There's a lot more that can be done to realise the potential of female entrepreneurship in Australia

Rohan Workman. Image: Supplied

Earlier this week the 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard was released identifying Australia as the second best place for females to start a business. Although this is great news there is still a very long way to go if female participation in entrepreneurship is going to equal their male counterparts.

Let’s first begin by acknowledging the fact that this is a relative scorecard in which Australia’s performance was ranked against 30 other countries that included Pakistan, Egypt, India, Japan and Tunisia.

In Pakistan, only 19% of women have some secondary education, only 3% of women have a bank account and there are (along with 27 other countries in the world) unequal inheritance rights. In Egypt, a husband has the power of veto over his wife and in Japan there is a “housewife subsidy”! These are not countries to which Australia should be comparing itself in regards to gender equality.

Australia placed joint-second with Canada on a score of 69 and was the best placed country in the Asia-Pacific region. The US was the top-performing nation with a score of 71.

The methodology for the rankings included analysing five factors deemed critical to female entrepreneurial success, with these being the business environment of the country, female access to fundamental resources (education, bank accounts, training, etc), leadership and rights of women in each country, the pipeline of female entrepreneurs and the potential for female entrepreneurial leaders.

Nigeria has a remarkably high rate of female participation in entrepreneurship with 9 female led startups for every 10 male led startups. What is holding them back, however, is the lacklustre business environment. By comparison, if women in the US were to start growth-oriented businesses at the same rate as men in the next two years there would be 15 million more jobs created. There is a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in Nigeria.

All in all, only the top 9 of the 31 countries indexed scored above 50 out of a total possible score of 100. There is room for improvement for even the top performing nations like Australia. This is particularly noticeable if you ever walk into an Australian entrepreneurship event, as you’ll notice the sheer volume of men compared to women.

Currently only 3% of women-led businesses receive venture capital funding and in Silicon Valley women lead less than one in ten startups. Although data in Australia on these statistics is hard to come by, the trend is similar.

There has been some fantastic work done by organisations like Scale Investors, a female-focused angel network, Startup Victoria, which runs a number of female focused events and a number of other organisations that increase female participation in entrepreneurship. This has resulted in a greater awareness but their mere existence means we still have some way to go.

The old adage of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” comes into play in this area too. There are two items that fit into this category for Australia.

Firstly, an Australian annual gender-disaggregated business census is not collected and made available. We don’t know for certain how many women do actually start businesses in Australia (we don’t know how many men do either and both sets of data would be helpful).

Women in business. Photo: Getty Images

Secondly, we need to improve the collection and distribution of data related to gender diversity for government funded entrepreneurship programs. By way of example, Startup Chile has introduced specific programs aimed at increasing the amount of women-led startups due to the low participation they measured initially.

By far though, one of the most pressing problems that we have in Australia is that we don’t celebrate the diversity of our success stories nearly enough. According to the Scorecard only 25% of global media coverage features women as the subjects. Entrepreneurial success stories with women as the focus are far less. There are plenty of these to talk about including Jo Horgan (Mecca Cosmetica), Carolyn Creswell (Carman’s Fine Foods), Naomi Simson (Red Balloon), Kristina Karlsson (Kikki K) and Kate Kendall (Cloud Peeps / The Fetch), Marita Cheng (2Mar Robotics), Elaine Saunders (Blamey Saunders Hears) to name just a few.

Governments and companies too, can take greater action, including reassessing their procurement policies. From the Scorecard “globally, only an estimated 1% of public-procurement contracts are awarded to women-owned businesses. Most procurement officers focus on price and prefer trusted suppliers, which unintentionally excludes new diverse suppliers which may be female”.

Whilst Australia being placed as the second best place for female entrepreneurs is a welcome piece of news, we certainly have a long way to go if we want to realise gender equality in entrepreneurship.

Rohan Workman is passionate about entrepreneurship and the capacity we have to solve problems and create sustainable value. As Director of Melbourne Accelerator Program, Rohan is responsible for oversight of Australia’s leading entrepreneurship program, in addition to other entrepreneurial programs developed at the University of Melbourne.

Rohan is also co-founder and director of RosterCloud which provides HR management software to companies across Australia. You can find him on Twitter.

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