The advancing pace of female entrepreneurial activity across the globe promises to fuel economic development and social progress. However, in Australia, the number of women-owned businesses continues to lag behind male owned firms both for recently started and established businesses.
The imbalance in this trend has remained stagnant over the last five years, with research conducted by the global workplace provider Regus, revealing that while 77% of Australia businesses say they are seeing rising entrepreneurship, only 11% say that there has been a rise in female entrepreneurial activity.
Worryingly, these statistics exist in a backdrop where females are achieving comparable educational qualifications to men, where women have captured an increasing share of the labour market, and where a high proportion of the female population is in the age cohort at which entrepreneurial activity is most likely to occur.
There are compelling reasons for the government to take action to harness and develop women entrepreneurs. By empowering female entrepreneurs we don’t just benefit them as individuals, we provide them with the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the economy, and to create new value-added employment across a variety of different industries.
To do this, we need a stronger understanding of the profile of women who start a business. We need to know the challenges and barriers they experience.
Research shows that there are a number of factors affecting a woman’s decision to start a business. These can include discrimination experienced seeking financial assistance, the challenges in reconciling family and work responsibilities, access to mentoring support, and exclusion from business and financial networks. The culmination of these barriers may ultimately deter many women from attaining their personal career aspirations or in attempting to start their own business.
The fact is that female entrepreneurs face certain disadvantages that their male counterparts do not. It is not yet an even playing field.
However, knowing this is in itself not enough. Women must utilise their strengths, and embrace their inimitable differences as advantages. Research suggests that female entrepreneurs differ from their male counterparts in several areas, such as their management styles, communication skills and motivations for start-up.
These characteristics could potentially be harnessed in order to level the playing field in today’s business world. Women have a stronger propensity towards more personal communication. Their natural capacity to form deeper relationships can help them in creating stronger, more loyal networks than their male counterparts.
This type of barrier-reversal mindset, where women are tapping into alternative types of networking, can be extremely favourable. It is apparent that there are certain advantages to being diverse and women entrepreneurs should utilise this in order to conquer the prejudices that are outside their control.
So how can we do this? Well, there are also a number of concrete steps the government and industry can take to prioritise female entrepreneurs, including:
- Offer bespoke training, support and mentorship programmes for women who lack the necessary skills and knowledge needed to set up a business
- Develop a loan fund specifically targeted at women entrepreneurs
- Incorporate entrepreneurial programs throughout all levels of the education system as an important intervention in creating a more entrepreneurial mindset among students
- Introduce motivation, confidence and coaching programs for women
We also need to celebrate the up-and-coming female startup leaders who are beginning to break through the glass ceiling in startup land. While we have female role models who have reached the pinnacle of their profession such as Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Virginia Rometty, we do have a dearth of female founders.
That is why I was so excited to hear from some of Australia’s leading young female founders at the Macleay Entrepreneurs Forum last week. We went out of our way to find young successful female leaders (all under the age of 30) to share their story with over 200 young Australians.
The trend defying examples of entrepreneurs such as Genevieve George, Whitney Komor, Bridget Loudon and Kath Purkis, shows that we may one day reach a time when female-owned tech startups are seen as the norm – and not an exception in a male dominated industry.
Dr Jane Hession is Head of the Business Faculty at leading independent education provider Macleay College and the author of Women in the Modern Workplace: Gender Barriers to Business Start-Ups.
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