British economy needs more women entrepreneurs, says report
The UK economy could greatly benefit by further encouraging women entrepreneurs, according to a report from Lorely Burt MP.
More jobs would be created and growth would be boosted if women entrepreneurs played a bigger role in the UK, according to the findings of an independent report from Lorely Burt MP, the government's ambassador for women in enterprise.
While the government has taken positive steps to support women in starting and growing a business, the report suggests that the government should build upon this if it wishes to commit to diversifying enterprise ownership.
Start Up Loans, the Enterprise Allowance and local growth hubs are all aimed to encourage budding business owners and there have been women specific initiatives - such as the £1 million Women and Broadband Challenge Fund and a recent roadshow for potential and existing female entrepreneurs.
However, the report notes that women entrepreneurs remain an under-utilised economic resource and the European Institute for Gender Equality believes that if more women started a company it would “increase the quantity and quality of the business population”.
About one business in five is owned by women and they are a third less likely than men to start a company, but it’s not down to wanting a different work to life balance, according to the report. In order to see more women start a business, the report recommends some practical and affordable ways to overcome some of the barriers that are holding back women entrepreneurs.
Inclusive thinking should be utilised to improve the diversity of suppliers, so that every business has a chance to benefit. To make this happen at all levels the government should start by “building an accurate picture of the true levels of diversity”.
Build an evidence base
The report notes that: “The government needs a strong evidence base on business diversity.” A stance which is backed up by a number of institutions, such as the Enterprise and Diversity Alliance and the European Institute for Gender Equality.
It is important to collect and analyse data on enterprise diversity as you can then identify the different barriers and drivers to business start-up, survival and growth. Furthermore, it’s easier to review what helps businesses realise their growth potential.
One simple and low-cost first step suggested by the report could be to introduce this new question in its Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) forms: “Is your company 51% or more woman- or women-owned, controlled and managed?”
Instead of a one size fits all policy, business support should encourage and recognise diversity. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) currently do not do enough to engage properly with diverse businesses, a more effective strategy would create jobs and raise growth levels.
A suggestion from the report is to link funding for growth hubs with key performance indicators to ensure LEPs are using an inclusive manner for engaging with businesses, which would help prevent missed opportunities.
Many women entrepreneurs face unnecessary barriers to access support from both the government and other sectors and need help to break them down.
“Women entrepreneurs should be left in no doubt that support is available to them if they want to start a business,” the report said. “The government should make it easier for them to find it.”
One of the most frequent complaints is that woman see entrepreneurship services as “not for them”, even if the presentation of these services is gender neutral.
The language of business websites, and the branding, should be changed to encourage women to use it. Awareness of government needs to be raised alongside these efforts.
“Women should be treated as a high priority if the government aims to raise their participation in enterprise to approximately 50 per cent,” said the report.
Give diverse businesses diverse support
Despite women’s excellent ability to network and collaborate, many female entrepreneurs still don’t know where to go for support.
The report suggests that the My Business Support tool should be developed further and should be more accepting of diverse businesses. Network and mentor support options would also be beneficial to help women entrepreneurs make the right connections, which would also save time.
“[The government] should expand the range of support which My Business Support can connect entrepreneurs to, creating a ‘hub’ or ‘network of networks’,” the report noted. “It can do this more cheaply and effectively by working with already existing organisations including LEPs, WeConnect and Mentorsme.”
Women have the potential to be a great boon to the UK’s economy, they just need a bit of support and encouragement from the government.
To view the full report click here.
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