Business development · 21 April 2016

Provide more role models for female entrepreneurs, FSB tells government

Michelle Mone, successful female entrepreneur and Ultimo founder
Self-confidence is holding back women from starting and growing businesses

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the government to improve support for female entrepreneurs by providing more advice and mentoring.

The recommendations come off the back of research carried out by the small business campaigning organisation identifying low self-confidence as a key barrier preventing women in the UK from starting and growing businesses.

The survey of almost 2,000 female small business owners revealed that a lack of self-belief was one of the most significant changes they face when starting and developing an enterprise – with one-in-five citing it as an impediment to growth.

Over three-in-ten per cent had not received any business support to help them overcome this – though the majority were able to identify areas where support could benefit their business. Less than one per cent had attended government-organised “Meet a Mentor” events which pair female owners of small firms with inspirational figures willing to help them with enterprise growth.

“More needs to be done to really empower women. Vocational education is one way to grow the next generation of women entrepreneurs, but they also need long term business support to help them succeed and grow,” said FSB diversity policy chair Helen Walbey.

Almost 40 per cent of the women interviewed had chosen to start a business in a particular industry because they were confident they already had the skills in that area – though shortfalls in the knowledge needed to develop a business were cited as some of the most important impediments to growth.

The competencies which female entrepreneurs most wanted to receive support developing included tech skills, marketing expertise and business strategy understanding – with one-quarter of the women surveyed of the opinion that a lack of digital abilities was holding back the growth of their business.

Barriers to accessing such training included cost and location – with skills courses in big cities difficult to attend for female entrepreneurs with childcare commitments.

Women account for one-third of all self-employed in the UK – a proportion which increased significantly during the 2008 recession.  They are less likely than men to want to start their own businesses, and fewer are in the process of doing so. It is thought that 900,000 more businesses could be created if the UK was able to achieve the same proportion of female entrepreneurship as in the US.

The new report draws heavily on the lessons to be learned from the other side of the Atlantic, where encouraging women into enterprise creation has been a key policy focus for almost half a century. Women’s Business Centers providing training, internet access and access to finance are widespread across there  – and the country came top in the Global women entrepreneur leaders scorecard in 2015.

Walbey added: “Everyone should have the same chance to succeed in business. Understanding the importance of diversity and getting more women into business is critical for a dynamic and vibrant small business sector. That’s why we need to work out what the barriers are for women and break them down one by one.”

The FSB has also announced plans to create a Women in enterprise taskforce to offer support to female small business owners.

To hear from an influential woman in the small business space, have a read of our interview with Emma Jones.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

Business development