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Women in Leadership: reasons to support female entrepreneurs

24 January 2019


As Sheryl Sandberg says, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” At Octopus, we’re focused on helping female-led businesses grow. That’s why in 2018 we sponsored the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship (APPG) Women in Leadership report.

The APPG for Entrepreneurship is a cross-party group that encourages, supports and promotes entrepreneurship. Last year, it carried out a survey of more than 500 entrepreneurs on how to boost female entrepreneurship – all the way from secondary education to securing business investment.

Here are five of the key findings of the Women in Leadership report:

1. To encourage more young women to choose STEM subjects

The report findings suggested that young girls are less likely to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and pursue roles in business industries, despite usually performing better than boys in those subjects at school.

Girls tend to drop STEM subjects as they grow older, and women currently only make up 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK.

APPG surveyed girls across Europe and found that a lack of female role models in STEM was a key reason that they opted out of a career in these sectors.

Supporting female entrepreneurs now can help change the status quo – and create a ‘new normal’ for the future. “A little recognition can go a long way,” says Seema Malhotra, Vice Chair of the APPG for Entrepreneurship.

Too often, male entrepreneurs are portrayed – by media and the entertainment industry – as running fast-growth tech companies. The media often portrays women as running “lifestyle” businesses, which have little opportunity for growth.

It’s time that those misconceptions were put to rest, as Chris Hulatt explains: “At Octopus, we’re fortunate to work with a number of inspiring and dedicated female entrepreneurs, including Caroline Plumb of Fluidly and Tania Boler of Elvie, who have brought drive and creativity to their industry and helped grow the UK’s economy.

“We think people like Caroline and Tania are role models that the next generation of female entrepreneurs needs to hear about.”

2. To help more women to create their own businesses

Many female entrepreneurs are discouraged from an early age. Education, experience, and access to capital are some of the many obstacles they face – while gender politics can dictate the type of business they set up.

The APPG explained how the media can have a negative influence on women’s choices, especially when it comes to business. Right now, women are 20% less likely to gain support for their ideas than men.

If we can encourage female participation in business, we’ll see a rise in women pursuing their own ideas – and more being drawn to entrepreneurial roles.

3. To challenge the status quo and create a fairer future

Half a million businesses are started in the UK each year. Yet women lead only a small percentage of these. And compared to men, women don’t get the same encouragement – or recognition – for their contribution to business and STEM industries.

So supporting female entrepreneurs won’t just shake up gender stereotypes: it will help current and future SMEs (Small and medium-size enterprises) thrive.

The APPG found a third of women think gender is a hindrance to their success – while only 1% of men felt the same. Breaking down barriers like unconscious bias and gender stereotypes will boost female participation in the labour market. It’s win-win.

4. To unlock the growth-potential of female-led SMEs

Even in the fast-growing world of tech, female-led businesses don’t usually scale up quickly. Female entrepreneurs are often pigeonholed into certain industries – like retail, education, or health. Harvard Business School studies found a female name, picture or voice significantly reduces the chances of receiving investment.

But female-led SMEs still have extraordinary potential for growth.

Over 160 million women were starting or running new businesses in 2016, but only two-thirds of these were described as ‘established’. Female leaders have the same appetite to scale up as men, but sometimes struggle to break through the glass ceiling.

5. More SMEs means more growth for the economy

The gender gap in business doesn’t just impact us on a social level – the economy suffers, too. Funding for UK start-ups is at an all-time high, but female-led businesses receive only 10% of that funding. The more female-led SMEs, the more the UK economy benefits.

As it stands, female-led SMEs could add as much as £180 billion to the UK economy by 2025. That’s double 2014’s figure of £85 billion. Public policy could change this – and create an equal ecosystem for female entrepreneurs.

With many entrepreneurial UK companies still trying to work out some of the challenges they face ahead of Brexit, it’s important to recognise the value that female entrepreneurship offers to the UK economy, while makings sure that women-led businesses are given every opportunity to thrive.

As Octopus co-founder Chris Hulatt explains: “Companies like ours have a duty to help to break down the barriers that hinder female entrepreneurs.”

Zoe Chambers of Octopus Ventures adds: “We see part of our role as giving women an indication of what’s possible, and inspiring them to go further. Part of doing that means working with higher education institutions, even schools, and ensuring a positive message is broadcast to women and girls.”

Read the full APPG For Entrepreneurship ‘Women in Leadership’ report.