This week we are exploring the topic, women in business! A report conducted by the House of Commons Library, called “Women and the Economy” reveals that in 2018, 17% of small and medium sized enterprises (SME) were led by women. This figure rose to 23% when looking at SMEs that have no employees.
Women-led businesses were more common in the following sectors: health (37%), education (31%), other services (27%), accommodation and food service (22%), and administration and support (21%). Female representation was lacking in the construction and transportation sectors as only 8% of employers were women.
In other areas, the representation of women has improved. For example, in 2011, around 12% of the FTSE100 directorships were held by women but by June 2019 that rose to 29%. The increase came after a government-backed target (created in 2011) stated that FTSE100 boards should have a minimum of 25% female representation. Progress has been made however, it is important to acknowledge that none of the female CEOs in the FTSE100 companies are women of colour. This signifies the layers that we have to work through in order to create a fairer chance for women and women of colour.
A little History
Interestingly, when we look back into the UK’s history, close to 30% of businesses in Victorian Britain were run by women. Between 1851-1911, clothing manufacturing and personal services were the most female-dominated sectors, whereas today, women are overrepresented in health care and education. The restrictions placed on women at the time is what led to many turning to entrepreneurship. It was unlikely that women would be allowed to work as wage labourers therefore, their ability to work from home aided their business growth. At this time in history, there was nothing unusual about these entrepreneurial women; some ran their own trade while their husbands worked as wage labourers, and others ran businesses with their partners.
The Challenges Faced by Women in Business Today
An article written by Rebecca Burn-Callander outlines 5 major challenges that women in business face:
Limited access to funding
- According to the Entrepreneurs network women-run businesses only receive 9% of funding that is provided to start ups in the UK.
- Data trends suggest that women tend to start businesses with less capital vs men.
- Moreover, 63% of men start their business straight out of a full-time job compared to 38% of women.
- Often, women are coming out of a career break or working part-time, which places them at a disadvantage.
The psychological barriers and bias against women
- A Telegraph Poll revealed that two-thirds of 750 female founders felt that investors did not treat them with the same serious attitude compared to their male counterparts.
The fear of failure
- British female business owners tend to find failure more difficult to overcome, compared to men.
Lack of networks and mentors
- As there are fewer businesswomen and female entrepreneurs, the networking circles are consequently smaller.
- Moreover, according experienced businesswomen, the opportunities offered for women to attend male dominated networking circles are non-existent.
Balancing childcare and business
- As many women are the main caregiver for their family, it makes it harder to balance between the responsibilities and often women may feel pressured to pick one focus.
- However, according to think tank Development Economics, a report conducted revealed that women who combine motherhood and entrepreneurship generate £7.2bn for the UK economy. Creating 204, 000 jobs.
Practically speaking, many of these barriers can be broken down with increased funding, female only networking, programmes that build women’s confidence in their ability and policies that directly target the barriers. If the government can raise female representation in the FTSE100, they can work to make the business environment less hostile and support the women overcoming the barriers.