How to overcome Scotland’s entrepreneurial gender imbalance

By Judith O’Leary, founder and managing director of PR and digital comms agency, Represent

Published in The Herald on Friday 28th August 2020

According to Women’s Enterprise Scotland, just 21 percent of Scottish SMEs are majority owned by women. Despite efforts from the Scottish government to encourage more women to launch their own businesses and the great work of organisations such as Business Women Scotland, Investing Women and Women’s Enterprise Scotland, more needs to be done.

Supporting more women to set up and succeed in business is not only of moral importance, but economic too. Women-owned businesses already contribute £8.8 million to the Scottish economy each year, more than many of the growth sectors including food and drink, sustainable tourism and life sciences and according to research from Strathclyde University, if women’s participation rates matched those of men, there would be the potential of 35,000 more direct jobs in the Scottish economy with an economic boost of £7.6 billion.

Encouraging and supporting more women to run their own business is going to be even more important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis. According to McKinsey, the economic impact is having a regressive effect on gender equality with women’s jobs 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men’s. As we recover from the crisis, it is going to be vital that more women are encouraged and able to forge new career paths and create more jobs through entrepreneurship.

But how? First and foremost, we have to overcome the misconceptions that women are somehow less entrepreneurial than men, less successful than men or that family life will suffer as a result of a woman running her own business. Instead, we must better promote the many reasons why starting a business is attractive to women, including the opportunity to forge a challenging and rewarding career path, as well as the ability to develop new skills, earn more money and adopt a more flexible work/life balance than corporate life or otherwise can offer.

That means nurturing entrepreneurship in girls throughout their school years. One of the most effective ways do this is to provide access to strong female role models and experts across a wide range of sectors, as well as to give them opportunities to see businesswomen in action through work experience schemes and apprenticeships specifically geared towards women led and women owned businesses. 

According to Business Gateway and from my own personal experience, many women also identify lack of confidence as a major barrier to starting their own business. As well as teaching our young women the practicalities of running a business, including finances, leadership and teambuilding, we must focus on nurturing resilience and overcoming the fear of failure and so-called imposter syndrome. 

I can testify to the fact that Scotland is without doubt one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business. A large talent pool, fast internet connections and access to funding and governmental support are just a few reasons why this is the case. 

Encouraging more women to take the same leap into entrepreneurship starts with overcoming common misconceptions, changing mindsets and instilling more confidence and resilience in Scotland’s young women. By doing so, we will see an increase in women-led businesses which will not only boost the Scottish economy, but will support our country’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis in the long term.

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