As visibility of successful female entrepreneurs increases, there are larger repercussions in inspiring others to do the same.
I personally feel lucky to have had many female role models in my life from a young age, surrounded by entrepreneurial family members, and being able to work for organisations such as Bumble, founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Royal Bank of Scotland, with Alison Rose as CEO. With these role models, entrepreneurial ventures feel more feasible, seeing first-hand those who already operate their own companies. Promoting confidence and self-belief from a young age will have far-reaching effects in eradicating the gender disparity.
One inspirational role model of mine is Dame Stephanie Shirley, who escaped the Holocaust on Kindertransport aged 5 and later founded a successful £150m technology business. She fought against the odds to start her own company in 1962, where she used the name “Steve” to secure early business contracts. In her words, “now there’s nothing holding women back!”
Smart companies are already recognising this growth potential. Coca-Cola see 5 million female entrepreneurs as part of their global supply network by 2020 and Wal-Mart understand the power of female-led firms to innovate products (Harvard Business Review).  Closer to home, Warwick Enterprise run an annual scheme, Her Innovative Collective, which provides free networking and mentorship to women interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.
It’s in the national interest to unlock the value that female entrepreneurs hold. The added value of female entrepreneurship as an untapped economic driver amounts to £250bn to the economy. The added entrepreneurial activity will create jobs, prosperity and better solutions. Additionally, there is broad research concluding that gender-diverse leadership has increased success, with the greatest gender-diverse executive teams 21 per cent more likely to outperform peers on profitability and 27 per cent more likely to create superior value (Labour Productivity, UK: April to June 2018 (UK Office for National Statistics (ONS))). (The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, pg 8) Therefore, there has never been a better time to inspire and support females in their business ventures!
Xanthe Blain is in her third year studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). She is an enthusiast for innovation and entrepreneurship, having experience with NatWest Accelerator Hub and the Digital and Innovation Council on her RBS internship, and also running the Women’s Netball Club. She is particularly interested in finding ways to create a better world, whether that’s innovating in already existing corporations or start-ups. As an Innovation Fellow this year, she is eager to network and support likeminded individuals, especially those focussed on social enterprise.
Please message firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on LinkedIn!