Wednesday 18 March 2020 5:53 am

Female entrepreneurs are breaking down doors and lighting a path

Michelle Ovens MBE is founder of Small Business Britain, the UK’s leading champion of small businesses.

International Women’s Day, which took place less than two weeks ago, always provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress that business has made towards gender equality. 

Over the last decade, I have seen an increase in opportunities through a tidal wave of new businesses led by women, driven by a growing trend towards people wanting to work with freedom and flexibility, and to do something they are passionate about.

But women are still held back by perceptions normalised by traditional ideas of success. The Rose Review in 2019 found that just one per cent of venture capital went into all-female led businesses, which are five times less likely to scale to £1m turnover. But for many female entrepreneurs, scaling over £1m is not their metric of success. In fact, many see opening doors for other entrepreneurs, and the next generation, as a more relevant yardstick for accomplishment.

Research shows that women are more likely to be asked preventative questions by investors referring to their lifestyle and family than men. In fact, many female entrepreneurs do not see a family as something they have to “overcome” to build a business, but are creating businesses to allow them to have time with their family, as well as succeed as an entrepreneur. This can include flexibility for themselves, but also for their staff and stakeholders. 

Women are building businesses based on their own rules and using those rules to open doors for other women too. In fact, one of the biggest trends I have seen through the rise of female-led businesses is a desire to help one another succeed. 

Through the f:Entrepreneur campaign, which highlights inspiring female business leaders, I see so many women reaching out in some capacity to others in their communities and providing them with support. 

We see this happening through hiring, for example with Rin Hamburgh — a small copywriting business that prioritises employing mothers returning to the workplace. Based on Rin’s own experience, she wants to help create a world that works better for people, particularly mothers, like herself. 

We also see it happening through programmes to boost women’s confidence in business, like the Gravitas Programme, run by the formidable Antoinette Dale Henderson, whose book “Power Up – The Smart Woman’s Guide to Unleashing Her Full Potential” is completely geared towards the building up of other women. Likewise, peer-to-peer mentoring groups such as Sister Snog, concentrates on fostering positive, collaborative relationships between female entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on encouraging the next generation of businesses.  

These are female-led businesses that are using their own platforms to champion other women in the way they best see fit. Far from pulling the ladder up behind them, they are building new ladders to allow more and more women to climb up too.

Having a support network, whether it is an employer willing to take a chance, or a mentor with experience to pass down will give women the confidence to take risks that they may not have in the past — and this will open up a world of opportunity.

There is a shift happening that people with traditional ideas of success are missing out on. Moving up the ladder is not necessarily about scaling to great heights and value; for small business owners and particularly female founders, it is about providing opportunities and support to others.

One of the strongest factors in entrepreneurial success is about being able to take considered risks, be resilient, and learn quickly when things go wrong. To be able to take guidance from those who have trodden the path before is invaluable, and women are making sure that they are right there to show the way.

Main image credit: Getty

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