Closing the entrepreneurial gender gap requires us all to take action

 
Seema Malhotra
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British men are nearly twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurs.

This isn’t just bad for entrepreneurship, but society at large suffers when the ideas of half the population aren’t adequately represented. Closing the gender entrepreneurship gap would ensure we no longer miss out on countless innovations, increase productivity, and raise wages.

A report from the Federation of Small Businesses estimated that the UK is missing out on 1.2m female-led businesses. In fact, if we just achieved parity with the US, which suffers from its own gender entrepreneurship gap, we would have 900,000 more businesses and an additional £23bn gross value added to the UK economy.

Governments tend not to think in the long term, but that’s what is needed. The challenge isn’t just in our workplaces, but is rooted in the way that girls are treated in our schools. While many excellent schools guide their girls to aspire to greatness, too many fall short. The work of great organisations like Sherry Coutu’s Founders4Schools, which brings many female founders into schools, is making a difference, but more needs to be done to ensure that teachers have resources and training to inspire the next generation of leaders – no matter their parents’ postcode.

Legislation around shared parental leave is part of the package of change we need to help address another issue – the balancing of work and home life. One driver for entrepreneurship can be more flexibility over a daily routine that many may seek. A survey of entrepreneurs in a report from Aston University found that 97 per cent of women polled cited freedom to adapt their approach to work as a key reason for starting their own businesses, while 85 per cent pointed to more flexible working conditions.

Money matters. A report last year from the Female Founders Forum, Untapped Unicorns, found that 86 per cent of deals in 2016 and 91 per cent of publicly announced funding went to companies without a female founder.

Extensive academic research has revealed that cognitive biases, many of which unconsciously discriminate against women getting funding, are prevalent within the venture capital industry. If we want more scale-ups like Anne Boden’s Starling Bank, Priya Lakhani’s Century Tech and Cherry Freeman’s LoveCrafts the venture capital industry needs to get on top of it hiring policies.

Mentoring matters too. Though many great female entrepreneurs are breaking new ground, a well-trodden path is easier to walk down, particularly if you have people to guide you along the way. Sometimes female entrepreneurs want to discuss the unique challenges they face as female founders and that’s why the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship, which I’m the vice-chair of, has female leadership as one of its three core themes. We’ve hosted many inspiring female entrepreneurs in Parliament and are currently seeking responses to a survey and call for evidence.

And media matters too. There are many amazing female entrepreneurs who should be championed as widely as possible. Initiatives like the Leap 100 help. Featuring leaders like Rikke Rosenlund of Borrow My Doggy, Sam Smith of finnCapp and Celia Francis of Rated People on these pages help change perceptions and in the process the world, but more needs to be done to seek out more fresh voices to reach out to everyone.

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