Women! Your country needs you... to start your own business

Alison Cork
If as many women as men did start their own businesses, it would add some £23bn to the British economy per annum

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” So said Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state.

2018 is the centenary year of some women getting the vote, so it seems a fitting moment to highlight another inequality – that of the considerable disparity between the number of men and women running their own business – and to do something about it.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, only about 20 per cent of single-person businesses are owned and run by women. But, interestingly, when women do start a business, research tells us they are about 13 per cent more likely to succeed than men.

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If women make such good entrepreneurs, why don’t more of them do it, particularly in light of recent gender pay discussions? After all, self-employment is the ultimate vehicle to achieve self-determination, free of traditional corporate discriminations.

The considerable work done on this subject seems to conclude that the main reasons women shy away from self-employment are a lack of self confidence, networking opportunities, and female role models (a staggering 71 per cent of women asked in a Facebook survey couldn’t name a single one).

However, according to the Federation Of Small Businesses, if as many women as men did start their own businesses, it would add some £23bn to the British economy per annum.

All of this suggests that a UK-wide networking and support group for aspiring female entrepreneurs could solve some of these issues. And so Make It Your Business (MIYB) came to be.

Not-for-profit and, importantly, free to join, MIYB is all about removing barriers to entry. Working on the premise that “you can’t be it if you can’t see it”, each seminar involves a panel of three established female entrepreneurs telling their story to an audience of aspiring entrepreneurs.

It sounds simple, but this storytelling is devastatingly effective, as it simultaneously informs listeners and brings them together in mutual support.

Part of its success stems from the fact that it is mandatory for panelists to be searingly honest about the ups and the downs of their businesses. But it’s also about the networking which takes place before and after each event.

Women seem to feel more able to open up and ask questions if they don’t feel they are going to be judged – which in the ordinary workplace often means by men. It isn’t a sign of weakness, just an admission that we can do more to create an environment where women can speak freely, if that is what it takes to unlock their potential.

MIYB recently launched an online chat forum for aspiring female entrepreneurs together with parenting website Mumsnet. Now, any women can go online and share their question with the UK’s biggest community of women.

With the latest stats suggesting that the number of new businesses is falling, it’s even more important that we tap into the huge resource of women who could make a success of being self-employed.

Natalie Massanet, founder of Net a Porter, once said that “the path to success is never straight”. That may be, but it is less lonely if you have like-minded people to travel with.

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