With August 2021 heralding another Women’s Equality Day, it’s more vital than ever to put the current situation under a lens. Why? It’s simple – the global pandemic has disproportionately affected women on a global scale.
Some of the hardest hit industries (Early Years and Hospitality/Tourism) carry a strong female majority. Coupled with mass childcare and school closures which forced women to take on 75% of unpaid domestic tasks, the pandemic has done its best to decimate women’s career progression.
One silver lining has been a major increase in female-founded startups – whether by necessity or desire. According to recent reports, nearly 40% of women that started new businesses during COVID shared that they did so as a direct result of the pandemic.
While record numbers of women are becoming entrepreneurs, they’re still fighting an uphill battle – as the following stats will reveal:
- Recent evidence from the UK Survey of SME Finances reported that women were charged more than men on term loans (2.9% vs. 1.9%)
- Around one-third of women say access to funding is the biggest barrier to starting a business, compared to 20% of men
- 35% of female business founders still face gender bias when raising their business capital.
- Female entrepreneurs also receive an average of 5% less funding than their male counterparts
While these figures may not be surprising, they are grossly damaging. This is not only true from a perspective of equality, but economy as well. Only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs are women. This gender gap is equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses – and up to £250 billion of new value to the UK economy.
So what exactly is driving this gap?
Reports show that female entrepreneurs are much more likely to cite ‘personal reasons’ when closing their business than actual failure or bankruptcy. Lack of childcare and domestic support, as well as major struggles with funding, are forcing women out of work – even when they’re the boss.
For change to happen, we need to delve deeper into the drivers behind these issues – however subliminal or situational they might seem. Addition are deeply proud of our female founder clients. Shining a spotlight on personal struggles and solutions is incredibly important to us.
For that reason, we’ve asked female entrepreneurs around the world to share their journeys with equality in the founder space – as well as practical advice on effecting change.
Some of the most difficult challenges of being a female entrepreneur have included securing funding in a predominantly male-based industry, being taken seriously at networking events and accessing important, emerging knowledge and resources.
As a female entrepreneur from a low-income background, it was very difficult to get the initial funding required to get FLUX Undies off the ground, which meant that we had to look down other routes. This influenced the decision to fund the initial development and launch off the back of a crowdfunding campaign instead. According to the Entrepreneurs Network, just over 9% of the funding put into UK start-ups goes to women-run businesses -which gives you an idea of the struggle involved in accessing funding.
Networking with other business owners and people in the same industry is hugely important in getting a start-up off the ground. This was also quite tricky. It can often feel like you’re not taken as seriously, meaning a barrier is put up to having important conversations and building relationships that can really help to grow a business. I’ve had to work a lot harder to build a network and with a lack of female founders, it’s also been difficult to find female mentors that have experience in the same field.
I was 22 when I launched UpCircle and 23 when I took on the Dragons on Dragons’ Den. William (co-founder) and I received three offers of investment, but ultimately chose to walk away from them (off-air). Everything we’ve achieved as a brand we’ve done on our own.
I co-founded my brand alongside my brother. We have separate, clearly defined roles but we run the business as an equal partnership. Despite this, I continually find that people view my brother as the true “CEO” – which is obviously frustrating.
When someone calls and asks for the “person in charge” and is met with a female voice, I am shocked at how frequently that results in me being asked to take a message before my brother is available. This only makes me even more passionate about using my platform to hopefully inspire young girls.
I keep a personal target to speak purely on female-focussed issues once a week. I’ve given careers lectures in girls’ schools and offered mentorship to teenage girls looking to start their own business. I also give frequent talks on podcasts and webinars to knowledge-share and inspire the next generation of “green” entrepreneurs.
We co-founded our FoodTech start-up, Simple Foods and have found it a 24/7 role. It is definitely more challenging than having a 9-5 job. Start-ups don’t have as many employees as mature organizations, so it’s an all-hands-on-deck environment. But I believe the major barrier is that there are several stigmas associated with gender equality in entrepreneurship.
We have seen many instances of women being associated with a “bossy” attitude in which men are simply considered “leaders”. External society pressures are a negative contribution to gender equality in entrepreneurship. Another major barrier is that the finance world, which funds start-ups through venture capital, is still very much male-dominated.
Happily, some recent changes have been favourable for women and other minorities. Corporate culture in general is shifting towards a more inclusive approach and organizations understand, more than ever, that diversity can improve a lot a company’s output.
I started my business almost right after uni – a high protein online delivery meal service called ProToGo. The first time I ever pitched for funding, the investor started hitting on me. ‘Going for a beer’ with a potential investor is the most normal thing for my male colleague entrepreneurs, but I could only go for coffee. ‘Creating a bond with your investor’ sounded so easy yet turned out to be so tricky.
What I found even more staggering is that out of all the pitches (around 50 pitches) I only pitched to a female investor once. This, we cannot blame on men –this is women being too risk averse. The problem runs deeper. Women pitch very differently from men, and it is basic psychology that we trust and like people we can relate to. So what I wanted most, as a female entrepreneur, was more female investors.
And this is why, after I exited my business, we created the JVNetwork,- an investment network that connects female investment professionals with entrepreneurs. Because if we want to see more female investors funded, we need to drive that change ourselves.
As a female entrepreneur, I would like to see more money being invested in women-led start-ups. In 2019, 2.8% of funding went to women-led startups; in 2020, that fell to 2.3%, Crunchbase figures show. From my experience, some VC’s or angels still have some way to go in working towards Gender Equality.
Raising investment is a challenge as Farly, our sustainable fashion-tech social marketplace, has been bootstrapped thus far. Pitches are happening, however as mentioned earlier, investing in female-led businesses is nowhere near the investment opportunities available to men, which is disappointing to see. Having said that, we are starting to see more female investors – which is a much-needed boost.
Throughout my career, I have witnessed first-hand the subtle ways that gender inequality can surface. This is not just when working in technical roles (where women were in the minority) but also getting involved with university projects to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects – and chairing a Women in Business group for my local chamber.
Research around gender inequalities in social media and dating apps demonstrates that the prejudices we all experience throughout different aspects of life can become magnified and dangerous – if not managed and moderated properly on these platforms. That’s why we’re launching our ethical dating app Fluttr – to provide as many safety measures as possible in order to keep our users (especially women) safe from predators and abuse.
We are getting somewhere with equality in entrepreneurship – but we still have a long way to go. The recent influx of books and podcasts that focus on female founders are incredible, and so inspiring for women thinking of starting their own business. Women need to see that there are others out there succeeding, but I still think this needs to become more mainstream.
I think the mainstream media still portrays businesses started by women as ‘side hustles’ – something that is done alongside childcare. This comes across as somewhat patronising, when in fact if a female founder is running a business alongside caring for children, she is probably doing as much work as (if not more work than) a male entrepreneur who is focusing mainly on the business.
This became especially evident during the start of the pandemic when child care settings closed. Most women I spoke to were taking on the majority of the childcare and household chores – and I know I was one of them.
Understanding how what is stereo-typically perceived as masculine and feminine work in both males and females is interesting and helpful.
At the Sleep Nanny Academy, I’ve only had two males come forward and express an interest in becoming a sleep consultant which proves that the industry that I work in is hugely female-dominated. And, the graduates from the academy who have gone on to set up their own sleep consultancy businesses have been amazing. I see females as having great skills for entrepreneurship as we often have to ‘wear many hats’ and juggle lots of balls.
Women are also scientifically capable of multi-tasking which helps significantly in their success. In fact, women’s intuition is real – science tells us so. It’s all about our heightened ability to read people’s emotions and expressions which can only help in business as we can read customers’ thoughts and solve problems. Women need to learn to embrace their differences from their male allies and have confidence in their intuition as it is this that can be key to their success.
I started my business journey at the age of 23, founding a fast-fashion lingerie business for bigger busted women. That journey took me onto Dragons Den, receiving £250k of angel investment, winning multiple awards and appearing as a keynote speaker and contributor on national TV and at prestigious business events. Exiting the business in 2015 after the birth of my youngest child, I now own and run The Small Business Academy, an enterprise hub for other Start-ups.
I cannot say I have ever experienced gender inequality (unless you count the time this bloke at a business event came back to the table with a round of nine pints, and one half – for me!) . If anything, being a minority in business has given me opportunities I would not otherwise have had. I’m not naïve enough to believe I was selected for TV and keynotes because I had the most inspiring business credentials, but rather because I ticked the box as a young, female entrepreneur. The fact I was also a single mum was a bonus in the checklist.
Jess and I set up That Works For Me as we had become tired of seeing skilled women falling out of the workplace because they had chosen to have a family. This was our story of gender equality; why couldn’t you as a woman have a great career that fits around your family? Since setting up That Works For Me, we have become very aware of intersectionality and how these categorisations can impact you even further as a woman.
My experience as a heterosexual Yorkshire mother with a degree in Theatre Studies is already different to Jess and Gem’s experiences (my co-founders) and then is even more different to many other women.
We have a shared goal to get more women back into work, but we can definitely do more by looking into how these social categorisations can impact women and the groups we are trying to help. This is what we are trying to do by creating relationships with groups such as Dope Black Mums and the Global Equality Collective.
Although the business world is full of motivational quotes, I most often reference Elle Woods from Legally Blonde when asked about my own success: ‘What? Like it’s hard?’
We mustn’t fret about it all getting taken away if other women join us in business leadership.
I’ve been running my own business for 14 years in PR and publishing, two industries that pride themselves (frustratingly) on having the strictest gatekeepers. Both professions require you to know who’s who and keep the secrets of the profession very close to your chest.
I’ve been fortunate to have female mentors who shared inside knowledge, and I do the same myself. It’s not enough to get through the door – we have to wedge it open for others. Being secretive doesn’t do any favours for other female entrepreneurs. It’s not rocket science once you’ve got the inside scoop.
Progress has been made, but the gender gap in entrepreneurial equality is still too wide. If we want to boost post-pandemic recovery, it’s time to boost parity between male and female founders.
Supporting women-owned businesses through buyer power, investor funding and challenging unconscious bias is how we can each initiate change today.
To read more about the brilliant female-owned businesses we’re supporting, head over to our client interview page and be inspired!