There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about the lack of female entrepreneurs. And for good reason, men are still three times as likely to start a business in the UK. While starting a business is obviously a huge undertaking, for women sometimes the barriers can be a little harder to overcome.
However, instead of just simply reporting on the issues we need to start discussing practical solutions and why a gender balanced leadership will make a business stronger. We’ve spoken to five successful female entrepreneurs and asked what they feel the Government should be doing to increase the number of female entrepreneurs.
Thank you to our inspirational female entreprenuers: Martha Lane Fox, Joanna Montgomery, Lisa Tse, Lyndsey Simpson and Julie Dobson. Today, with the help of our contributors, I would like to construct a roadmap for what the Government needs to do to bring greater diversity to the UK’s startups.
Expert view on how the Government needs to promote more female entrepreneurs
I think it’s time the “issue” was reframed. Women are less represented in business, technology and leadership in general than their male peers and, given this split, the conversation is often centred around “equality” or “fairness”. Instead of continuing to discuss this ‘problem’, we should be talking about solutions and benefits. A gender-balanced team has the advantage of being able to produce roadmaps, teams and executions that are more considered, balanced and informed.
A company that is led by a well-balanced team, be that both in gender and skill set, will ultimately be more competitive than its typically male-swayed competitor. And that’s the message the government should be pushing; not one about how women are suffering.”
Upon graduating from Dundee University, Scottish entrepreneur Joanna Montgomery started Little Riot, to develop a product called Pillow Talk.
In the last few years, the company has grown from strength to strength, securing vast amounts of funding and winning several awards. Joanna is a true inspiration and as is regular speaker at enterprise events across the UK.
It’s quite hard to pinpoint the one thing but for business the number one is access to finance and indeed making the access to grants / support / other types of finances more aware which would help women in business.
This is needed to firstly grow their businesses to a sustainable and profitable level and secondly to hire the right personnel to complete the gaps in the business so that business owner can focus on the end goal without worrying about every department.”
Lisa is the CEO and brainchild behind the modern fusion food experience of Sweet Mandarin, an award winning Chinese restaurant in Manchester, which she set up with her two sisters.
Lisa won the prestigious award of Best Local Chinese Restaurant 2009/10 on the F Word and Gordon Ramsay was highly impressed with Lisa’s cooking.
Lisa is the third generation of women in her family in the restaurant business.
Encourage entrepreneurship in children and teach business skills (particularly financial) to children. Far more female business leaders than men I meet are unable to read a balance sheet, understand cash flow analysis or a profit and loss account. These are essential business skills and without that key financial knowledge, women are fearful that they don’t understand this side of the business and thus don’t push forward to start up their own businesses.
If these topics were taught at school then the playing field will be levelled and more women will have the confidence to make the leap into entrepreneurship.”
Lyndsey is the co-owner of leading HR services company The Curve Group. Lyndsey spent 11 years undertaking a number of global leadership positions in the Banking and Insurance sectors before becoming the co-owner in The Curve Group in 2007.
I would say that in the first 3 years (and I’m still here), cash is king and we need to reinvest every penny possible into the business. Giving any of your life savings to the government when you are massively loss-making is really desperate – the money could and should be spent on something adding value to the business, like stock or marketing. If the government is serious about helping entrepreneurs, then so many of these could be waived for a certain period of time. Breaks for business rates for small businesses, NI and payroll tax would be incredible help in the early years. We have been VAT registered since the beginning, however for many businesses paying VAT just adds more inefficient cost to the business.
Personally, I think babysitting should be an allowable business expense, and certainly parents should not be required to pay tax and NI on nannies! If you want a senior job in business you cannot do it between 9-5pm (most daycares open from 8-6, most people in London commute an hour each way…), so this is a tax on senior women.”
Julia Dobson worked for the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group for six years in roles including UK and Ireland Managing Director for Acqua di Parma and UK and Ireland Country Manager for Celine. Julia left LVMH in April 2012 and went on to co-found the Village England handbag brand, having launched its first collection in Autumn / Winter 2013.
I had a great conversation with Julie, I truly got an insight into her passion for entrepreneurship and her business.
Provide a stipend with no strings for three months so more women have opp to plan a biz.”
Martha Lane Fox CBE, founder of Lastminute.com
Martha Lane Fox co-founded Europe’s largest travel and leisure website lastminute.com with Brent Hoberman in 1998, they took it public in 2000 and sold it in 2005. Martha was appointed a crossbench peer in the House of Lords in March 2013.
Martha is currently founder and executive chair of doteveryone.org.uk. Doteveryone is the first institute dedicated to making Britain brilliant in the networked age. Initially, it is focusing on three key areas – women and technology, digital leadership and building prototypes for public organisations.
Thank you to our panel of successful entrepreneurs for giving us their guidance on what the Government should be doing to promote more female entrepreneurs.
What the Government needs to do to promote female entrepreneurship
✔ Actively promote the benefits of gender balance in a company’s leadership
✔ Provide a fair share of government supported business investment and funding for women, helping raise the capital in the tough first stages of business
✔ Start addressing and encouraging entrepreneurship in girls from an early age
✔ Making childcare an allowable business expense would make starting a business more feasible for many women
✔Creating initiatives such as no string stipends would give women the leeway and time to plan a business without having to worry whether taking the time out to do this is financially viable
Tips for female entreprenuers
Consider financial sources other than traditional bank loans
A number of our female entrepreneurs discussed the difficulty of accessing start-up financing. If you are struggling to raise finance for your startup there are a range of alternative options. Angel investors who invest their money in return for shares and offer mentoring advice are another viable funding option. Crowdfunding is also fast becoming one of the most popular ways to raise capital in today’s startup market. It involves obtaining finance from a large pool of investors and gives businesses the opportunity to attract funding through pitching on public websites to thousands of potential backers instead of just asking one or two individuals for money.
A business mentor is invaluable
Feedback from our panelists highlights that there are a number of additional challenges to juggle when you are a woman starting your own business. Having spoken to a lot of female entrepreneurs over the past few years, I can see the real benefit of having a mentor. Having someone to talk to about your business that is completely out of the loop but has a genuine interest has multiple benefits. It’s a great way for getting a fresh perspective and useful in terms of prioritising where you should be directing your energy. There are various mentoring network schemes available across the UK such as Meet A Mentor, which brings together volunteer mentors and new and growing businesses with the goal of developing supportive mentoring relationships.
Set the example and create a gender balanced team
Not only will you be addressing the real issue at hand by promoting the benefits of gender balanced teams, but you’re business will function much more effectively as a result. Gender balanced teams are typically more innovative and will likely provide your business with a broader range of skills. This offers your business new perspectives, energy and creativity. All this in turn will drive the feeling of cohesiveness and collaboration within your team.