From the top · 19 December 2015

The small business advent calendar: December 19 – Women in business, or not

What's behind door number 19?
What’s behind door number 19?

With it now being less than a week until Christmas, our festive offerings continue by shedding some rather unflattering light on British business demographics.

Despite the surge in British entrepreneurial activities, less than one in five SMEs are actually being majority-led by women – despite a continued effort to promote females in business.

Real Business, the sister title to Business Advice, has its own First Women movement which brings together trailblazing and remarkable senior women leaders and professionals. It demonstrates the great things done by women in business.

However, it’s alarming to hear that only 19 per cent of SMEs are headed up by women. On top of that, half of all businesses in this size range are entirely run by men.

Findings from the Women’s Business Council showed that if women were setting up and running new businesses at the same rate as men, we could have an additional one million female entrepreneurs.

The proportion of working-age women who are engaged in entrepreneurial activity is only 6.3 per cent, nearly half that of the 11.6 per cent male statistic.

Majority women-led SMEs kick in £70bn in gross to the British economy, but it’s a figure which could be considerably higher. The Women’s Business Council is concerned that too much business support is focused on “high-growth” enterprises – scaring off would-be entrepreneurs who are not interested in this kind of rapid expansion.

The British government has introduced a number of policies to level the gender playing field, including quotas on public company boards and an initiative launched by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) to rid the UK economy of the low pay that still exists for some women in business.

Indeed, the gender pay gap, according to the Office for National Statistics, is at its starkest between the ages of 40 and retirement – at the moment when workers begin to move into more senior positions having built up years of experience. The UK now has the sixth largest gender pay gap in the European Union, says statistics agency Eurostat, despite Britain being in the G7.

But it’s fair to say that more must be done at the smaller end of the scale – the environment that either encourages or discourages women from setting up their own companies. Women in business are achieving remarkable things, it’s time to showcase this and encourage other females to follow suit.

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

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